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GRIEG: Songs

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Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) Songs

Edvard Grieg showed an early interest inmusic. At the age of fifteen he was sent to the Conservatory in Leipzig on the suggestion of the violinistand composer Ole Bull (1810 -1880). The city, home of the famous GewandhausOrchestra and with a Conservatory founded by Mendelssohn, was stronglycharacterized by the German romantic spirit and made an immediate impression onthe young Norwegian composer. Here he acquired a solid technical foundation andalthough he later expressed his reservations about the education he hadreceived, his sketch-books and exercises from his time in Leipzig show that in his lessons withRichter, Hauptmann and Reinecke he still had freedom to experiment and that histalent was recognised. There was no real basis for Grieg's later criticisms ofthe teaching he had received.


After completing hisstudies in Leipzig, Grieg settled in Copenhagen and there soon cameunder the influence of Rikard Nordraak, whose enthusiasm and firm belief thatthe future of Norwegian music lay in its national folk-music traditions was asignificant influence on Grieg's development as a composer. The influence of Nordraakcan best be perceived in the Humoresque, Opus 6, which may be seen as abreak-through for Grieg as a composer. The same year his famous collection ofsongs, Hjertets Melodier, Opus 5 (Melodies of the Heart) settings of words byHans Christian Andersen, was published. In the autumn of 1866 Grieg establishedhimself in Christiania (Oslo), which remained until 1874 the centre of hisactivities. It was in this period that he built the foundation of hisincreasing fame.


Griegwas earlycategorized as a composer of smaller forms. His indisputable lyrical powerswere never questioned, but, with the exception of a few works such as the PianoConcerto, Opus 16, the String Quartet in G minor, Opus 27,the Piano Sonata in E minor, Opus 7, the three Violin Sonatas, Opus 8,Opus 13 and Opus 45 and the Cello Sonata, Opus 36, he wasgenerally unable to come to terms with larger forms. Grieg felt this as ashortcoming and blamed, 'without justification, the education he had receivedin Leipzig. Nevertheless he wasable to show that he had also mastered these more extended forms when, all tooseldom, he found musical material that could be adapted and treated within theframework of traditional sonata form. The material that attracted him, however,was of a very different kind.


Grieg's encounterwith Norwegian folk-music and his assimilation of substantial features from it setfree his creative powers and suggested to many that his music was, in effect,synonymous with folk-music. Some saw him simply as an arranger of folk-music, aconclusion that hurt him deeply, since Grieg in his own works very rarely usedreal folk-tunes. It is quite another matter that many of his compositions haveattained the status of folk-music.


Harmonic substance isvery central to all Grieg's music and it is the harmony that is often thestarting-point of a composition. Grieg underlined this strongly in a letter toHenry T. Finck:


The empire ofharmonies has always been my dream-world and the relationship between theharmonic way I feel and the Norlvegian folk-tune has even for me always been amystery. I have realized that the secret depth one can find in our folk-tunesis caused completely by their richness in unimagined harmonic possibilities. Inmy adaptations of folk tunes in Opus 66 and elsewhere I have triedto express my interpretation of the hidden harmonies in our folk-songs.


Grieg's owninstrument was the piano and it was principally his ten books of lyric pieces,with other compositions for the piano, that brought him contemporaryinternational fame. His songs, with a few exceptions, faced greaterdifficulties in winning acceptance, in spite of relatively frequent concertperformance. It was only in the Nordic countries that they were regarded asequal in quality and hence equal in quality to the instrumental works. Grieghimself believed that the lack of interest in his songs outside Scandinavia was due to therelationship between the public or the singer and the text itself, or, moreprecisely, to problems arising from the translation of the Norwegian and Danishtexts he used. Apart from the first two collections, Four Songs, Opus 2,and Six Poems, Opus 4, nearly all his songs are settings of texts inthese languages. Only once, later in life, did he turn again to German poetry,namely in Six Songs, Opus 48.


Grieg wrote, in all,more than 180 songs. Apart from the first ones, which may be regarded asapprentice attempts at the German Lied, nearly all belong to the Nordictradition of song, a style that Grieg was instrumental in developing. One ofhis models was Halfdan Kjerulf, who in his settings of the work of Norwegianpoets established a pattern that Grieg continued to develop. Grieg claimed thatKjerulf understood how to strike the national strings, not by borrowing fromfolk-song but by his association with folk-type melodies, simple and unaffectedin form. Nordic song is characterized by strophic or varied strophic settings,with a melodic treatment that has its ideal in folk-song, which in its use ofdeclamation and in its accompaniment has the primary purpose of expressing theintentions of the poet, as perceived by the composer. This is why Grieg alwaystook a close interest in the manner of interpretation of his songs and explainshis frequently expressed dissatisfaction with many singers. In a letter to hisfriend Frants Beyer in 1895 he wrote:


The devil take allsingers. Now, when Nina does not sing any longer, I understand for the firsttime how lucky I have been, but now comes the time when, like Diogenes, I haveto search for a human being who understands how to continue where she left off.

Germany I do not .find it.

It must absolutely be here in the Nordic countries. Both in
London and in Paris thepublic would rather listen to the original Norwegian text sung withunderstanding by a Scandinavian than a bad translation sung by one of their ownpeople. Unfortunately, however, in Norway all these youngvirgins have no idea at all about their own literature.


In his diary of 1906Grieg writes even more openly:


What are singers?Nothing but vanity, stupidity, ignorance and dilettantism. I hate them, everyone of them. 'Also your wife?', one will ask, but I answer: 'I am sorry, butshe is lucky enough not to be a singer'.


In Grieg's opinionthe singer should principally be at the service of the poet and the poem andfor him his wife Nina was the ideal interpreter of his songs. Her ability toconvey small variations in rhythm and mood from strophe to strophe with musicthat is more or less the same from verse to verse was, with her understandingof the texts, the key to public appreciation and understanding.


The present recordingincludes many of Grieg's best and most well known songs. The two earliest, Tobrune Ojne (Two Brown Eyes) and
Item number 8553781
Barcode 730099478120
Release date 01/01/2000
Label Naxos Records
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Bodil Arnesen
Erling Ragnar Eriksen
Composers Edvard Grieg
Producers Gary Cole
Disc: 1
En fuglevise (A Bird-Song)
1 Et Hab (Hope)
2 Jeg elsker Dig (I Love But Thee)
3 To brune Ojne (Two Brown Eyes)
4 No. 1 Det forste Mode (The First Meeting)
5 No. 2 God Morgen! (Good Morning!)
6 No. 3 Jeg giver mit digt til varen (To Springtime
7 No. 4 Tak for dit Rad (Say What You Will)
8 Prinsessen (The Princess)
9 Fra Monte Pincio (From Monte Pincio)
10 Solveigs Sung (Solveig's Song)
11 Solveigs Vuggevise (Solveig's Cradle Song)
12 No. 1 Gruss (Greeting)
13 No. 2 Dereinst, Gedanke mein (One Day, O Heart of
14 No. 3 Lauf der Welt (The Way of the World)
15 No. 4 Die verschwiegene Nachtigall (The Nightingal
16 No. 5 Zur Rosenzeit (The Time of Roses)
17 No. 6 Ein Traum (A Dream)
18 Margretes Vuggesang (Margaret's Cradle Song)
19 Jeg reiste en deilig Sommerkvaeld (I Walked One Ba
20 Med en Primula veris (The First Primrose)
21 Varen (Last Spring)
22 I Liden hojt deroppe (Upon a Grassy Hillside)
23 Til En. II (To Her. II)
24 Mens jeg venter (On the Water)
25 En svane (A Swan)
26 Foraarsregn (Spring Showers)
27 Ved Rondane (At Rondane)
28 En fuglevise (A Bird-Song)
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