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ClassicsOnline Home » GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto / From Holberg's Time / Lyric Suite (Davidovich, Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)
Edvard Grieg died over 100 years ago, but his music still retains a timeless magic and freshness. The Holberg Suite is based on the form of a French baroque dance suite, in this case one with unforgettable melodic charm. The Piano Concerto is deservedly popular, combining established Germanic structure with a wealth of warmly expressive romantic character and Norwegian dance rhythms. Grieg’s Lyric Suite reflects Norwegian peasant life and nature, each movement representing a single mood, and the composer’s remarkable skill in orchestration.
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
Holberg Suite • Piano Concerto • Lyric Suite
Edvard Grieg, the greatest of Norwegian composers, was descended on his mother’s side from a Norwegian provincial governor who had taken the name of Hagerup from his adoptive father, the Bishop of Trondheim. On his father’s side he was of Scottish ancestry. His great-grandfather, Alexander Greig, had left Scotland after the battle of Culloden, when the cause of the Stuart claimants to the thrones of England and Scotland was finally destroyed by the English army under its royal Hanoverian general. In Norway the Greigs became Griegs and during the nineteenth century established themselves comfortably in their new country, Edvard Grieg’s father and grandfather both having served as British consuls in Bergen.
The Grieg household provided a musical background for a child. Musicians visited the family and these visitors included the distinguished violinist Ole Bull, who persuaded the Griegs to send their son Edvard to Leipzig Conservatory, an institution he entered at the age of fifteen, there to benefit from the demands of a traditional German musical education.
In Leipzig not everything was to Grieg’s liking. He objected to the dryness of normal piano instruction, based on the work of Czerny and Clementi, and was able to change to a teacher who instilled in him a love of Schumann. He attended concerts by the famous Gewandhaus Orchestra that Mendelssohn had once directed and was present when Clara Schumann, the composer’s widow, played her husband’s piano concerto there, and at performances of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. At the same time he was able to meet other musicians, including Arthur Sullivan.
After a short period at home again in Norway, where he was unable to obtain a state pension, Grieg moved to Denmark. The capital, Copenhagen, was a cultural centre for both countries, and here he had considerable encouragement from Niels Gade. The principal influence that was to change his life came from a meeting with Rikard Nordraak, a young Norwegian, who fired him with ambition to seek inspiration in the folk-music of Norway. Nordraak was to die tragically young, at the age of 24. Grieg, however, continued to prepare himself for employment in Norway, first of all taking a long holiday which led him to Rome, where he met the great Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. It was a concert arranged by Grieg in Christiania (Oslo) and given by him with his cousin and future wife Nina Hagerup and the violinist Wilhelmine Norman-Neruda that secured him a position in Norway and provided support for the projected Norwegian Academy of Music, established in the following year, 1867.
The period that followed saw Grieg’s struggle, with the backing of Liszt and the support of his friend, the dramatist and theatre-director Bjørnson, to establish some sort of national musical movement in Norway. He divided his time between concert activities, touring as conductor and pianist, composing, and enjoying the Norwegian countryside.
Grieg’s ambitions for Norwegian music were very largely realised. At home he came to occupy a position of honour, and his collaboration with Bjørnson and Ibsen further identified him with the culture of his homeland. He died in 1907, as he was about to undertake one more concert tour. For years he had suffered from lung trouble, the result of an illness in his student days. It was this that was to bring about his death at the age of sixty-four.
Acclaimed as the first writer of his generation after Voltaire and as the Molière of the North, Ludwig Holberg, a near contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, was born in Norway but spent most of his life in Denmark. A leading representative of the Scandinavian Enlightenment, he wrote comedies and satires influenced by the French. Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time: Suite in the Olden Style was commissioned to mark the centenary of Holberg’s birth. In five movements, originally for piano, it was arranged by the composer for string orchestra, the form in which it is now most familiar. Grieg here takes the form of the Baroque suite, with its traditional French dance movements, re-interpreted through the neoclassical prism of his own time.
Grieg was undoubtedly influenced in his Piano Concerto in A minor by Schumann’s concerto, which he had first heard as a student in Leipzig. He wrote his own work in 1868, during a holiday spent in Denmark, a concerto that owes something also to Liszt, who had seen the work in manuscript and to the composer’s astonishment played it through faultlessly at sight. Grieg revised the concerto several times, and rejected at least one of Liszt’s suggestions on orchestration, the use of trumpets for the second theme in the first movement, eventually allotted to cellos, although he remained grateful to Liszt for his encouragement. In many ways the work marks a turning towards Norway as a direct source of inspiration and away from German or Danish influence.
The concerto opens with a drum roll, leading to the entry of the solo piano descending the keyboard, followed by a theme given first to the woodwind, repeated by the piano, which later takes up the second theme, suggested by the cellos. There is a development section that develops relatively little and in the final section a rhapsodic cadenza, followed by a brief coda. The second movement shifts to the key of D flat major, to be heard as the middle notes of the chord of A major. The effect of the change is one of relief from the tumultuous activity that had gone before, orchestra and soloist proposing different melodies, but with no sense of conflict. The finale is dominated by a Norwegian dance rhythm, that of the halling, but has time for the kind of rhapsodic piano-writing that has made the concerto one of the most successful and popular in the romantic repertoire.
Grieg wrote a large number of so-called Lyric Pieces, between 1867 and 1901, mainly for solo piano, works for which there was always a ready market. The fifth collection of six such pieces appeared in 1891 and four of them were later orchestrated by the conductor Anton Seidl. This led Grieg to make his own colourful orchestral arrangements of four of the pieces, Shepherd’s Boy, Gangar, a Norwegian dance, March of the Dwarfs and Nocturne, published in 1905 as Lyric Suite.
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GRIEG, E.: Piano Concerto / From Holberg's Time / ...