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ClassicsOnline Home » GRIEG / SIBELIUS: Romantic Music for Strings
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Romance in C major, Op. 42 Andante Festivo Canzonetta, Op. 62a Rakastava (The Lover), Op. 14
The nineteenth century brought, throughout Europe, an increasing interest in national culture and national identity, expressed politically and in all the arts. Scandinavia was not exempt from the general trend. For nearly four and a half centuries Norway was united with Denmark, and Danish culture predominated. From 1814 there was a union with Sweden that lasted into the present century, but during these years there developed a much keener sense of Norwegian identity, exemplified in the work of Ibsen and Bjornson in the theatre, and in the pioneer Rikard Nordraak and Edvard Grieg in music.
Grieg was descended from a Scottish immigrant on his father's side - the original family name was Greig. His father, like his father before him, was British consul in Bergen, while his mother, of Norwegian stock, was a woman of musical interests and ability. The household was a cultured one in which music was encouraged, and Grieg himself was drawn to a musical career largely on the advice of the violinist Ole Bull, who recommended study at the Conservatory in Leipzig. Academic training in Germany led at least to acquaintance with a stimulating repertoire of contemporary music and performance, but Grieg was led, largely through his friendship with Rikard Nordraak, to turn away from the established modes of musical thought in Germany and the dominant culture of Denmark to create, through a use of folk-song and melody of clear national inspiration, a national music for his own country.
The Two Melodies, Op. 53, were arranged by Grieg for string orchestra in 1891 from two earlier songs. The first of these, written in 1880, had the original title Fyremal (The Goal), and the second, from a song written in 1870, retains its original title. He arranged the Two Norwegian Airs, Op. 63, for string orchestra in 1869, making use of two piano pieces of the same year, themselves derived from a collection of folk-songs and dances by Ludvig Mathias Lindeman. Erotik was also originally a piano piece, one of the series of many Lyric Pieces that Grieg wrote for a ready and receptive amateur market. The Two Elegiac Pieces are also derived from other compositions. Arranged for string orchestra in 1881, they have their origin in two of a set of songs published in the same year. As always they demonstrate Grieg's command of harmonic colour and the freshness of his inspiration.
Finland found its musical identity largely through the work of Jean Sibelius. As Grieg had been brought up largely in Danish cultural surroundings, so Sibelius, the son of a doctor, belonged to a class of which the culture and language was Swedish. He learned Finnish and acquired his knowledge of Finnish literature and legend at school, developed his understanding of music in Germany, principally in Berlin, and established himself as one of the most considerable of the late Romantic symphonists, exploring new possibilities in a vein that might have seemed overworked. Here and in his tone-poems, based largely on Finnish legend, he created a national music that has defied imitation in the very breadth of his conception of the symphonic form.
Sibelius evinced, at the same time, lyrical gifts, and never more than in the famous Romance, Op. 42, written in 1903, at a time when he was occupied with the composition of his Violin Concerto and the other more mundane problems that heavy drinking and increasing debts brought. Although trained as a violinist, his technique would not have surmounted the difficulties of his own concerto, but his understanding of his first instrument explains to some extent his feeling for melody and his idiomatic handling of the string orchestra.
The Andante Festivo was written in 1922 and designed originally for string quartet, but re-arranged for string orchestra with optional timpani, narrowly preceding in order of composition the sixth of his seven symphonies. The Canzonetta for strings was written in 1911 and the suite Rakastava, originally scored for strings, drums and triangle, in the same year, based, as were the male voice songs of 1895 under the same title, on the Finnish folk-poems collected by Elias Lönnrot and published in 1840-1 under the title Kanteletar, a source of national interest and inspiration.
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GRIEG / SIBELIUS: Romantic Music for Strings