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ClassicsOnline Home » GRIEG: Peer Gynt / Lyric Pieces / Sigurd Jorsalfar
Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2
Lyric Pieces, Op. 68, Nos. 4 & 5
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No.6
Three Orchestral Pieces from Sigurd Jorsalfar, Op. 56
Edvard Grieg, the greatest of Norwegian composers, was descended on his mother's side from a Norwegian provincial governor who had adopted 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 , his father and grandfather both having served as British consul 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 Czernyand Clementi, and was able to change to a teacher who was to instil 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 played her husband's piano concerto there and at performances of Wagner's Tannhauser. At the same time he was able to meet other musicians, including Arthur Sullivan, whose later fame, at least, was to depend on the music he wrote for the operettas of W. S. Gilbert in London.
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, on tour as conductor and pianist, composition, and periods spent in enjoyment of the Norwegian countryside.
Grieg's ambitions for Norwegian music were very largely realised. At home he occupied a position of honour, and his collaboration with the writers 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 64.
Among the best known music that Grieg wrote was his incidental music for Ibsen's remarkable play Peer Gynt, first performed in Christiania in 1876. Suite No.1 opens with the famous Morning, music that seems based on the Norwegian fiddle, the hardanger, with its characteristic tuning. In the drama the piece serves as an introduction to Act IV, set on the south-western coast of Morocco. The scene immediately follows the death of Peer's mother, Aase, with which Act III had ended. Anitra's Dance, in the fourth act, welcomes Peer Gynt, hailing him as prophet and master, in his Arab robes. The final excerpt in the first suite is from Act II, set in the mountains of Norway, the land of Trolls and of the Old Man of the Dovre, whose daughter Peer Gynt courts and whose kingdom he covets.
Suite No.2 opens with Ingrid's Lament, the introduction to Act II, set on a high narrow mountain-track, where Peer Gynt has taken Ingrid, a bride that he has abducted from her wedding and now plans to betray. The Arabian Dance is taken from Act IV, where Peer has donned his Arab robes, and Peer's Homecoming from the introduction to Act V, as Peer Gynt returns as an old man to his own country. Solveig's Song, from Act IV, offers a brief glimpse of the girl, now a middle-aged woman, who sits waiting for Peer Gynt in the far North. She is there to accept him home again after his wandering as the fifth and final act of the drama comes to an end.
During his life Grieg wrote a large number of so-called Lyrische Stücke, Lyric Pieces, primarily for piano solo. He arranged two of the pieces of Opus 68, Evening in the Mountains and Cradle Song for orchestra. The work was written in 1898. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen is taken from an earlier set of Lyric Pieces, written in the previous year, and was arranged by the composer also for piano duet.
The incidental music for Bjørnson's play Sigurd Jorsalfar was completed in 1872 and used when the play was staged in Christiania in May of the same year. Bjørnson has suffered by comparison with his great contemporary Ibsen. His fame has not travelled so far and his relevance to the development of drama has seemed more local. The three orchestral pieces that Grieg extracted from the five of the original score open with a Prelude, continue with Borghild's Dream, originally the first music of the score, and end with the Homage March.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra occupies an important position in the musical life of Scotland. It was founded in 1935 by Ian Whyte, then Head of Music for BBC Scotland, based at first in Edinburgh and then in Glasgow, the first full-time professional orchestra in the country. In addition to its work with Scottish composers, conductors and soloists, the orchestra has performed with artists of the greatest distinction, from Schnabel to Shostakovich, while also doing much to encourage younger conductors early in their careers. The present principal conductor is Jerzy Maksymiuk. The orchestra has a busy schedule of broadcasts and public concerts, including annual appearances at the Edinburgh Festival and the London Promenade Concerts, and has toured abroad throughout Europe, to North America and the Far East. In addition to recordings for Naxos and Marco Polo, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra has released a number of compact discs on the Hyperion and Koch-Schwann labels and in 1992 won a Gramophone Award for its Hyperion recording of Medtner Piano Concertos with Nikolai Demidenko.
Jerzy Maksymiuk was born in Grodno and studied violin, piano, conducting and composition at the Warsaw Conservatory. In 1964 he won first prize in the Paderewski Piano Competition but soon turned his attention principally to conducting, in particular in the establishment and extensive touring throughout Europe of the Polish Chamber Orchestra. From 1975 to 1977 he was also Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Orchestra and in 1984 was appointed Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with which he has toured extensively and made a number of commercial recordings. Jerzy Maksymiuk has worked with many of the major orchestras in Europe, the United States of America and Japan, and in 1990 made his debut at the English National Opera with performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni.
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GRIEG: Peer Gynt / Lyric Pieces / Sigurd Jorsalfar