week26: grieg


In that year he met and befriended young Rikard Nordraak, a fervent Norwegian nationalist who wrote his country’s anthem. It was Nordraak who introduced the youthful composer to the Norwegian folk music and peasant culture that ultimately inspired him to champion musical nationalism in his homeland.  “”notes from the recording, robert jacobson

who would want to speak too intelligently about grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King---it’s just damn good bloody good damn good fun.

it is only in the musical instance that nationalism loses its bad conscience: jean sibelius, antonin dvorak, vaughan williams…edvard grieg too must be on that list of musicians who are possible only by grace of their return to the folk music of their ethnic population. in some cases--greig’s especially--these returns are made after long sojourns into a metropolitan aesthetic, after the air of leipzig, after music for all of europe, or only after grieg’s chance meeting with a man bearing what might very well be the most norwegian name ever:

But through his conversations with Nordraak, and perhaps even more by hearing him play his incidental music to plays and stories by Bjornson (to whom Nordraak was related), Grieg was helped to discover himself, to feel his way towards a more strongly emphasized national idiom, and, in his own words, ‘to express something of the best in me that lay a thousand miles away from Leipzig and its atmosphere’. “”notes from the recording, funk & wagnalls


Funk & Wagnalls Recording. Printed in the U.S.A. // Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) // Piano Concerto in A minor and Peer Gynt Suite No.1

Piano Concerto:

Soloist: Felicijia Blumenthal

Vienna Pro Musica, conducted by Hans Swarowsky

  • Allegro molto moderato

  • Adagio

  • Allegro moderato molto e marcato – Quasi presto – Andante maestoso

Peer Gynt Suite No.1:

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Jonel Perlea

  • Morning Mood

  • Death of Ase

  • Anitra’s Dance

  • In the Hall of the Mountain King

(The A minor Piano Concerto: ‘and---do not let them intimidate you’)

A government stipend Greig received in 1869 provided him with the means to travel to Rome to visit the great virtuoso-composer Franz Liszt, who had praised his F major Violin Sonata. At his home in Villa d’Este, Liszt tried out the manuscript of the A minor Concerto at the piano.  Grieg wrote his parents a letter about this meeting: ‘I admit that he took the first part of the Concerto too fast, and the beginning sounded helter skelter, but later on, when I had a chance to indicate the tempo, he played as only he can play. It is significant that he played the cadenza, the most difficult part, best of all…. In the Adagio, and still more in the finale, he reached a climax, both as to his playing and the praise he had to bestow …. Toward the end of the Finale the second theme is, as you may remember, repeated in a mighty fortissimo. In the very last measures, when in the first triplets the first tone is changed in the orchestra from G sharp to G, while the piano part, in a mighty scale passage, rushed wildly through the whole reach of the keyboard, he suddenly stopped, rose up to his full height, left the piano and with big, theatric strides and with arms uplifted walked across the large cloister hall, at the same time literally roaring the theme. When he got to the G in question he stretched out his arms imperiously and exclaimed, “G, G, not G sharp! Splendid!” In conclusion, he handed me the manuscript, and said in a peculiarly cordial tone: “Keep steadily on; I tell you, you have the capability, and--do not let them intimidate you”.’  “” notes from the recording, robert jacobson

among its many other uses, the brilliance of a repertoire is being able to forget a piece of music and yet be almost sure you’ll run into it again by chance of some inevitable production by some perennial european orchestra… as was the case when i rediscovered the Adagio of grieg’s only concerto. it’s quality is liquid and subdural, reminiscent of a northern version of rachmaninoff’s Preghiera, which too swings an undulating lyrical yoyo on the solo instrument, introduced by a laborious spell of activity from the orchestral accompaniment. arthur rubinstein’s enraptured performance ahead is all the justice that deserves.

lang lang’s performance (above) brings something entirely different from rubinstein to the piece, an element that is incomparably lang lang. it’s as if every other pianist is talking, whilst he sings his performances, bel canto. a performer of the first rate, for whom believing in the composition is a presupposition to playing it. that is the same presupposition required to write a piece of this patriotic variety: much of theoretical anticipations are replaced by the raw materials of a national identity which, if successful, taps into an instinctual response deeper than the furnishings of theoretical criticism:

Even as early as the cadenza in the first movement the public broke into a real storm. The three dangerous critics---Gade, Rubinstein and Hartmann---sat in the stalls and applauded with all their might.’ With the immediate popular reception of his concerto, Grieg was dubbed ‘the Chopin of the North’ by one great pianist.  “” notes from the recording, robert jacobson

(Peer Gynt Suite No.1: trolls, as in the mythological scandinavian sort)-----

Winter Landscape — Caspar D. Friedrich, 1811

Winter Landscape — Caspar D. Friedrich, 1811

When the trolls (supernatural beings in Scandinavian mythology) attack him, Peer is saved by the ringing of church bells, which frightens away the trolls. He then goes to live in the woods, and is followed there by the faithful Solveig,, who is in love with him. But he soon deserts her to return home in time for his mother’s death, after which he is off again for America, Morocco and Egypt. When he comes home for the last time, he is a feeble old man, who finds redemption for his wasted life in the constancy and devoted care of Solveig.  “” notes from the recording, robert jacobson

the Peer Gynt suites are basically what would result of Die Walkure had wagner been norwegian. the independent air is clearer, it’s heights more severe, the character of the hero more garrulous. i’ve always, for example, found it difficult to hum Ride of the Valkyrie from memory, my mind’s conductor always over anticipates the rhythm as something faster than it actually is, filled with that boundless alacrity characteristic of grieg’s In The Hall of The Mountain King---the pizzicato that introduces The Hall  is perhaps the most famous pizzicato in this collection. the music begins already at the top of a hill, with all of its potential energy wound and ready to spring---all that follows thereafter is the gathering of a calamitous amount of momentum that is excised at end with a surgical stroke, the slanted grin of a guillotine. much unlike wagner’s Ride which approaches that magnitude of momentum only after a laborious ascent uphill.