Official Release: 16 July 2021
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Grieg’s original works for four-hand piano duet within his compositional itinerary
The most famous, enigmatic and ancient of all paradoxes, found in Aristotle, gives us an interesting and very modern interpretive key for understanding our choice of recording the complete works for four-hand piano duet written by EDVARD HAGERUP GRIEG (Bergen 1843 – Bergen 1907); this album constitutes its first volume.
Actually, it is not at all uncommon to find, within the Norwegian composer’s catalogue, numerous works which are rewritten, re-elaborated, re-arranged by himself. They sometimes end up as orchestral works, or as pieces for chamber music ensembles, or for a solo instrument, up to the point that it is not always clear which one is the “official” or “preferred” or “definitive” work. Which is the chicken, and which is the egg, then? Which came first?
We do not wish to provide an answer (provided that it exists!) to these “paradoxical” questions. Rather, we are interested in attracting the reader’s attention on Grieg’s compositional process, which reveals itself to be articulated and rich in different versions of the same work. His original output for four-hand piano duet seems to have a very important role in this process.
The album’s first track, The Bridal Procession Passes, is a perfect introduction to the composer’s varied world. It is the second piece of his Op. 19, Pictures from Everyday Life. Originally written for solo piano, it embodies the folklike character typical for Grieg’s music together with a musical colorism similar to Debussy’s. This was one of Grieg’s most popular works at the time; thus, the composer was encouraged to transcribe it not only for four-hand piano duet, but also for many other ensembles.
The case with Op. 11, In Autumn, is somewhat contrasting with the preceding one. It was originally written for orchestra, but was rewritten almost immediately, following a curious anecdote. Grieg was visiting Copenhagen, and showed this Overture to his friend, the composer Niels Gade. Putting it bluntly, Gade qualified it as “rubbish”. We do not clearly know what displeased Gade so much – possibly its harmonic audacity and the typically Lisztean virtuoso writing. What is certain is that Grieg later would win a competition of the Swedish Academy with the four-hand version, and published the piece in this form.
Within Grieg’s catalogue for four-hand piano duet we also find the case of works originally conceived for a chamber music ensemble, as happens with Op. 34. It consists, in fact, of the instrumental transcription of two of Grieg’s Twelve Melodies Op. 33 for voice and piano.
One of the most singular cases is the one found in Op. 14, as stated by Grieg himself: “The Symphony in C minor was complete and the middle two movements had already been performed by Euterpe. But it never satisfied me and I therefore did not allow it to be published in its entirety or performed. The two inner movements can be found as Op. 14, for piano, four hands”. Beyond this work’s unusual gestation and the fact that the four-hand version was unexpectedly favoured over that for orchestra, it is interesting to linger for a while on the “Germanic” influences on Grieg’s compositional art, which he developed during his student years in Leipzig. There is a clear parallelism between the Norwegian composer’s Symphony and Beethoven’s Fifth: they share the same principal key, the same key for each movement (including the two middle ones, whence our Op. 14 comes, i.e. A-flat major and C minor), and the same red thread (“per ardua ad astra”, “through adversity to the stars”) connecting the movements. If we further focus on the first piece of Op. 14, we remark an affective similarity with Beethoven’s homologue, deriving from the wonderful initial cantabile theme, which is resumed with a varied accompaniment in the Coda. The second piece, with its enthralling Mazurka rhythm, introduces us to another central aspect of Grieg’s music, i.e. the folklike character and the quest for a “national” sound, inspired also by traditional music.
The four brilliant Norwegian Dances Op. 35, for example, are not original tunes by the Norwegian composer; rather, they are inspired by the Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies by his compatriot, Ludvig Mathias Linderman. They were originally scored for four-hand piano duet, and later transcribed for orchestra by the Czech composer Hans Sitt, realizing a version which is still frequently heard on the concert scene.
The two Valse Caprices Op. 37 were also originally composed for four-hand piano duet. Here we do not find a direct connection with tunes from the Norwegian musical tradition; however, a felicitous mix of cultivated and popular elements is not missing. The nineteenth-century dance “par excellence” is here intertwined with rhythms and accents typical for folk music, and enriched by moments of a greater Scandinavian lyricism.
Finally, for the purpose of this analysis, the case of Op. 46 is extraordinarily interesting. It is the First Orchestral Suite, later transcribed also for four-hand piano duet, and excerpted from the stage music Op. 23, commissioned to Grieg by Ibsen for his dramatic poem Peer Gynt. The Suite’s four pieces do not follow the theatrical action’s temporal articulation, but rather are kept together by a purely musical logic. We begin with the extremely famous Morning Mood, which opens the piece’s Act Four. Its exceedingly sweet melody was seemingly inspired by the characteristic sound of the Norwegian fiddle, the hardingfele, but it describes dawn on the Moroccan coast. “I imagine the sun breaking through the clouds at the first forte”, as Grieg himself wrote. It is followed by Åse’s Death, a linear tune, with an extreme essentiality; in Act Three, it accompanies the grief for the death of Peer Gynt’s aged mother. With Anitra’s Dance we are led back to Act Four, and to lighter tones, with the dance steps of Anitra, a Bedouin girl. Over a Mazurka rhythm, she welcomes Peer Gynt who has been mistaken for a prophet. The Suite closes on one of the pages with the most intense emotional impact, In the Hall of the Mountain King. Here, in Act Two, the protagonist meets the Old Man of Dovre in his palace, populated by witches and by perfidious trolls.
This short itinerary has portrayed Grieg’s output as a labyrinth, whose starting point is known, but where, almost always, there is not a unique arrival point. Parmenides’ greatest disciple, Zeno, will therefore forgive us if we cannot demonstrate that Grieg’s output constitutes a “unique, immutable Being”. Quite the contrary. Plurality, multiplicity, differences in the composer’s choices when he reworked, arranged and instrumented a single work offer to the listener various facets, as in a wonderful diamond, on which this work offers a valuable perspective.
Ad absurdum, we may say that this diamond is unique precisely because it is mutable.
Andrea Micucci & Francesco Di Marco © 2021
Duo Micucci - Di Marco: ndrea Micucci and Francesco Di Marco studied at the Varesina Music Academy with the renowned italian pianist Roberto Plano. They have collaborated for years in many musical projects. They have been the founders and the artistic directors of the outdoor concerts series in the Parco di Monza “I Suoni della Natura” and the summer campus “Sovico in Musica”, which reached its sixth edition in 2019. They hold music lectures in many high schools with the purpose of spreading classical music appreciation within the new generations.
Francesco Di Marco studied at Civica Scuola di Musica in Milan with David Tai and holds a Master’s Degree in Piano (with honours) from the Conservatory of Turin. He has taken part in many masterclasses with celebrated pianists and pedagogues like Nelson Delle Vigne, Husseyin Sermet, Charles Rosen, Dominique Merlet, Jean Francois Antonioli, Benedetto Lupo, Enrico Pace, Gianluca Cascioli, Pavel Gililov, and Aleksandar Madzar. Francesco has awarded in several piano competitions: “Città di Maccagno” International Competition, Enrica Cremonesi Competition, “Riviera della Versilia” Competition, “Città di Asti” International Competition, “Rotary per la Musica” Competition, Classica Live Competition. He has performed for festivals like “Piano City”, “Break in Musica”, “La Villa della Musica 2010” in Milan and “Serate Musicali” – “Mercoledì del Conservatorio” at the Conservatory of Turin. The venues he has performed at include the Vatican Museums in Rome, Salle Cortot in Paris, the Paiporta Auditorium in Valencia, the Catholic University of Milan, the Reggia in Venaria Reale, the Antichi Molini in Portogruaro. He worked as a speaker for Radio Popolare and he has written for the online cultural magazine Cultweek. Francesco collaborates with laVerdi Foundation by teaching to many chamber ensembles at both the MAC and the Auditorium in Milan.
Andrea Micucci’s artistic activity numbers several concerts in Italy and in Europe, at important prestigious musical institutions: "Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi" in Milan, “Fryderyk Chopin University of Music” in Warsaw, “Kammermusiksaal MHS” in Freiburg (Germany), “SIPO Piano Festival” in Obidos (Portugal), “Ravello Art Center” in Ravello, “Conservatorio G. Nicolini” in Piacenza, “Salone da Cemmo” in Brescia, “Auditorium Comunale” in Varese, “Teatro Bonoris” in Montichiari. He received a Bachelor's Degree from “Conservatorio L. Campiani di Mantova”, and afterwards he obtained a Master's degree in Piano (with honours) at Conservatorio G. Nicolini di Piacenza”. He also obtaineid Bachelor's degree in science of cultural heritage -musicologist curriculum- at Università degli Studi, Milano. He improved his education attedding several masterclasses of important artists: Paul Badura-Skoda, Boris Berman, Roberto Plano, Roberto Prosseda, Andrea Lucchesini, Massimiliano Damerini, Pietro de Maria. Awarded in several competitions for piano solo and chamber duet: “Franz Schubert” Competition, Tadini International Music Competition, Città di Alessandria Competition, Moncalieri European Competition, Città Piove di Sacco Competition, Città di Riccione Competition, Albenga Piano Competition, Città di Lissone Piano Competition, Montichiari Piano Competition.
Andrea Micucci and Francesco Di Marco are currently Adjunct Professors of Classical Piano at “Conservatorio Giacomo Puccini” in Gallarate, Italy.
Edward Grieg (b Bergen, 15 June 1843; d Bergen, 4 Sept 1907). Norwegian composer, pianist and conductor. He was the foremost Scandinavian composer of his generation and the principal promoter of Norwegian music. His genius was for lyric pieces – songs and piano miniatures – in which he drew on both folktunes and the Romantic tradition, but his Piano Concerto found a place in the central repertory, and his String Quartet foreshadows Debussy.