The figure of Edvard Grieg is a standalone in the classical music repertoire. On the one hand, some of his works have reached global popularity, well beyond the boundaries of the classical repertoire; the Morning theme and In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt, for instance, or the opening bars of his Piano Concerto are known by many more people than those who usually attend classical music concerts. On the other, the immense popularity of some of his works is not matched by a comparable presence of his remaining output on the concert scene. In particular, his oeuvre for the piano includes works which are commonly performed – such as the Lyrical Pieces – but many more which are only seldom heard during piano recitals. And this in spite of the large quantity of piano music he wrote. Or perhaps, precisely due to it.
Grieg, in fact, built his popularity as a composer on the extreme dissemination of his piano works, many of which were conceived and designed for the amateur public. The late nineteenth century, when his career flourished, represented also the summit of the presence of the piano in the bourgeois households all over Europe, and in particular in the German-speaking and Northern countries in general. Furthermore, this dissemination was also rather gendered: the piano was typically a bourgeois girl’s instrument, and it represented a fundamental part of her education, of her public image, and of her private time.
This readership was eager for musical works which could offer musical nourishment without being too demanding on the technical plane; the delight of music had to be almost free from the stress of mastering difficult passageworks. Thus, a plethora of not-too-demanding piano works was written, by second-rate composers as well as by the absolute masters of the era. Both classes had to earn their living, in fact, and in order to obtain a publisher’s agreement to issue a complex work – like a symphony, or a virtuoso piece – which could interest only a few hyper-specialised professionals, a composer had to negotiate the publication of easier works which could be appealing for the masses.
Grieg was particularly skilled at this, even though he was not enthused by this precarious balance. Certainly, he did not take lightheartedly the composition of “amateur” music; he was a genius, after all, and many of his miniatures are no less perfect and touching than his large-scale works. Still, at times he felt pressured to keep writing for the piano, and somewhat frustrated by what he perceived as the publisher’s unwritten deal: more piano music, in exchange for the publication of Grieg’s extensive frescos.
The repertoire for four-hand piano duet constitutes an integral part of this discourse. The four-hand piano duet is a typical embodiment of amateur music-making in the nineteenth century. The interaction between two pianists compensated for the feeling of loneliness and isolation which were frequently associated to solo piano practice, providing a source of sociability which was much welcome by many. And the possibility of dividing the piano texture into two parts, played by two hands each, permitted a richer style to be employed, without, once more, breaking the glass ceiling of professionalism.
This Da Vinci Classics album continues the exploration of this repertoire, which reveals, once more, its beauty and profundity, in spite of the circumstances of its publication. Moreover, it also manifests the close interaction between four-hand piano music and orchestral music. At Grieg’s time, it was rather typical for music professionals to play – at times extemporaneously – transcriptions or arrangement of symphonic works at the keyboard, in the form of a piano duet; vice versa, it was not uncommon for works written for four-hand piano duet to be later given orchestral colours. Thus, the piano duet version constitutes almost a preparatory sketch for the orchestral version, while obviously possessing artistic dignity of its own, and an undeniable musical worth.
This happens for instance with the Symphonic Dances op. 64. They were written in 1896-8 for four-hand piano duet, and were orchestrated soon thereafter by the composer, becoming one of the landmarks of his orchestral output. Their compositional material is derived from five Norwegian folk tunes, selected by the composer from a series of songs collected by Ludvig Mathias Lindeman, another Norwegian musician. When Grieg first encountered this collection, in 1869, he was impressed by the quantity and quality of beautiful tunes it provided, and he derived from it not only the rough matter for many of his works, but also a style, a language, which he would make his own, creating pseudo-folk music with a clear Norwegian inspiration.
The first dance is a halling, which stands for a physically demanding acrobatic dance, usually performed by young men in order to impress their beloved. The two main themes of this dance have different origins: the first is a folk tune from the region of Valdres, in Norway, whilst the second is Grieg’s original work, but written in the style of Norwegian folk music. The second dance is a halling in turn, but with a quieter and less hectic pace. Its Norwegian title refers to a horse dealer, and the piece is characterized by frequent repetitions of the thematic material, creating an almost hypnotic feeling. The third dance is danced in springtime by couples, and derives from a tune found in the region of Åmot, in the county of Hedmark. Initially comparatively calm, it gradually increases its intensity and pace until it flows into a more lyrical middle section. The fourth dance is based on the combination of two tunes: Saag du nokke Kjoeringa mi? (“Have you seen my wife?”) and Brulaatten (“Bridal March”), a wedding song from the region of Valdres; the two melodies’ different character and style provide a pronounced contrast of moods.
Folk music is also at the foundation of the Two Nordic Melodies op. 63, which, in turn, exist in a version for string orchestra too. Here the Nordic flavour of Grieg’s musical language is even more transparent, with a nostalgic and all-pervasive melancholy, the daring use of harmonic modulations (an experimentalism which was already observed in his student’s works at the Conservatory of Leipzig), wide and spacious melodies, and the combined use of organ points and open fifths. The first of these pieces is grounded on a melody by Fredrik Duc (1853-1906), who served as the ambassador to France of Norway and Sweden, and was a skilled and gifted musician. Duc had sent some of his works to Grieg; one of them, found in a piece for violin and piano, enthused Grieg who decided to employ it in his own works. The piece is a slow and intense song, with a pronounced melodic vein. By way of contrast, the second and last piece weaves together two melodies from a collection published by Grieg in 1870, and comprising 25 Norwegian Folk Ballads and Dances. The first melody is called Cow Keeper’s Tune, and its slow pace sets the piece’s mood, while the second, Country Dance, displays a memorable tune.
A multiple destination, for orchestra and piano (and piano duet), also characterizes the suite from Sigurd Jorsalfar, excerpted from Grieg’s incidental music, op. 22, for the eponymous theatrical piece by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), a good friend of the composer. While the original setting dates from 1872, only twenty years later, in 1892, did Grieg rework pieces of it into a Suite, op. 56. Still later, in 1903, he would further revise the original score, bringing the total pieces of the incidental music to nine. The suite opens with a Prelude, by the title of In the King’s Hall. It is characterized by metrical ambiguity, with some wavering between triple and quadruple time in its introductory, march-like melody. The movement is based on a tight pattern of musical interactions among the musical personae intervening in the piece, and its thematic material derives from an unpublished Gavotte written by Grieg in 1867. The second movement, Borghild’s Dream, is a mysterious and sombre piece, whose external sections surround an agitated core. The final movement, a triumphal march, is solemn and grandioso, with a rich display of fanfares and martial allusions, although not without moments of expansive lyricism.
Incidental music is also at the foundations of the second suite Grieg derived from his setting of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. The original work dates from 1875, and was premiered with enormous success at the Christiania Theatre. Grieg therefore decided to divide and rearrange the 23 movements composing the complete work into two symphonic suites. In the second Suite, recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album, the first movement is Ingrid’s Lament. Ingrid suffers for having been seduced by Peer Gynt, and alternates moments of intense expressiveness with others of outrage. A totally different atmosphere characterizes the second movement, depicting the graceful dance of Anitra and the other girls in the Arabian camp. Still different is the third movement, a poignant depiction of a storm at sea, which reveals Wagner’s influence on Grieg. Calm returns with the justly famous Solveig’s Song, one of the most unforgettable tunes coming from Grieg’s pen.
The programme on this Da Vinci Classics album is completed by some shorter pieces and arrangements. The Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter was a later addiction to the second Suite from Peer Gynt, and indeed it provides a pleasant contrast with the other movements. The A-minor Minuet is a successful arrangement of the second movement from Grieg’s own Violin Sonata op. 8.
Together, these pieces represent very efficaciously the variety of Grieg’s compositional palette, and his skill and ability in transferring – or letting one imagine – the orchestral colours onto the piano.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
He is currently Piano Adjunct Professor at “Conservatorio Giacomo Puccini” in Gallarate, Italy.
His artistic activity numbers several concerts in Italy and in Europe, at important prestigious musical institutions: "Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi" in Milano, “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” in Mantova, and afterwards he obtained a Master's degree in pianoforte at “Conservatorio G. Nicolini” in Piacenza.
He also obtaineid bachelor's degree in science of cultural heritage -musicologist curriculum- at Università degli Studi “Statale”, 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.
He currently releases music on the "Da Vinci Pubblishing”, a record label based in Osaka, Japan.
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 recieved awards 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 the laVerdi Foundation by teaching to many chamber ensembles at both the MAC and the Auditorium in Milan.
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.