The lyricism of Edvard Grieg

My first introduction to the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was hearing either March of the Trolls or In The Hall of The Mountain King on a 4-album compilation of music for children issued by Reader’s Digest in the late 1960’s.  I think the fact that I have Norwegian roots also contributed to my interest in, and affinity for, his music.  Although he did write a well-known piano concerto (stay tuned for a future post) and a number of other ‘large’ works, he was first and foremost a miniaturist, having written many short compositions for solo piano.  He himself said, “Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights.  I only wanted… to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home.”

Edvard Grieg

Geirangerfjord
Geirangerfjord

Between 1867 and 1901 he composed 10 volumes of Lyric Pieces for piano.  The collection—66 pieces in all—‘reads like a diary of Grieg’s life, [both] musical and personal, featuring…his nationalist aspirations, his love of nature, his yearnings for home during his many foreign journeys…”

One of my favorites, both to listen to and to play, is “I Hjemmet” (translated variously as “In My Native Country” or “At Home”).  Grieg wrote it during a stay in Denmark, as an expression of love for home.  In a letter to a dear friend, he wrote:  “What would you say to a quiet morning in the boat, or out between the skerries and the cliffs?  The other day I was so full of this longing that it turned itself into a gentle song of thanksgiving.  There is nothing new in it, but it is genuine…”

My favorite moments in “I Hjemmet”, played here by the wonderful Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, begin at 0:34 (red arrow) and end at 0:49 (blue arrow); the sequence repeats between 1:23 and 1:39.  When I think about the word ‘longing’, I think of leaning forward, of moving…toward something.  In this passage, the quickening tempo (poco più mosso means ‘with a little bit more movement’) and the three accented notes–B, then higher to D#, then higher still to F#–played in the course of a crescendo to forte, convey a feeling of forward motion: I hear the longing Grieg articulated in the letter to his friend.

Grieg moment

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