Has anyone seen Edvard Grieg?

Has anyone seen Edvard Grieg?


norman lebrecht

February 29, 2020

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Has anyone lately seen Edvard Grieg? The song of Norway has gone a bit quiet since the record industry stopped pumping out Grieg’s piano concerto as an automatic companion to Schumann’s and the hall of the mountain kings got converted into social housing. These twin peaks and the Peer Gynt incidental music aside, there’s not much Grieg left to perform and what there is has fallen out of fashion. It’s been all Norvège nul points the last few years…..

More here.


  • RW2013 says:

    This is a charming place to visit in Leipzig

  • John Borstlap says:

    Grieg’s piano concerto has been performed much too often indeed. But nonetheless, it is a masterpiece, possibly his best. If it is given a rest of some 20 years, it will become fresh again.

    Debussy said of Grieg’s music that it was a bonbon filled with snow. But in a review of an orchestral concert in Paris where Grieg conducted his own work, Debussy went further and compared him – seen, like the whole audience, at the back – with a sunflower seen at small railway stations.

    • Olassus says:

      … his best are his Lyric Pieces, of course, and the songs. He was a miniaturist, you know.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        The Lyric Pieces are exquisite, of course, and the songs are lovely.
        But the Peer Gynt music is (sorry) peerless and the Piano Concerto, string quartet, violin sonatas, From Holberg’s Time, are all marvelous.

        • The View from America says:

          The Peer Gynt numbers are also miniatures in a way. Nothing wrong with this. Ravel composed only three pieces that last more than 30 minutes — and two of those were operas.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      “a bonbon filled with snow”.

      I’ve wondered for years whether that was a compliment or wherther D was being dismissive.

    • Patrick says:

      The sneer was attributed to Tchaikovsky rather than Debussy.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I always thought Stravinsky had said it, and that it goes “a bonbon wrapped in snow”.

  • Ricardo says:

    I have lived and worked in Bergen for nearly 33 years and have made it my life mission (or a large part of it, anyway) to promote the music of XX and XXI Norwegian composers. In that respect, Grieg (who is *anything other* than absent from everyday Norwegian culture) has stood in the way. When programming Norwegian music outside of Norway, every composer has to stand politely in line behind Grieg, who is the composer every foreign promoter wants to program (mostly, I suspect, because they probably they don’t know any other Norwegian composers). This is not Grieg’s fault: it is the fault of those characters in Norway who should put their foot down and insist on programming great Norwegian music by other composers. Of course they don’t do it: when programming stands in the way of commerce, the $$ win the day every time.
    Having said all that, I love Grieg very deeply. He is often condescendingly dismissed as a master miniaturist who could not handle the large forms. The second half of that assertion is pure rubbish. I have performed all the violin sonatas dozens of times (no. 3 only last night). The same goes for both string quartets and the piano trio movement and I am intimately familiar with the cello sonata. They are not Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Schumann. Grieg did it his way, and he had a Norwegian soul (not a German or Russian one). A close study of the scores of all the works I have mentioned (and many others) reveals the craft, spirit and mind of a great master. There are so many subtleties that evidence deep thought and a lively imagination. Many of those details are rarely observed. The third violin sonata (the most popular among international players) is often used as a vehicle for showing bravura, technical prowess and luscious sound. I’m afraid such an approach misses the point entirely. The sonata is a study in cumulative energy and it displays a remarkable control of musical ebb and flow over very extended periods. Even the optimistic and spring-like first sonata (the one of the three that betrays Schumann’s influence) is a magnificent composition from the same point of view. The development sections of the outer movements are absolutely riveting.
    Of all I see in the linked article, the only idea that gets close to my impression of Grieg’s music (after over three decades of deep involvement with it) is “existential loneliness”. As far as lacking “the psychological depth of Brahms’s chamber music”, that’s correct: it contains the psychological depth of Grieg’s music. It represents a philosophy of life that is serious but not heavy and light but not easy (in Norwegian the word for ‘light’ and ‘easy’ is the same). The sonatas are definitely not “modest portions of light music laid on a bed of winter greens”. Such a description makes them appear as mere pretty decoration. They are not. They are life affirming works of art stemming from the soul of a great man.
    So, with all due respect, dear Mr. Lebrecht, I’m afraid you simply do not get Grieg. No blame, no criticism. I have never understood Berlioz (God knows I have tried), and I’m very happy that his music brings joy to so many people.

  • Michael says:

    Listeners would be doing themselves a favor by finding a copy of the complete Grieg piano music on BIS featuring Eva Knardahl. Remarkable music in the best performances ever made available.

  • Steven Holloway says:

    There is, in fact, a great deal of Grieg to be performed other than your twin peaks (or three according to the post, but the Mountain King is, in fact, a part of the Peer Gynt music). The post rather amused me, for I just got home with a recent Nelson Freire disc that includes 12 of the Lyric Pieces — and there’s an awful lot of those. I also recently obtained a disc containing a selection of Lyric Pieces played by Alice Sara Ott. Both lovely, though Gilels remains my first choice. You are oddly dismissive of the Violin Sonata No. 3, but, thank God, we have, in the first instance, the recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninov to tell people different. And then there are the Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances. And then Holberg Suite. All still alive and kicking. One must, of course, bear in mind that Grieg was essentially a miniaturist, and the programming of short pieces can be a problem for both performers, concert planners, and recording companies. If we don’t hear much more than the above works, that is where the difficulty lies.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      Writing many Lyric Pieces does NOT make Grieg a miniaturist! Stop this reductive slandering. His chamber music goes to “great lengths” to prove otherwise. Short pieces should not present any obstacle to any QUALIFIED person doing any kind of programming.

  • Calvin says:

    The version by Augustin Dumay and Maria Joao Pires makes a more persuasive case for the violin sonatas, but the fact remains that the body of Greig’s mature chamber work is quite small.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    Grieg’s solo piano music (his large collection of Lyric Pieces) actually remain quite popular among pianists-they are a cornerstone of the teaching repertoire, and some of them are even performed pretty regularly in concert.

    • Kolb Slaw says:

      There are many great composers who get shoved aside just because their music is learned as a student. Dussek is another who suffers from this, with regard to pianists. Most would like be surprised that it was Beethoven who had to struggle against Dussek’s fame, initially, not the other way around.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    The composers like Edward Grieg & Gabriel Faure will never disappear from the scene, for they are worthy composers, but will only occupy a minor place in the concert repertoire, as their music is more lyrical in nature than dramatic or overly romantic.At the moment it is the likes of Rachmaninoff ( overall an inferior version of great Tchaikovsky, but still worth hearing from time to time) who dominate the concert halls. It would be a good thing for music if we were to dispense with applause altogether in concerts. Even in an established composer like Brahms, perhaps his greatest symphony, the third, is the least performed because it has a quiet ending & hence subdued applause.

    • RW2013 says:

      “Rachmaninoff ( overall an inferior version of great Tchaikovsky, but still worth hearing from time to time)”
      I don’t believe I’ve just read that.

      • Kolb Slaw says:

        It’s true, of course, Tchaikovsky is one of the greatest, while Rachmaninov is sometimes one of the greatest, some of the time.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The entirely idiotic reason that conductors avoid nr III because of the quiet ending is absurd indeed and merely shows how many conductors think about the music: merely as vehicles for their ego, instead of seeing their ego as vehicles for the music.

  • Cornishman says:

    Yes, but there are still occasional bright spots. Denis Kozhukhin’s wonderful half-CD of some Lyric Pieces is a recent example of a recording that reinforced and expanded my view at least of Grieg’s greatness.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Another vote or Kreisler-Rachaninoff playing Grieg’s sonata in C-minor for violin and piano. Kreisler is Kreisler, and his friend Rachmaninoff is as melting and romantic as on any record of his, particularly in his solo introduction to the adagio.

    Glenn Gould is another who liked Grieg and claimed him as a relative.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    When I first started getting interested in a serious way in record collecting, late 1960s to early 1970s, pickings were pretty darn slim for the three violin sonatas. The CD era saw a profusion of good choices, as well as reissues of the famous Kreisler/Rachmaninoff, Heifetz, Toscha Siedel, Oistrakh etc. versions of individual works. I find more good red meat in them than does our host, and Grieg himself regarded them as among his best works. I suggest the Arve Tellefsen recording with Eva Knardahl, but there are many other good choices.

    There also seems to be more interest in recent years in exploring the Peer Gynt music beyond the familiar Suites.

    As long as there are string orchestras I suspect the Holberg Suite will be performed.

    There is a remarkable recording, the last one Serge Koussevitzky made for RCA Victor, of “The Last Spring.” It has to be heard to appreciated, quite apart from the chance to hear the conductor and the Boston Symphony in surprisingly good sound.

    I liked Grieg the man more than ever on reading the story of a famous dinner party where the hostess had daringly invited both Brahms and Tchaikovsky, and at table Mrs. Grieg was seated between them. The mutual distaste between the men was so great and so icy that Mrs. Grieg began to cry. Grieg immediately came to her rescue by taking her place at the table, saying that fortunately he got along well with both of them.

    • fflambeau says:

      Serge Koussevitzky was amazing; perhaps the greatest conductor of all. Amazing catholic taste, and the ability to achieve anything.

  • Nola White says:

    There is a wonderful recording of Grieg’s violin sonatas due this month on the BIS label – I am sure Mr Lebrecht will approve!!

  • Edgar Self says:

    David Nelson called it right. Serge Koussevitzky’s BSO 78 of Grieg’s “Vaaren”, or “The Last Spring” is one to love for a lifetime. I think it was the last side of an album that I can’t now recall, of the same vintage as his Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” and “Isle of the Dead” after Arnold Boecklin’s painting. Reger’s is after the other one. Each composer saw a version of the painting in different museums, Rachmaninoff’s I believe in Switzerland.

    Was Koussy’s album Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D minor No. 11 of “L;estro armonico”? There was a little Vivaldi in those days, and a gorgeous Corelli adagio from Vladimir Golschmann and the St. Louis SO as last side of their ‘Pillar of Fire” album for Anthony Tudor’s ballet on Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night”.

  • fflambeau says:

    I must totally disagree.

    Grieg is amazing: I’ve just come to know his solo piano compositions (“Lyric Pieces”) which are right up there with those of Debussy and Chopin. Lots of brilliant older recordings by the likes of Gilels and Richter but also newer ones by Håkon Austbö, Vadim Chaimovitch and others.