Advent Calendar 2013

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Advent Calendar 2013

Edvard Grieg

One of the main tasks at the Norwegian Institute of Recorded Sound is to preserve the Norwegian audio heritage. Edvard Grieg plays an important part here, because he is definitely the most internationally renowned Norwegian composer. An important part of the record collection that Arne Dørumsgaard built up from his home in Italy was with Grieg's music. In accordance with his vision for the Institute, we have chosen to present a Grieg calendar this year.

Whilst you're waiting for the rest of Advent you can listen to Christmas music from our calendars in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Edvard Grieg in 1905

Edvard Grieg i 1905.
(Foto: Perscheid, in the Bergen Public Library Grieg collection. Wikimedia Commons )

Edvard Grieg – national and international

Edvard Grieg is a composer we keep coming back to. Why does his music keep being interresting, and what impact has the idea of the Norwegian landscape and Norwegian folk culture to say for the public devotion to his music. It is often said that the short Lyric Pieces are constantly fresh scents of Norwegian fjords and mountains. A cliché that might be an impediment to the music itself, but it is also some truth to it. How often is not the end of his Piano Concerto been said to describe a mountain and fjord landscape in all its grandeur, just as Anton Bruckner's symphonies are said to describe the Alpine landscapes of Austria. This is true and false at the same time.

A close reading of the technical aspects of the compositions can reveal certain elements that are close to the Norwegian folk music, but there are elements which are also found in other countries' traditional musical. It is enough to mention the Grieg seventh, the falling movement which opens his a-minor concerto. At the same time this is set in a central European symphonic tradition. The short Lyric Pieces has its counterpart in including Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne worte. Grieg was both European and Norwegian at the same time. It was in many cases the community and the public who wanted to read the specifically Norwegian element into his music, although we must be aware that Grieg himself was searching for something especially Norwegian, using Norwegian folk music as a basis for creating a national art in the frame of the European art music tradition. Over the years this has at times been reinforced and might to the listener act as a barrier to the pure music.

During December we will discuss some of these issues concerning Grieg's music. We hope that the selection of recordings we present will be able to provide him justice as a composer , and that our advent calendar audiences will appreciate the way we have organized our musical advent calendar this year.

Recordings and performers

All the material presented during Our Christmas calendar are taken from Norwegian and foreign recordings on 78 rpm discs. The recordings are made between 1904 and 1955. There is thus a diverse range of discs that form the basis of the calendar. The range of recording technique therefore ranges from primitive acoustic recordings to electrical recordings with good monaural sound. An occasional disc will also feature some music by other composers that stood near to Grieg, or contemporary to him.

Biographical sketch

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on June 15ht, 1843. Here the family lived in a white painted house in Strandgaden No. 152. He received music first training from his mother. It was the superstar violinist-composer of his times, Ole Bull who persuaded the 15 year old Edvard Grieg further into the world of music. Ole Bull was even in the family of Edward's mother. In his book My first success Grieg writes himself that Bull should have said You are going to Leipzig to become an artist.

Grieg did not look back with fondness on the years he spent at the Leipzig Conservatory from 1858, but there he learned a musical craftsmanship that enabled him to write music that led him along the path to become one of the most distinguished national romantic composers.

In 1862, Grieg was back in Bergen, but from 1863 he lived in Copenhagen in Denmark. This was still the main cultural city to the Norwegians, despite the union with Sweden from 1814. He had contact with the Danish composer Niels Wilhelm Gade who encouraged him to write a symphony. At the same time, the association with composer Richard Nordraak gave him important impulses to write a national Norwegian music.

Silhuet drawed by Otto Böhler

Silhuet drawed by Otto Böhler.
Illustration: Otto Böhler. Wikimedia Commons )

In 1866 he moved to Christiania for a two-year appointment as head of the Philharmonic Society which was a forerunner of today's Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. The following year he married his cousin Nina Hagerup despite widespread protests from other family members. This year he made the acquaintance of a new symphony written by his colleague Johann Svendsen. As a result, he withdrew his own symphony, and made the now famous inscription on the score : Must never be performed .

In the years 1869-70 he stayed in Rome in Italy with support from the Norwegian government. He came in contact with other artists in the Norwegian Rome colony as well as the composer Franz Liszt, at that time the greatest piano virtuoso and composer of great musical, including his vision to the reform the church music. Back home in Christiania in 1871, he continued his conducting duties. Then he received an annual government grant in 1874 , which made it possible for him to concentrate on his own music.

A truly tragic event took place in the autumn of 1875 when both his parents died within weeks. This led to a deeply felt artistic expression, the variation works for piano, namely Ballade op. 24. While the following years were marked by crises, personal and artistic, the place Lofthus in Hardanger became the place he returned every summer. Here he had built a composer cottage which he called compost . Winter time were used for concert tours across Europe. Also his relationship to his wife Nina ailied at times, and he was captivated by the painter Leis Schjelderup who lived in Paris. However, his friend from Bergen, Frantz Beyer managed to achieve a reconciliation between husband and wife in 1883.

In 1884, Edvard Grieg bought a buikding plot a hop off from Bergen and built the house Troldhaugen (The Hill of Trolls). This artists home would be his firm foothold in a life marked by many long concert tours. On one of these concert tours he met Johannes Brahms in 1887 and he and Tchaikovsky both spoke of Grieg's music in positive terms. Grieg's health that had been poor since his youth was not helped by these efforts, despite numerous visits to several spa towns in Europe. From 1903 on, his respiratory symptoms worsened and became more severe.

In 1904 Grieg receiving the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Olav, one of the highest honors a Norwegian artist can get. His fame was on top in the first years of the 1900s. He made recordings of his own music, not many years after Caruso had brought the gramophone to it’s first major wave of popularity. However, the disease worsened, and in 1907 he became progressively worse. The summer of 1907 was spent at Troldhaugen, and a new concert tour was planned. He did not, however, get further than the Bergen Municipal Hospital where he died on September 4th 1907 .

At Edvard Grieg’s burial, there were thousands of people who honored the late composer. Grieg's adaptation of the folk tune The Great White Flock was sung by a large choir and the Funeral march for Richard Nordraak was played by the Bergen Brigade Band. Chopin's Funeral March was heard during the procession to the crematorium. The urn was later set into a niche in a rock at Troldhaugen

His wife Nina Grieg died in 1935 and was buried beside her husband.

Edvard and Nina Grieg at Troldhaugen in 1907

Edvard and Nina Grieg at Troldhaugen in 1907.
Photo: Jacobsen Bergen 1907, In the Grieg collection at the Bergen Public Library. Wikimedia Commons )

Adjust Your Ears

Sit back and adjust Your ears so you can listen through the hiss, crackle and noise on the old records. Be entranced by the music and performances made by singers from a long bygone era. Get ready for a journey back to the first half of the 1900s.

The records are professionally cleaned and digitized but we present them in urestored editions, complete with hissing and crackling, perfect for creating the atmosphere of a good old Christmas. The Institute holds a conservation audio file in wave format, but the files that are presented here on the website are mp3 compressions of the original files.

Have a peaceful Advent!

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