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Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway on June 15, 1843 and died in Bergen, Norway on September 4, 1907. He composed his Piano Concerto in 1868. Grieg revised it on several occasions, the last of them, creating the version in which it has since been known, shortly before his death. It runs approximately 30 minutes in performance and is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and orchestral strings.
In 1864, Grieg befriended another young Norwegian composer, Rikard Nordraak. Nordraak believed that the future of their country’s art music lay not in a continued reliance on Germanic models, but in tapping into the rich heritage of folk song. Grieg quickly came to share this view. Nordraak died of consumption in March 1866, at 23. For a time, Grieg’s grief led him to consider abandoning the Nationalist path he and his friend had agreed upon, but a visit to Nordraak’s grave convinced him to stay the course.
Grieg expressed himself most successfully in miniature forms. The songs and brief piano works, such as the many books entitled Lyric Pieces, stand among his finest achievements. His only significant large-scale composition is this Concerto.
The newly-married, 25-year-old composer spent the summer of 1868 in Denmark, living and working in the village of Søllerød. He shared a house with pianist Edmund Neupert, who gave him regular advice on the Concerto’s solo part, and to whom, in gratitude, he dedicated it. The première proved hugely successful. This led to numerous further performances, and the foundation of Grieg’s international fame.
The first movement boasts one of the most familiar openings in the entire concerto repertoire. Much of its memorability springs from its very simplicity. The movement proper wears a rather melancholy expression, although warmth is amply present as well. A long, taxing solo cadenza near the end says about all there is to say, so Grieg follows it with only the briefest of summings-up.
The second movement, ushered in by muted strings, is a tender song without words. The finale follows on directly, led off by an insistent, almost march-like theme. It is modeled on the springdans (leaping dance), a Norwegian folk step. The second theme offers strong contrast. At first it has the character of as wistful and poetic a melody as Grieg ever penned. In the concluding pages he demonstrated that it also has the capacity to become a grand, triumphant hymn.
Programme Note by Don Anderson
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