EDVARD GRIEG. EXQUISITE HEIGHTS
The 1997 release of the Russian animated feature film "Neznayka on the Moon" (Know-nothing on the Moon) opened up the world of Edvard Grieg's music, already popular, to a new part of the Russian public. Now, even small children sometimes ask who wrote the music to "Neznayka" - the beautiful, catchy songs that became an essential part of this kind, witty and illuminating tale of fantastic adventures and dreams, of growing up and, finally, of nostalgia and the long-awaited return home.
Wherever we find ourselves, even for years,
Our hearts still always long for home...
Thus sings the film's character Romashka (the Russian word means "daisy"), who dwells in a fairytale land, to the melody of Grieg's "Solveig's Song", a symbol of waiting and longing, of endless devotion and eternal love. The hearts aches as we hear the melancholy sighs of the deceptively simple and familiar tune, once composed for words that are different but similar in spirit:
The winter may pass and the spring disappear,
The summer, too, will vanish and then the year;
But this I know for certain:you'll come back again... Both the music and the very name of Edvard Grieg are inextricably linked to Norway - to this day, the composer remains the most significant representative of his country's musical arts.
However, the story of Russian-Norwegian musical ties includes other linked historical and concert events, as well as common stylistic elements - it is larger and more diverse than the twists and turns of a single, albeit outstanding, biography. As early as 1838, the virtuoso violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880) came to St. Petersburg with his first concert tour - Bull's name was also inseparably connected to the founding of the famous Norwegian Theatre in Bergen in the 1850s, the first theatre to perform in the Norwegian language. In 1880, at the invitation of Anton Rubinstein, Edmund Neupert (1842-1888)1 joined the Moscow Conservatory as a professor of the piano; Neupert, the best Scandinavian pianist of his time, was the first to perform both Grieg's Piano Concerto (in spring 1869, Copenhagen) and Rubinstein's Third Piano Concerto (summer 1869, in Christiania, now Oslo); 15 years later, in April 1884, Rubinstein's concerts in the Norwegian capital were a fantastic success2. More than that, by the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, the Russian public was already familiar with the names of such composers as Johan Svendsen (1840-1911), Christian Sinding (1856-1941), and Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935).
EDVARD GRIEG'S MASCOT. THE LUCKY FROG
Grieg's contemporaries formed the first generation of Norwegian musicians to attract real attention in enlightened Europe, due precisely to their shared artistic convictions. Theirs was a generation of like-minded, professionally trained3, ambitious men who sought to take their country's art across its geographical borders. However, Edvard Grieg remains the only Norwegian musician to have achieved the broadest recognition worldwide. Grieg happened also to be the only one of Tchaikovsky's contemporaries - the composer was genuinely fond of his company - whom the latter openly referred to as a "genius"4. Later Maurice Ravel would single Grieg out as one of the foreign masters who had significant influence on French music.
Over time, Grieg's music lost its distinct "national" status; its intonations, once perceived as folk-based, became a part of world heritage. The cool and unexpected harmonies; sharp, irregular and unusual rhythms; registers cleverly echoing each other; the intervals softly "touching", and the boundless melody that covers enormous spaces - all of that is Grieg. He was an admirer of the Italian countryside and the serene northern sun; a thoughtful traveller, whose path always took him home; a musician who persistently sought prominence and yet ended up missing the most important premieres of his works. Contradictions and inconsistences abound in both Grieg's life and his work; as a whole though, they unfailingly balance each other out and create an image of the musician far removed from romantic stereotypes.
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, an ancient city "where it always rains", and the legendary capital of the Norwegian fjords, the deep and narrow sea water inlets surrounded by high and steep cliffs. Grieg's parents were sufficiently educated and well-off to provide all their three children (two boys and a girl) with the opportunity to choose their occupation according to their calling. Their father paid for not only Edvard's tuition at Leipzig Conservatory, but for his brother's as well (Grieg's brother went on to become a first-class cellist). Later, when Grieg went travelling to foreign lands in search of rounded experiences, his father paid for that, too. The family did not oppose Grieg's musical career; on the contrary, all the brothers' achievements were sincerely celebrated. All his life Grieg enjoyed fruitful interactions with his friends and like-minded professionals. When he was still a boy, Ole Bull advised his parents to send him to Leipzig. In Leipzig, the best European professors were among his teachers: Ignaz Moscheles, an outstanding pianist, Ernst Friedrich Richter, a musical theorist, and Carl Reinecke, a composer who left the momentous note in Grieg's graduation certificate, saying that the young man "possesses a highly significant musical talent, especially for composition." 5
Upon his return to Scandinavia, Grieg lived in his native Bergen, Christiania and Copenhagen. His correspondence reveals that he stayed in touch with almost two dozen of the most prominent Scandinavian cultural figures of the time, some still widely known today, others forgotten. Grieg's close relationships with Niels Gade (1871-1890) and Johann Hartmann (1805-1900), both composers of the older generation; his contemporaries Emil Hornemann (1841-1906), Rikard Nordraak (1842-1866), and Johan Svendsen (1840-1911); the famous author of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), and the poets and playwrights Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) and Bj0rnstjerne Bj0rnson (1832-1910) - all had a strong influence on Grieg's personal development.
Grieg became famous in his homeland at a very young age - the consequence of the early awakening of his gift for composing music, and of course, his considerable social and musical ambitions. He was ten when he wrote his first musical piece, a composition for the piano; he was 20 when he and a group of friends organized "Euterpe", a Copenhagen musical society. At 22, he tried his hand at conducting in order to introduce to the public two parts of his only symphony; at 24, he made an attempt to establish the first Norwegian music academy, and four years later founded the Music and Concert Society (the Christiania Music Association, now the Oslo Philharmonic).
PYOTR TCHAIKOVSKY AND EDVARD GRIEG MET IN LEIPZIG, ON THE FIRST DAY OF 1888. "... A MAN CAME INTO THE ROOM WHO WAS QUITE SHORT, MIDDLE AGED AND SEEMINGLY FRAIL. HIS SHOULDERS WERE UNEVEN AND HIS HEAD WAS COVERED WITH A LARGE MANE OF BLOND, UNRULY HAIR. HIS BEARD AND MOUSTACHE WERE MOST UNUSUAL, YET ALMOST YOUTHFUL...", TCHAIKOVSKY WROTE A FEW MONTHS LATER. HE DEDICATED TO GRIEG HIS "HAMLET", A FANTASY OVERTURE IN F MINOR, OP. 67A. ON NOVEMBER 5 1891, ALEXANDER ZILOTI PERFORMED GRIEG'S PIANO CONCERTO IN MOSCOW. THE CONTINUING STORY OF THE "RUSSIAN GRIEG" OWES ITS BEGINNING IN LARGE MEASURE TO TCHAIKOVSKY'S SINCERE INTEREST.
However, "local" popularity alone did not appeal to the young man -always a visionary, he saw clearly that significant artistic experiences and true creative growth were only possible outside such traditional boundaries, whether those had to do with geography, communication, or style. Grieg's travels were always different from romantic wanderings, like those of his best-known character Peer Gynt - mostly due to his clear understanding of their purpose. In general, Grieg's whole life and the integrity, permanence and the perfect focus of his worldview was the result of the choice he made, once and for all, between the possible and the necessary.
It is likely that Grieg's understanding of his own creative potential and the crucial ways to develope it grew when he was a student at Leipzig Conservatory in 1858-1862. It was in Leipzig, where the teaching traditions of the Conservatory's founder Felix Mendelssohn were strong, and the music of such undeniable innovators as Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner was still met with caution, that the main elements of Grieg's musical style took shape. Consciously and contrary to his teachers' guidance, the young man chose complicated harmonies and texture; he preferred vivid, emblematic melodies, and drew on folk themes enthusiastically; even in his early compositions, he was looking for a personal, memorable style, based on the clarity of form and structure.
In the same way, Grieg's long trip to Italy via Germany (1865-1866) had an unambiguous purpose, and was also associated with a controversial time in his seemingly trouble-free biography. As he left Berlin to go to Leipzig, he was also leaving behind a seriously ill friend, Rikard Nordraak. After the successful debut of Grieg's two sonatas (his Piano Sonata and Violin Sonata No. 1) at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the composer promised to his friend that he would be coming back, but changed his plans. His "Escape to the South" brought the variety of experiences that Grieg had envisioned: he visited cathedrals and palazzos, listened to music by Franz Liszt, Vincenzo Bellini, Gioachino Rossini, and Gaetano Donizetti. Grieg met Henrik Ibsen, whose star was rising, performed at the Scandinavian Society in Rome and took part in a carnival. In the midst of all these pleasures, he received the news of Nordraak's death. There is not a single word in Grieg's diary or correspondence referring to his conduct at the time. However, he did honour his friend's memory with the dedication of his only "Funeral March" - Grieg conducted its performance at his first subscription concert in Christiania a year later (in a letter, he remembers that it "sounded great"). Later, as he embraced his growing fame, Grieg dedicated the first edition of his Piano Concerto to Nordraak.
SOME RESEARCHERS BELIEVE THAT THE FIRST TIME THAT GRIEG'S PIANO CONCERTO WAS PERFORMED IN RUSSIA WAS IN ST. PETERSBURG ON NOVEMBER 22 1876 (CONDUCTED BY EDUARD NAPRAVNIK, WITH THE PIANO SOLO TAKEN BY IOSIF BOROVKA). PERHAPS THIS VIEW HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BECAUSE, HYPOTHETICALLY, TCHAIKOVSKY COULD HAVE ATTENDED THAT PERFORMANCE. HOWEVER, THE PIANO CONCERTO HAD BEEN PERFORMED IN MOSCOW BEFORE THAT - ON JANUARY 14 1876, AT THE ASSEMBLY OF THE NOBILITY, WHICH HOSTED A SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE BY THE RUSSIAN MUSICAL SOCIETY. PYOTR SHOSTAKOVSKY PLAYED THE PIANO SOLO, AND NIKOLAI RUBINSTEIN CONDUCTED - THE "MOSCOW" RUBINSTEIN, WHO ORGANIZED THE MUSICAL LIFE OF RUSSIA'S SECOND CAPITAL, THE FOUNDER OF ITS CONSERVATORY, THE DARLING OF MOSCOW'S DIVERSE PUBLIC AND THE LOCAL PATRONS OF THE ARTS. IN THE 1870S, WHEN GRIEG'S PIANO CONCERTO WAS NOT FREQUENTLY PERFORMED IN EUROPEAN CONCERT HALLS, IT WAS NOT ONLY A PART OF NIKOLAI RUBINSTEIN'S REPERTOIRE AS A PIANIST AND CONDUCTOR, WAS ALSO PROMINENT IN HIS TEACHING PRACTICE.
It was Grieg's marriage to his first cousin Nina Hagerup that prompted his move to Christiania and the beginning of independent life - and a long break in his relations with his parents. Grieg's parents were against their beloved son's marriage to such a close relative, and were not invited to the wedding; neither were Nina's parents. The joys and sorrows of his family life found no reflection in Grieg's diaries or correspondence. By and large, they also remained beyond the boundaries of his oeuvre. Grieg dedicated songs to his wife, who was an accomplished singer, and was happy to perform with her in concerts. However, neither the birth and untimely death of their only daughter Alexandra (who was barely over one year old when she died), nor the fact that the couple never had any more children seemed to leave a significant mark on the mature worldview of the man and the composer. It has neither the "Nordic" asceticism of his personality nor emotional restraint, which was the norm in society at the time. It was not the desire to hide the events of his private life from the general public, either - Grieg's fame, in Scandinavia and subsequently throughout Europe, came only later.
For Grieg, coming to terms with his talent and its great promise brought huge responsibility - a burden the composer lived with until his death. Grieg always knew what he had to do. To Grieg, his great purpose -to lift Norwegian music to a European level, to bring his country fame and forever glorify it - seemed attainable through a clear, step-by-step direction, where his own artistic ambitions had to defer to binding external influences, as well as the internal rhythms of existential processes in the life of Norwegian music. This was exactly the reason why Grieg did not attend the April 1869 premiere of his Piano Concerto in Copenhagen, a performance that became a phenomenal success. Apparently, the composer felt that his presence at the newly-opened Academy of Music in Christiania was more important. It was for the same reason that in October of the same year Grieg left the Academy in the care of his colleagues and departed for Italy at Liszt's invitation. Liszt performed the same concerto in a private home and was delighted.
GRIEG'S PIANO CONCERTO WAS FIRST PERFORMED AT THE GRAND HALL OF THE CASINO THEATRE IN COPENHAGEN ON APRIL 3 1869, AND BECAME AN IMPORTANT CULTURAL EVENT ALL OVER SCANDINAVIA. EDMUND NEUPERT PLAYED THE PIANO SOLO, AND HOLGER SIMON PAULI, THE PRINCIPAL CONDUCTOR OF THE ROYAL OPERA, CONDUCTED THE PERFORMANCE. QUEEN LOUISE, A SINCERE ADMIRER OF THE MUSICAL ARTS, WAS IN THE AUDIENCE. THERE WAS ALSO AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR AT THIS PREMIERE - ANTON RUBINSTEIN SAT IN A BOX WITH OTHER DISTINGUISHED GUESTS. ON APRIL 4 1869, GRIEG'S FRIEND BENJAMIN FEDDERSON WROTE IN A LETTER TO THE COMPOSER: "... WHILE MY EARS WERE FILLED WITH YOUR MUSIC, I COULD NOT TAKE MY EYES OFF ALL THE EMINENT GUESTS; I WATCHED THEIR EVERY FACIAL EXPRESSION, THEIR EVERY GESTURE, AND I DARE SAY THAT GADE, HARTMANN, RUBINSTEIN AND WINDING WERE ALL FILLED WITH JOY AND ADMIRATION FOR YOUR WORK ... NEUPERT DID HIS JOB PERFECTLY ... IN SOME MEASURE, RUBINSTEIN'S PIANO CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUCCESS WITH ITS INCOMPARABLE, FULL AND COLOURFUL TONE."
There are many such turns in Grieg's biography, and they cannot be adequately assessed without accepting Grieg's system of values: music and its practice came first, everything else second. It is perhaps the reason why the emotional intensity of Grieg's music, no matter how vivid and dramatic, is perceived as the result of a deliberate, mediated response rather than an immediate and spontaneous reaction. It is no coincidence that Grieg composed little during his travels; most of his music was written at home, in quiet solitude. Having gained financial independence, the composer built a house by a Bergen fjord, on top of a high cliff. It was there, to his Troldhaugen estate, that the maestro returned after his concert tours, which became more and more numerous with each passing year: Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France, England, Austria, Bohemia and Livonia (now northern Latvia.)
As fate would have it, Grieg was absent from the opening performance of the composition that brought him colossal fame - this time, for family reasons. Both Grieg's parents died in autumn 1875, their deaths separated by an interval of 40 days; all the worries and work related to the funerals naturally affected the composer's psyche and emotional state and kept him in Bergen for a long time.
Edvard Grieg's music to Ibsen's drama "Peer Gynt" has received its share of detailed reviews. The play was first performed on February 24 1876 in Christiania and lasted for almost five hours. For the performances that followed the opening night, the composer added and removed parts of the musical score at his own discretion. Thus, it is now impossible to reach any detailed understanding as to how those performances went. The length of the two compositions that Grieg based on his music for "Peer Gynt" is 90 minutes in total, and each of them has become familiar all over the world. Of all Grieg's works - incidental music, symphonies, chamber music, songs, choruses, and a large number of compositions for the piano - the ones that, having lost the connection with their author, remain in the collective memory of the public are his Piano Concerto in A minor, numerous pages from his ten books of "Lyric Pieces" for piano, a few romantic songs and some fragments of chamber music.
Over the past century, Grieg's "signature" intonations, turns and comparisons have "melted" into the works of other worldwide musical schools and individual composers. However, even now it is easy enough to recognize Grieg. It seems that it is only in his music that the somber hues of the impenetrable forest and deep caves are so clearly set off by the parsimonious rays of a long-awaited sun. It is only in his music that the willful powers of the sea leave an indelible mark on the formidable, cascading musical passages; that the clear, silent air before sunrise is so realistically portrayed; it is only Grieg who can take the vast natural space that surrounds us and wrap it into the echoes of enduring personal loneliness.
Grieg's death was not unexpected, although he still had many plans. He did not go to London for a second time, did not make it to Russia, in spite of persistent and long-standing invitations by Alexander Ziloti, the pianist and conductor. Grieg died from emphysema of the lungs, which was caused by the tuberculosis he had suffered from in his youth. With this disease, life would have been easier in a different climate -not in a place of rain, winds and cold summers. But then Grieg's would have been a different story - without the tart scent of pine needles, the fantastic troll dances, or Solveig's sad voice, gliding between the fjords.
THE EDITORIAL BOARD OF THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY MAGAZINE EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE TO THE EDVARD GRIEG MUSEUM, TROLDHAUGEN AND BERGEN PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR THE ILLUSTRATIONS PROVIDED.
* In 1905, during the composer's lifetime, Nikolai Gumilev's first volume of collected poems "The Way of the Conquistadors" was published in St. Petersburg. It included a poem entitled "To Grieg's Melodies": And at the heights, so exquisite, Where the pure lilies' tears glimmer, I see the fervent among the blessed, And the crimson roses on the mountain snow.
- Neupert taught at the Conservatory from October 1880 until March 1881; there were ten students in his class. Due to a succession of tragic events, his career in Russia was cut short: on March 1 1881 Emperor Alexander II was assassinated by members of the "Narodnaya Volya" revolutionary organization, and ten days later Nikolai Rubinstein died. Presumably, Neupert did not feel comfortable staying in a foreign land under such circumstances; he returned home, and eventually ended up working in North America, where he also found the professional recognition he so fully deserved.
- Points of similarity in the lives of Edvard Grieg and Anton Rubinstein were not merely biographical. Both represented a generation of pioneers, in art as well as education. In 1867, five years after the opening of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Grieg founded the first Norwegian Academy of Music, and in 1871 the Philharmonic Society, which is thriving today.
- According to E. V. Biteriakova, an expert on Christian Sinding, the Leipzig Conservatory became "for Norway ... a 'training ground' of sorts. During its first 50 years (1843-1893) close to 200 Norwegian musicians studied in Leipzig..." Biteriakova, E.V. "Christian Sinding. Portrait of a Norwegian Musician". M., 2007, p. 34.
- "Tchaikovsky is the only one of the principal Russian composers whose biography includes a significant personal and artistic chapter associated with the great Norwegian," A.I. Klimovitsky stated in his 1998 publication "The Russian Grieg: from Tchaikovsky to the 'Silver Age'. The Music of Finnish and Scandinavian Composers." Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Institute of Art History. Edited and compiled by K.I. Yuzhak. Petrozavodsk, St. Petersburg, 1998, p. 139. The two musicians' correspondence and their enthusiastic reviews of each other's work are preserved. In addition, Tchaikovsky's personal library contains four works by Grieg, signed by the author: the Concert Overture "In Autumn", Op. 11; the String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27; Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45; and the "Peer Gynt" Suite (music to Henrik Ibsen's drama) No. 1, Op. 46. Similarly, Grieg's Bergen library contains printed scores of Tchaikovsky's works, with the composer's autographs.
- Benestad, Finn; Schjelderup-Ebbe, Dag. "Edvard Grieg. The Man and the Artist". Originally in Norwegian. Quote from the Russian translation by N.N. Mokhov. Raduga. Moscow, 1986, p. 37.