Edvard Hagerup Grieg was descended from Alexander Greig, a Scottish merchant of Fraserburgh who was appointed British Consul in Bergen in the 1740s. His grandson married into the local distinguished Hagerup family. About that time the spelling of Greig was changed to the Germanic form 'Grieg', thus preserving its pronunciation in Northern Europe.Grieg's mother Gesine Hagerup was a gifted pianist and took charge of young Edvard's early musical education. She was advised by Ole Bull, the radical Norwegian violinist and composer.
At the age of 15, Edvard entered the Leipzig Conservatory. After four years' extensive study he returned to Norway an all-round musician: pianist, conductor and composer. A chance meeting with the nationalistic composer Rikard Nordraak awoke in Grieg a latent nationalistic leaning which he subsequently pursued. To quote the distinguished American critic Harold C. Schonberg: "Grieg does not represent power or revolution: he represents charm, grace, sweetness …, he was a minor master and one of the finest".
Grieg's three large-scale works are his Symphony of 1864 (which after an early performance was not revived until 1981), the A minor Piano Concerto, and the Peer Gynt Incidental Music which dates from 1876. Although Grieg was an admirer of Henrik Ibsen, he did not consider Peer Gynt a suitable vehicle to which music could be added. In his turn, Ibsen was not entirely satisfied with Grieg's efforts.From the original 23 numbers which comprised the incidental music, Grieg subsequently formed two Concert Suites of four numbers each, some with amended orchestration. As Concert Suites, the numbers do not follow in their original sequence.
Peer is now travelling in North Africa. The scene is a grove of palms on the coast of Morocco, and a dining table is spread under an awning. Peer, now well-dressed and be-jewelled, and showing all the signs of affluence, is entertaining his foreign contemporaries.
After his adventures with the Trolls, the fugitive Peer returns home. His mother Aase is old and frail, and lying on her bed close to death. She blesses him, and he reminisces, with some fantasy added for good measure. As he rambles on he turns, to find his mother dead.The music is marked Andante Doloroso and scored for strings alone. It is an elegy of great poignancy. It is played as a prelude to the Act and repeated towards the end, when it is played very very softly.
We now find Peer Gynt in North Africa. Dressed in Oriental robes and resting in the tent of an Arab chieftain, he is drinking and smoking a hookah. For his further entertainment Anitra and her troupe perform a sinuous belly dance. Here Grieg weaves a sensuous melody over a mazurka rhythm.
This number is scored for strings, and the mellifluous sound of a lone triangle.
Ibsen, in his five-act Dramatic Poem (which he himself described as reckless and formless) causes Peer Gynt to flirt with the improbable as well as the probable.
In this scene Peer is out in the forest, and encounters a 'Woman in Green'. Together they ride on the back of a huge pig into the Royal Hall of the Troll King amid great uproar. Once within, Peer is taunted and tormented by the grotesque and supernatural folk, who desire to kill him. He eventually escapes, and is subsequently to be found asleep in a mountain pasture.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Apr 1999
Written by Roy Saberton
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