Joe Laredo performed an evening of Grieg’s Lyric Songs for Piano on Friday 15 June.
Joe gave us a short description of Grieg’s works for piano and played a few bars of a very famous item – Hall of the Mountain Kings from The Peer Gynt Suite – and then he gave us a reminder of Eric Morecambe’s famous sketch where he played all the right notes! He also played a recording of Edvard Grieg playing one of his piano pieces over 100 years ago - it had been recorded by a recording roll player piano, so Grieg was really with us for his birthday concert.
Joe then performed the following programme with the help of his page turner Julia. (Grieg’s original titles, in various languages, are followed by English translations in brackets where appropriate.)
Book I, Op. 12 (composed 1866–7?; published 1867)
1, Arietta1 – Poco andante e sostenuto
The first published Lyric Piece was this simple “little song”, in which the opening section is repeated, typically with a slight variation (listen to the bass line). A second repeat begins but then curiously ends in mid-phrase.
2, Vals (Waltz) – Allegro moderato
This A minor waltz has a contrasting middle section (in A major) and a short Coda (“tail piece”), which were to become characteristics of the Lyric Pieces. It also introduces one of Grieg’s hallmarks: the acciaccatura (a very short, “crushed”, note before a melody note).
5, Folkevise (Folksong) – Con moto
A mazurka in all but name (it could almost be by Chopin), which features another Grieg trademark: the mordent (two short notes, up and down, before a melody note).
Book II, Op. 38 (composed 1883 except where noted; published 1883)
1, Berceuse (Cradle Song) – Allegretto tranquillo
The rocking of the cradle is expressed by another of Grieg’s favourite devices: a different number of notes played by each hand in the same time (usually two against three, as here). The baby’s sleep is interrupted by an agitated section marked Con moto and some anguished “crying” before the return of the opening calm.
2, Folkevise (Folksong) – Allegro con moto
A simple rustic dance.
3, Melodi (Melody) – Allegretto
Unusual among the Lyric Pieces in combining melody and accompaniment, with some “clashing” harmonies – and threes against fours (even harder to play!).
4, Halling (Dance) – (no tempo indication)
The halling (or hallingdansen) is an energetic, not to say acrobatic, folk dance from the district of Hallingdal, traditionally performed by young men at weddings and parties. Acciaccaturas abound.
6, Elegi (Elegy) – Allegretto semplice
As the title suggests, a quiet lament.
7, Vals (Waltz, originally composed 1866; revised 1883) – Poco allegro
Another minor key waltz with a contrasting middle section (marked Presto) in the major.
8, Kanon (Canon, ca. 1877–8?; revised 1883) – Allegretto con moto
Canon (like the song “London’s Burning”) was another favourite device of Grieg’s; here he turns it into a work of passionate intensity, relieved by a soothing chordal section (Più mosso, ma tranquillo).
Book III, Op. 43 (composed probably 1886; published 1886)
3, I hjemmet (In My Homeland) – Poco andante
Apparently, Grieg envisioned a boat ride on a tranquil lake as he composed this.
Book IV, Op. 47 (composed 1886–8 except where noted; published 1888)
1, Valse-Impromptu – Allegro con moto
Grieg seems to step up a level in confidence and adventurousness in this fourth book, which opens with another minor key waltz.
2, Albumblad (Album Leaf) – Allegro vivace e grazioso
One of the most beautiful of the Lyric Pieces – despite the innocuous title.
3, Melodi (Melody) – Allegretto
A hauntingly lovely piece in A minor.
4, Halling* (Dance) – Allegro
In this halling, you can hear the young men “whooping” as they cavort around the dance floor.
5, Melankoli (Melancholy) – Largo
No mere melancholy, but intense grieving – possibly reflecting Grieg’s state of mind during one of his many severe illnesses.
6, Springtanz (Spring Dance, 1872?; revised 1888) – Allegro vivace
In effect another halling, in which you can hear the hallingkast, where the dancer has to kick a hat held 7 or 8 feet above the ground – expressed pianistically by some perilous hand-crossing!
Book V, Op. 54 (composed 1889–91; published 1891)
1, Gjetergutt (Shepherd Boy) – Andante espressivo
This is one unhappy shepherd boy – doubtless lamenting a lost love … The dissonances in the coda are particularly striking.
4, Notturno – Andante/Più mosso
Debussy said of Grieg’s music that “it leaves in your mouth the bizarre and delightful taste of a pink bonbon filled with snow”. Was he inspired by this piece to compose his famous “Clair de Lune” in 1890, or was the influence the other way round? Listen to the opening notes in the right hand and decide for yourself. In any case, one of the loveliest of the Lyric Pieces.
6, Klokkeklang (Bells) – Andante
Grieg breaks the first rule of composing: not to write parallel fifths (C+G, D+A, etc.) – to spectacularly atmospheric effect (especially, I hope, here in the church).
Book VI, Op. 57 (composed 1890?–3; published 1893)
2, Gade – Allegro grazioso
An affectionate tribute to Grieg’s friend and fellow (Danish) composer Niels Gade, who had died in December 1890.
6, Heimweh (Homesickness) – Andante
The melancholy mood is interrupted by a cheerful dance (Molto più vivo).
Book VII, Op. 62 (composed 1893?–5; published 1895)
1, Sylph – Allegretto con moto/Allegro
A sylph-like piece indeed – one of the most playful of the Lyric Pieces.
Book VIII, Op. 65 (composed 1896; published 1897)
1, Fra ungdomsdagene (From Early Years) – Allegro moderato e tranquillo
One of the great Lyric Pieces; an expansive work full of contrasts of mood. The unexpected middle section is marked Molto più vivo.
6, Bryllupsdag på Troldhaugen (Wedding Day at Troldhaugen) – Tempo di
marcia un poco vivace / Poco tranquillo
One of the best known (but hardly the easiest to play!) of the Lyric Pieces; Grieg’s delightful 25th wedding anniversary present to his wife, Nina.
Book IX, Op. 68 (composed 1898–9; published 1899)
3, For dine føtter (At Your Feet) – Poco andante e molto espressivo
Judging from the passion expressed here, it must be Nina’s feet that Grieg is at …
Book X, Op. 71 (composed and published 1901)
1, Det var engang (Once Upon a Time) – Andante con moto
A simple song and a joyful dance (Allegro brioso).
2, Sommeraften (Summer Evening) – Allegretto tranquillamente
Another disarmingly beautiful and evocative piece.
3, Småtroll (Puck) – Allegro molto
Yes, the same Puck as will “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes” in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – here more like forty seconds. A halling in all but name.
4, Skogstillhet (Forest Stillness) – Lento
My favourite of all the Lyric Pieces; a masterpiece of evocation.
7, Efterklang (Reminiscence) – Tempo di valse
Thirty-five years after he composed the “Arietta”, Grieg transforms it into a (last) waltz – again with an “unfinished” ending …
At the end of the Wedding at Troldhaugen the audience gave well-earned spontaneous applause.
Quotes from a member of our audience:
"Enjoyed your concert very much - everything from the programme to the refreshments had been carefully considered and well executed."
“An amazing amount of music, perfect for a summer evening”
An audience of 37 attended and a total of £243 was donated in appreciation of Joe’s skills and time and for the Norwegian fare that our volunteers provided for the interval. The donations are in aid of our Disabled Access Project.
Programme words by Joe Laredo
Blog post by David Scrutton, photos by Jeff Wright