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Five Minute Library: BORIS GILTBURG | GRIEG · NATURE AND EMOTION

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In my mind, the music of Edvard Grieg is inseparably tied with nature. I often have the feeling that he had such an instinctive connection to his native landscapes that they became an integral part of his musical DNA manifested especially strongly in his slow movements and lyrical themes. In this he is similar to Jan Sibelius, another Scandinavian composer whose music evokes nature. But while Sibelius’ music can often sound austere, impersonal, awe-inspiring, the nature in Grieg’s music is gentler, more tender, more human. A leisurely, starry-night melody, and how beautiful the repeat higher up, when the entire scene opens up and the melody glitters in the starlight. We can find the same kind of sparkling, gently flowing beauty in the 2nd movement of his piano concerto, a more mature work. But this is not the beginning of the movement. Before the piano comes in, Grieg wrote a long introduction for the orchestra alone; utterly beautiful music in itself, but also there to prepare the entrance of the piano. There is so much warmth and tenderness there, and the music lies mostly in the middle and lower register so the resulting sound picture is rich and dense, like an oil painting. But then, what an effect when the piano comes in! To me it feels like a breath of fresh air and a drink of cool water simultaneously; I’m almost certain that Grieg intentionally wanted this “aah…”’ feeling when he juxtaposed the orchestra and the piano. The music then surges up in a big wave arriving to a half point and descending slowly. And then, after a short connection, the entire section is repeated higher up, not by much, but enough to instill an even greater sense of magic and wonder. And those embellishments, like birdsong, or drops of water naturally falling on the keyboard. A build-up follows next, in which the orchestra repeats the first notes of the opening theme. accompanied by the surging waves and birdsong embellishments in the piano. And then, the big climax! The entire opening theme played in full splendor by both piano and orchestra, as if the previously hushed night-scene was now brightly lit by the midday sun. A beautiful harmonic interchange between the orchestra and the piano. And finally a coda; things are calming down and the evening is setting down again on the scene. An inspired combination of nature and emotion, infused, as always with Grieg, with beauty and benevolence.

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