Monday, March 16, 2009

Grieg: Lyric Pieces

What is so-called originality, so-called novelty? It isn't the most important thing. The most important thing is truth of feeling.
--Edvard Grieg

Grieg wrote a total of 66 lyric pieces for piano, and our pianist, Emil Gilels, chose the twenty works featured on this disc himself. It's refreshing to hear these beautiful works for solo piano played so lovingly, beautifully and with such perfection. This is the kind of classical music CD you'll listen to joyfully for decades.
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Emil Gilels, piano
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Grieg: Lyric Pieces (Lyrische Stücke), performed by Emil Gilels
Deutsche Grammophon/Polydor, 1974
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It's a pleasure to hear a CD of passionate music performed by a pianist who actually cares about the recording he was making, and it's a particularly stark contrast from our last CD of piano music grudgingly performed by Glenn Gould.

Before we get to the listener notes, I'd like to make a brief point about two inspiring moments in Grieg's life. The first occurred when Grieg was 15, when the famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull visited Grieg's family and encouraged Edvard, both in his music and in his love of his native Norway. The meeting had an enormous effect on the young boy. Writing about the meeting years later, Grieg wrote: "I felt something like an electric current pass through me when his hand touched mine."

In his mid-twenties another inspiring meeting impacted Grieg's life. Franz Liszt, who at that time was one of the world's most acclaimed pianists, had discovered Grieg's compositions and encouraged the young composer to visit him in Rome, even helping the young man secure a grant to pay for the trip. The meetings between the two men and the encouragement Liszt gave him propelled Grieg forward.

"Keep steadily on, I tell you, you have the talent and the capacity, but don't let them intimidate you."
--Franz Liszt, to Edvard Grieg

Interestingly, Liszt had a similarly inspiring experience as a boy when he met Beethoven and received similar encouragement in his musical efforts.

What's the message here? It's this: spread encouragement, especially if you are a leader in your field. Your thoughts, words and moral support can carry immense weight with talented young people who may very well be tomorrow's great leaders. You never know who you might influence or how far your influence might propel that person.

If it weren't for these two chance encounters in Grieg's life, we may never have had this amazing music.

The artist is an optimist. Otherwise he would be no artist. He believes and hopes in the triumph of the good and the beautiful. He trusts in his lucky star till his last breath.
--Edvard Grieg

Listener notes for Grieg's Lyric Pieces:
For today's listener notes, I'll simply share a few thoughts on four of my favorite pieces on this CD.

#7 Norwegian Dance (Norwegischer Tanz): Perhaps my favorite work on the entire disc--in a minute and a half, it really shocks the ears with a really fun part for the left hand, and a touch of atonality at just the right times. When you hear this piece, you feel like you've been transported onto a sailing ship in the North Sea.

#8 Notturno: This is a particularly beautiful piece with a wash of colors and moods.

#12 Homeward (Heimwarts): I love the fun, the sense of nostalgia and the energy of this work.

#17 Once upon a Time (Es war einmal): This work paints a picture in the impressionistic style of Chopin or Schumann, and it includes some interesting key changes that keep you just a bit off-balance. Also, there's a bit of a political backdrop to this piece, as it supposedly refers to a one-time political union between Sweden and Norway, combining folk music from both countries.


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