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Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg Composer

Lyric Suite (orchestration of Op.54)

Performances: 16
Tracks: 41
  • Lyric Suite (orchestration of Op.54)
    Year: 1904
    Genre: Suite / Partita
    Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
    • 1.Shepherd's Boy
    • 2.Norwegian March
    • 3.Nocturne
    • 4.March of the Dwarfs
    • 5.Bell Ringing
Edvard Grieg composed and published about 60 so-called "Lyric Pieces" for piano over a period of almost 40 years, from the time of his first real creative outpouring to just a few years before his death in 1907. The six Lyric Pieces contained in Opus 54 are considered to be some of his finest products, and it is not surprising that he selected four of them for the charming orchestral Lyric Suite.

As it turns out, the idea to orchestrate some of the Lyric Pieces was not Grieg's at all. In 1903 it came to Grieg's attention that four pieces from the Opus 54 bunch had been orchestrated by the well-known conductor Anton Seidl; though enthusiastic about the idea, Grieg was not altogether satisfied by Seidl's rather Wagnerian approach. After securing the legal rights from Seidl's widow in 1904, Grieg proceeded to adapt the arrangements of three of them to better suit the translucent textures of the original piano ideas; the orchestration of the first piece in the suite is entirely Grieg's own. (It is touching to note that Grieg handed over the 1,000 marks he received from the sale of the Lyric Suite to Seidl's widow.)

Both the Opus 54 piano group and the Lyric Suite open with a dramatic piece called Shepherd Boy. It moves from a delicate but breathless opening melody to a tumultuous crescendo to fortissimo, only to eventually return to the fragile realm from which it came. The shimmering final chord is reminiscent of the one that begins the famous Anitra's Dance from the first Peer Gynt Suite.

Gangar, the title of the second piece, means "walking tune"; the music is steady and sure in a way that the first piece was not. A syncopated motivic idea is set against an unwavering background of dotted eighth-notes; the middle section makes a charming use of dynamic contrast—one can almost imagine that this is a heated conversation during the walk, one speaker tumultuous and agitated, the other far more subdued. The rising harmonies of the coda, set to two contrasting rhythms, evaporate in a striking way.

March of the Dwarves is not only the finest piece in the Lyric Suite, it is probably also the best of any of the Lyric Pieces and a contender for one of the top three or four slots in all of Grieg's music. Cast in a well-defined ABA form, it contrasts the firm, rhythmic (Dwarves are marching, after all!) material of the outer sections with one of the composer's most sublime lyrical melodies. Grieg writes some very long crescendos and diminuendos, as if the marchers draw near and then pass.

The last piece in the Suite is the well-known Notturno (Nocturne), an ethereal glimpse into a musical world in which traditional rhythm—even the basic concepts of downbeat and upbeat—are suspended. There is a rich, well-deserved two measure Adagio at the end.

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Grieg's Book V of his Lyric Pieces was composed in the period 1889-1891 and contained some of his most substantial works in the series. They are still light in texture and mood, but a bit lengthier than most of the others and filled with memorable tunes. After the composer heard an orchestral adaptation by Anton Seidl of Bellringing (Op. 54/6), he decided to arrange four of the pieces for orchestra himself. He renumbered their order, thus making this Nocturne the third piece in the expanded version here and March of the Dwarves the fourth, both of which occupied the other's position in the Lyric Pieces. This Nocturne features a lovely, melancholy main theme that adapts well to Grieg's string-dominated sonorities. The mood brightens when woodwinds and reeds take up the more animated but simple second subject. They soon yield back to the forlorn strings, however, who show almost Rachmaninovian sadness in their passion and yearning. Grieg's lighter orchestration (no percussion and little brass here) keeps the melancholy from turning overly dark, and his deft sense for color gives the music a delectable exoticism and charm. The final appearance of the second subject on solo violin is touching. This piece typically has a duration of four minutes.

© All Music Guide
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