Norwegian Sounds Program Notes
Norwegian Sounds – Program Notes by Steven Luksan
Edvard Grieg’s influence on Norwegian music and culture is inescapable. His music is one of Norway’s greatest exports, but his fame and the spotlight on his music have often blinded the musical establishment from seeing the full picture of the vibrant musical traditions in Norway. Musicologist William Halvorsen muses that “The general impression, one fears, is that Grieg is something of an anomaly – a composer with no predecessors, no contemporaries, and no successors in his own land, a solitary master who miraculously sprang forth in a cultural wasteland like the proverbial root out of dry ground.” On the contrary, this program of “Norwegian Sounds” proves that Grieg did indeed have skilled contemporaries and creative successors in Norway.
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen in 1843. His father was a businessman, and his mother was the best (or at least most expensive) piano teacher in the city. As a 15-year-old, Grieg left his native land and ventured to Germany to study at the Leipzig Conservatory and, while Grieg’s education may have given him a strong foundation as a composer, he often made disparaging comments about “that damned Leipzig Conservatory, where I learned absolutely nothing.” Grieg’s transformation into the national voice of Norwegian music did not truly begin until he was living in Copenhagen as a 20-year-old and decided to pursue a uniquely Scandinavian sound in his music.
Grieg’s Holberg Suite (or From Holberg’s Time) was composed in 1884, the bicentennial of the birth of Ludvig Holberg, a Bergen-born playwright, author, and philosopher. Grieg took inspiration from the French dance suites of Holberg’s day (like those of J.S. Bach). While Grieg’s suite is composed of five movements that resemble Baroque dances, the sound of the music unmistakably shines with the voice of the composer. The first movement (Praeludium) pulses with energy reminiscent of Norway’s national folk instrument, the Hardanger fiddle. Two slow dances (a Sarabande and an Air) alternate with two quick-paced movements (a paired Gavotte & Musette and a Rigaudon) to form a suite that, like the Baroque suites from which Grieg drew inspiration, expertly balances contrasting musical episodes and styles.
Grieg first composed the suite in a version for solo piano and later orchestrated it for strings. To his publisher, however, he claimed that the original version was for string orchestra. The composer – a successful businessman when it came to marketing his music – expected his publisher to pander to the stronger market for piano pieces than orchestral publications; if Grieg had admitted that the piano version came first, the version for strings would likely not have been printed.
On June 4th , 1907, Edvard Grieg received news that his friend and colleague Agathe Backer Grøndahl had died of cancer. That evening he wrote a tribute in his diary to the woman who he had greatly admired. He writes that “this beautiful life has ended. No artist has ever walked purer paths than she. I loved her solemn idealism. It had its unique charm. If a mimosa could sing, its sounds would be like her loveliest and tenderest music.” Born in 1847, Grøndahl was the foremost Norwegian pianist of her generation. Her breakthrough performance occurred in Oslo in 1868, when she played Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto under the baton of the 25-year-old Edvard Grieg. From then on, her career was filled with concert tours throughout Europe, and she moved in the same circles as the world’s top musicians. She studied with Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow, and her fame was so widespread that she was even offered a professorship at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, a proposition she declined, unwilling to uproot her life in Europe.
As is the case with many female composers from earlier generations, Grøndahl’s compositional output is mostly in the form of piano pieces and songs, two genres that were associated with private music-making in the home. The Scherzo on this program, composed in 1869, is one of Grøndahl’s rare compositions for a large ensemble and was the first orchestral work by a female Norwegian ever performed in a concert hall when it premiered in Oslo in 1870. This composition was not heard again for many years until its manuscript was retrieved from the University of Oslo archives for a performance in 1997, the 150th anniversary of Grøndahl’s birth. Scholar Cecilie Dahm writes that the piece “is a work full of charm and elegance: It doesn’t ‘beat around the bush,’ and it is, as the title suggests, a cheerful, entertaining piece of music. In the clarinet parts, we hear echoes from Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance[…] though the one who most clearly influences the composition is Mendelssohn. The music from A Midsummer’s Night Dream has not failed to leave an impression on the young Norwegian composer.”
Edvard Grieg died on September 4th, 1907, exactly 3 months after his dear friend Agathe Backer Grøndahl. The first detailed biography of Grieg was not completed until 1934, written by the composer David Monrad Johansen. Monrad Johansen, born in northern Norway in 1888, was heavily influenced by Grieg in his earliest compositions but fell under the influence of the musical trends he encountered while in Paris in 1920. There, Debussy’s music pushed Monrad Johansen’s compositions towards musical impressionism, while Stravinsky’s ballet music pulled him in the direction of neoclassicism. As a prominent composer, critic, and cultural leader in Norway, Monrad Johansen became a member of the Norwegian Nazi Party not long after German occupation began in 1940. A possible reason why he joined the Party was to prevent outside German influence on the Norwegian cultural institutions that he so deeply valued. After the war, he was sentenced to four years of hard labor for his wartime affiliations, but he continued to reinvent himself as a composer and regained the respect of his country before his death in 1974.
The seven songs on this program were composed in 1921 but draw their poetry from a volume of Norwegian folk poetry first published in 1853. In the foreword to this score, Monrad Johansen wrote:
Out of the pages of this book a swarm of colors and visions hit me, pictures of Norwegian nature and Norwegian folk-life, but not as I knew it from our national-romantic art. No, these poems brought me back much further, to distant times, to the Norwegian Middle Ages, maybe even further back. There was something fantastical about them, not the least because the language often had mythical characteristics, the poetry implied more than the words themselves expressed.
Individual poems can be frighteningly realistic… for example, the first of the songs, The Warning Bird, the song about the warning bird that comes from a foreign land, sets itself on the maiden’s bower and preaches to the young girl telling her of the gruesome fate she has ahead of her. North of Trondheim is carefully painted and with a flavor of Norwegian Middle Ages. […The text] presumably does not have more in it than such to dwell in the thought of the absent love.
The simple melody in The Shepherd came to me in composition as an expression of longing back to childhood’s lost paradise. In the Morning paints for us a sparkling summer morning where “the shepherd sits on the mountain, looks toward the sun, and is looking forward to evening as a child does to Christmas.” The light comes like waves over the landscape: “The sun shines in the north and down over Bjåland’s cow stable, wake up Mari Bjåland, now the day is light.” In contrast we have the next song, In Ulaavadi. Here a feeling of cold and darkness hits us, with snowdrifts and drifting clouds: “The eastern storm arrives, the clouds tremble and the cold snow drifts, it is better to be home spending time with one’s wife.” The humorous song about The Fox and the Farmer doesn’t require any commentary. The collection ends with In Vaagelidann where “the land owners dance with the hired men, cuckoos call in the green hills and the birds shake their wings,” a Norwegian landscape picture, brought to life by means that are picturesque and beautiful, and at the same time fantastical.” (Translation by Laura Loge)
These songs have been colorfully orchestrated and arranged for Philharmonia Northwest and Laura Loge, soprano, by Seattle-based composer and conductor Adam Stern.
LAURA LOGE, SOPRANO SOLOIST
Soprano Laura Loge has been hailed for her “luminous stage presence” and “characterful and versatile voice.” Opera roles include Violetta (La Traviata), Musetta (La Bohème), Micaëla (Carmen), Ännchen (Der Freischütz), Lisa (La Sonnambula), La Fée (Cendrillon), Pousette (Manon), Heron, Raven & Eagle (Our Earth), Lucy (The Telephone), Guadalena and Ninetta (La Perichole), Rosalinda (Die Fledermaus), Second Lady (Magic Flute), Goddess Diana (Iphigénie en Aulide), Suor Genovieffa (Suor Angelica) and Miss Silverpeal (The Impresario). On the concert stage she has performed as the soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Incidental Music to Egmont, Nielsen’s Symphony no. 3, Fauré’s Requiem, Grieg’s Songs for Soprano and Orchestra and Peer Gynt, Schumann’s Mass and Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Verdi’s Requiem. She has appeared with the Seattle Opera, Puget Sound Opera, Rimrock Opera, Intermountain Opera, Northwest Opera in Schools, Etc., Puget Sound Concert Opera, Boston Opera Collaborative, Longwood Opera, Icicle Creek Music Center, Mostly Nordic Chamber Music Series, Second City Chamber Music Series, Thaliah Symphony, Wenatchee Valley Symphony, Seattle Modern Orchestra, Sammamish Symphony, Yakima Symphony Orchestra, Bremerton Symphony, Masterworks Chorale and Orchestra as well as numerous concerts and recitals.
Additionally, Ms. Loge specializes in Nordic art song which she has performed across the United States and in Norway. She sang several times for and was the Honorary Marshal for Ballard’s syttende mai parade, was the featured soloist at the Scandinavian Cultural Center’s Greater Tacoma Peace Prize banquet and the Ballard Sons of Norway. She organized and presented memorial concerts in Seattle, Washington D. C. and New York City in response to the 2011 terror attack in Norway, has performed Songs for Soprano and Orchestra by Edvard Grieg, has been featured frequently in the Mostly Nordic Chamber Music Series, has given numerous recitals at the Nordic Heritage Museum and other venues around Seattle, and appeared on the radio broadcasts, Live By George and Northwest Focus Live. She has released two CDs entitled, Breaking the Language Barrier: Songs in Norwegian and Danish, Composed by Foreigners, and Songs & Piano Music of Edvard Grieg; Op. 33 & 66. She performed in Edvard Grieg’s villa in Bergen, Norway as part of the 2015 International Workshop on the Songs of Edvard Grieg. She is the Artistic Director of the Mostly Nordic Chamber Music Series in Seattle and Founder and President of the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society, with whom she has performed half of Edvard Grieg’s 180 songs.
Ms. Loge was the Norwegian expert, translating, phonetically transliterating and recording texts of sixteen songs for a new three volume anthology of Nordic songs entitled Midnight Sun, compiled and edited by Mimmi Fulmer of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, published by Subito Music. She gives presentations, workshops, and masterclasses on Norwegian lyric diction and song repertoire to students of all ages.
Ms. Loge received her Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from St. Olaf College. She was awarded a full scholarship to study Scandinavian art song at the University of Stavanger Conservatory of Music in Norway, studied Italian bel canto technique and repertoire with Signora Rosanna Lippi in Italy, and as a student of Edward Zambara, she received her Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the New England Conservatory.