Centre for Grieg Research
Grieg in Performance - Vidcast

Forgotten sounds - a historical performance project

What would happen if you give Grieg's violin sonatas to specialists in the field, and let them rehearse the work on an instrument from his time with original gut strings? And what will Grieg's original piano contribute to our understanding of his music? Christina Kobb (piano) and Anton Steck (violin) took on the challenge. The results are presented in the first episode of a vidcast series produced by Grieg Research Center in collaboration with UiB Learning lab, and funded by the Faculty of Fine art, Music and Design, UiB.

Forgotten Sounds - Grieg in Performance

Forgotten Sounds - Grieg in Performance
Grieg Research Centre and UiB Learning lab

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Grieg in performance - a historical performance pilot project

In this pilot episode of the 'Grieg in performance' project, Grieg's Violin Sonata in F major is presented for the first time rehearsed on original instruments in modern times. The performance took place during the IGS Grieg conference in November 2023, in Grieg's villa Troldhaugen.

This project is part of the research on Grieg and historical informed performance practice at Grieg Research Centre, starting in 2017 with seminar and masterclass 'Romantic Piano Meets the Hardanger Fiddle: Performance Traditions of Edvard Grieg’s Chamber Music', and continuing in 2022 with 'Grieg in Performance - International Research Seminar'

The instruments used in this episode are Grieg's Steinway from 1892; the violin is a Francois-Louis Pique. A big thanks to Köstler Violins, Stuttgart, for the loan of the violin, KODE composer homes for giving access to Troldhaugen and recording in Grieg's villa, and Grieg-archive at Bergen Public Library for giving access to Grieg's manuscript of the sonata.

Times have changed since Grieg composed his works: musical education, musical instruments, musical taste - and not least the recording industry - have changed our perception of music, and the distance between our ears and those of listeners from the 19th century has become greater than we might think.

This project is based on research into the so-called romantic performance practice. The aim is to find out how Grieg's music actually sounded, which instruments his music was played on, who were the musicians who inspired him, and who performed his works for the first time. Furthermore, we will take a closer look at which performance traditions Grieg himself has been influenced by during his studies and stay in Leipzig. Sources for the project are historical sheet music editions, instructions and treatises by musicians and pedagogues, letters, and the actual historical instruments that were used. A rare treasure are Grieg's own sound recordings, i.a. recorded at Troldhaugen in 1904, and distributed as piano rolls and gramophone discs all over the world. Grieg was actually a pioneer and first superstar of the new technology.

Christina Kobb (PhD, piano, music researcher) and Anton Steck (professor, baroque violin, Trossingen University of Music) are recognized experts in the field of historical informed performance practice, which has become a diverse and well-established research area internationally. The main emphasis has been on the 18th century and the baroque and classical style periods, while in recent years it has been more and more extended into the romantic period and the 19th century. Until recently, the spotlight has mostly been on the performance practices of the great composers and composing virtuosos such as Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt etc. Grieg as a composer and performer has so far rarely been researched in this context.

On Grieg's Violin sonata in F major, Opus 8

Grieg's three works for violin and piano together constitute a significant contribution to the genre. In a letter to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson from 16 January 1900, the composer himself attributed particular importance to the three sonatas in his oeuvre. Written over a span of more than 20 years, each work marks a decisive phase in his artistic development. From the letter to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson derive the eventually well-known characterizations: "the first, naive, rich in role models, the second, national, and the third with the wider horizon". Grieg's statement can also been interpreted in terms of the well-known style-historical analogy with the course of life, from spring (young and searching) through summer (mature and self-aware) to autumn (melancholic and self-reflective). In Grieg's case, the sonatas became sonorous expressions of nature and sensitivity, national feeling and belonging, and the cosmopolitan - three central driving forces in his work.

When he set out to compose the three movements of the first sonata in the summer of 1865, Grieg was living in Rungsted, an idyllic resort outside Copenhagen. At this time, Grieg was 22 years old.

The sonata's premier performance was given in Leipzig on 17 January 1866 at Gewandhaus by Grieg at the piano and the Swedish violinist Anders Petterson (1841-1898), a former student of the famous Ferdinand David in Leipzig. The concert took place just over three years after Grieg graduated from the famous conservatory in the same place. One can imagine how exciting it must have been for the young composer to present his first attempt in the 'grand' form of a sonata in three movements in the lion's den, the music metropolis of Leipzig with its discerning public and sharp critics. Historical sources show that it must have gone quite well: the sonata was received by German critics as a "fresh breath within the duo genre", with "elegant form and interesting details", "unconventional but not groundbreaking".

On 15 October of the same year, the Norwegian public was presented to the newly composed work in Kristiania at a soirée musicale with Grieg and Wihelmina Norman-Neruda on violin in the concert hall of 'Hotel du Nord'. On the program was 'Sonata for Piano and Violin (3 movements)' as the only instrumental number, besides songs by Grieg performed with Nina Grieg.
The sonata was edited November 1865. Leipzig and Berlin, C. F. Peters. Pl.-No. 4534.
Titel: SONATE / für / Pianoforte und Violine / von / EDVARD GRIEG. / OP. 8.
Grieg dedicated his sonata to violinist and conductor of Bergen philharmonics, August Fries.

Three movements: I. Allegro con brio, II. Allegretto quasi Andantino, III. Allegro molto vivace

Grieg's handwritten manuscript of the piano score, written in ink and with the composer's corrections, is kept at the Musikbibliothek der Stadt Leipzig. A copy is kept at the Grieg archive in Bergen Public Library.

About the vidcast project in collaboration with UiB Learning lab

The vidcast series 'Grieg in Performance' is an initiative funded by the Faculty of Fine art, Music, and Design, UiB, in line with several points in the faculty's research-, collaboration- and dissemination strategy. The theme is best suited for visual communication, as it is demonstrated by live musicians who perform and tell about how the music was played on historical instruments and in original surroundings. The aim is to stimulate professional curiosity, facilitate easy access and sharing of a learning resource, as well as increasing outreach among new target groups on digital channels.

With both musicians and the more general music audience as target group, the vidcast-series invites interaction with a wider source material than just sheet music (and modern recordings) when it comes to the interpretation of Grieg's music. The series will be recorded in English and is thus aimed at an international audience; it can be musicians, music researchers, music students, teachers, pupils and the general public.

The locations for the video recordings are unique, such as Edvard Grieg's own home in Bergen. Thanks to close collaboration with KODE composer homes, the project was granted access to Grieg's own grand piano, which is in his villa, Troldhaugen.

Following up the pilot episode, there will be produced and published new vidcasts every year, exploring Grieg as a perfomer and the performance practice of his times from different perspectives. 

Arnulf Mattes, 10 June 2024