Monday, April 5, 2010

Edvard Grieg's Ballade in G-minor

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) a Norwegian pianist and composer from the romantic period is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor. Like most artists, his compositions are a reflection of his life's journey. The Piano Concerto was written in one of the most peaceful periods of Grieg's life. He composed it as newlywed on vacation, after his only daughter Alexandra was just born.

Tragedy struck, though, when young Alexandra died in 1869 at the age of one. Near the time of Alexandra's death, Grieg's wife Nina miscarried. He wrote, "It is hard to watch the hope of one's life lowered into the earth, and it took time and quiet to recover from the pain," then commenting on art's healing ability he continued, "But thank God, if one has something to live for one does not easily fall apart; and art surely has—more than many other things—this soothing power that allays all sorrow!"

Music did provide the vehicle to deal with his despair. His parents both died in 1875, and this coupled with the realization that he and Nina would never be able to have children, set in motion a period of intense grief. He poured this sadness into his most ambitious piano piece, Ballade in the form of Variations of a Norwegian Folk Song in G minor, op 24. He said that it was written "with my life's blood in days of sorrow and despair."

The piece itself is built by taking one single theme and then doing small variations, 14 to be exact. Quite a task to take the same basic tune and change it around 14 different ways. He does it exquisitely. A description found here states, "The theme in itself, which is almost common in its melancholy, becomes, through Grieg's harmonizing with the chromatic falling bass line, the prologue to a spiritual drama which is heightened and unfolds through the following variations, before the work at last ends up with the theme, unresolved, and now in an ever darker, gloomier form."

So personal was this work, that Grieg never preformed it for a public audience.

Listen to the piece below preformed by Leif Ove Andsnes:

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