January 22, 2012

re-Post on Grieg's Transcriptions of his Own Songs

[re-posting this entry from April 2009, regarding Volume 2]:

The most recent work I've been doing regarding the edits has been on some of the beautiful pieces in Opus 41 & 52, with the somewhat awkwardly translated title, "Piano Pieces after His Own Songs".  Grieg, who of course is well known for his piano music, was a masterful composer of songs for voice and piano.  Of the 181 songs he wrote, Grieg himself chose twelve of his songs to transcribe for solo piano. They comprise the two volumes mentioned above, each volume with six pieces.  

These transcriptions are not widely known or performed by pianists, unlike the favourite Lyric PiecesBallade, Sonata, and Piano Concerto. I myself only happened upon them in rummaging through my mother's music cupboard.  My mother must have purchased the Vilhelm Hansen edition of Opus 41 #1-3 on one of our family vacations to Copenhagen, while browsing the famous Danish music shop.

My particular enjoyment of these pieces comes of course because of their beauty, but also because of the opportunity to combine the two dominant aspects of my career as pianist: as soloist and as accompanist to singers.  In these works, I am soloist, singer, and accompanist. Although the poetic texts are not articulated, I very clearly hear the words as I play the part of the singer.  As many of these pieces are somewhat virtuosic elaborations on their original song counterparts, I delight also in the opportunity to explore the sonorities of my instrument.

I suggest that pianists consider exploring this repertoire, as the opportunity to focus on the lyrical element and the aspect of letting phrases "breathe" as if sung is instructive in developing one's musicality and pianism.  At the same time, I would encourage singers to listen to these transcriptions in order to gain a new perspective on the songs: directly from the composer.  It is interesting to notice the subtle differences between a particular song and its corresponding transcription.  Quite often the piano transcription has been expanded or lengthened from the original, but there are also more subtle differences in terms of the placement of expression markings or tempo directions.

I also find it interesting to contemplate the possible reasons for Grieg's choices of songs to transcribe.  Some of his most famous songs (Solveig's Song, and Jeg elsker dig) were chosen, and placed next to some much lesser known songs (Jeg giver mit digt til Vaaren, and Kaerlighed).  I'd love to know what Grieg's choices were based on.  Were these songs simply among his favourites?

For this "Volume Two" CD, I have recorded four of the transcriptions; this in addition to five that are on my first CD means I just have three left to record...for "Volume Three"?  (Don't let me get ahead of myself here!)  I hope you enjoy them.  

[Indeed, I am now going ahead with the remaining 3 in Volume 3: Hun er saa hvid, Prinsessen, and Gamle mor. :) ]

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