Edvard Grieg – Aase’s Death

July 30, 2009

Today’s MSMOTD

Edvard Grieg – Aase’s Death (from “Peer Gynt” – buy this song)

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I haven’t done any Classical music yet, so this seems like a good place to start.  Grieg was a Norwegian “Romantic” composer who lived from 1843 until 1907.  He trained in Germany and became very famous, with Tchaikovsky praising his music’s beauty, originality and warmth.   He was good friends with Liszt and is often compared to Chopin, being not only a fantastic composer, but a great pianist as well.  Some of his more famous works include In The Hall Of The Mountain King (which he rather disliked) and Morning Mood, both of which are instantly recognizable pretty much everyone in the Western World.  He’s also influenced a lot of subsequent work, including Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Clint Mansell’s “Lux Aeterna”, both of which are intensely popular.  Grieg’s music is at times bright and lively, sad and mournful or light and peaceful, but always gorgeous.  He’s considered one of Norway’s national treasures and is buried in an honest-to-god Mountain Crypt.

Edvard Grieg himself, in a portrait done by Eilif Peterssen.  He had a bit of an Einstein vibe going on.

Edvard Grieg himself, in a portrait done by Eilif Peterssen. He had a bit of an Einstein vibe going on.

I’ve chosen Aase’s Death as the MSMOTD because it is so incredibly beautiful and is an early example of minimalist classical music (which I love).  It’s intensely emotional, but at the same time lyrical and melodically simple.  Sorrowful strings droop and swell with great passion, evoking images of love, grief and loss.  This is a good example of how the space between notes is almost as important as the notes themselves in creating melody, mood and music.  In that sense it’s similar to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, another incredibly gorgeous minimalist piece for strings or choir.  This song (which is also spelt “Ase” and “Aese”) is about the death of the mother of the main character from Peer Gynt, but it’s much broader than that, conveying an intense sorrow.  Really incredible piece of music.  I don’t really want to write more about it as I want it to speak for itself (as all good music does).  Listen and enjoy.

(Arthur Rubinstein performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor)

The above video is of Arthur Rubinstein‘s 1975 performance of Edvard’s most enthusiastically received work.  The Piano Concerto in A Minor is probably his most famous piece among classical enthusiasts (Rubinstein called it the perfect concerto), and it’s clearly evident why.  The opening piano flourish is really memorable, as is the melody which follows on strings/woodwinds and is then taken up and embellished by the piano.  This has a lot of elements which are missing from much modern music – dynamics being the big one.  The dramatic shifts between quiet and loud serve to emphasize the emotional impact of the music and give it life.  The performance in the video is similarly brilliant.  I only wish I could play the piano like Rubinstein, who is considered one of the greatest concert pianists of the 20th century.  Can you believe he was 88 years old in this video?  He was born in 1887, only 19 years after the piece was written.

The other two pieces I’ve included below are his most well known songs in popular culture.  Both In The Hall of the Mountain King and Morning Mood have been used in innumerable movies, tv shows and saturday morning cartoons.  Morning Mood, with it’s inverted arch of a melody and pastoral hum evokes the Norwegian dawn, the sun peeking over the mountains, shedding the first beams of light across the majestic fjords and illuminating the brilliant swaths of greenery that cascade down the mountains to meet the brilliant blue of the waters far below.  For me it also evokes scenes from loony tunes and so forth, in which the opening melody is used to introduce scenes of peaceful stillness which will inevitably be disrupted by unruly talking animals and their manic escapades. 

In The Hall of the Mountain King is a whirlwind of sound written to represent a grand chase scene involving gnomes.  Grieg actually didn’t like this piece at all, saying “I have also written something for the scene in the hall of the mountain King – something that I literally can’t bear listening to because it absolutely reeks of cow-pies, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism, and trollish self-satisfaction! But I have a hunch that the irony will be discernible.” I’m not sure that anyone these days is able to discern Grieg’s irony in the song.  It’s endlessly fascinating how one piece of music can be interpreted and viewed in so many different ways by different people.  Magic, though Grieg would no doubt be frustrated by our lack of irony.  Beklager, Grieg, vi er ikke verdig.

I still cant believe that Edvard Grieg has his own honest-to-god mountain crypt (pictured here).  When I am buried, I want a crypt.

I still can't believe that Edvard Grieg has his own honest-to-god mountain crypt (pictured here). When I am buried, I want a crypt.

I wish I knew what performance of Peer Gynt this was.  Ah well.  Hope you enjoyed this introduction to Norwegian Classical music!  Any future music I post from Norway will probably be somewhat less erudite, haha (though no less fantastic).  Leave a comment and tell me what you thought of today’s MSMOTD!

- Mons

More music by Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg – Morning Mood (from “Peer Gynt” – buy this song)

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Edvard Grieg – In The Hall Of The Mountain King (from “Peer Gynt” – buy this song)

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Further info about today’s MSMOTD

Official website: This homepage for Grieg or the Edvard Grieg Society page is probably the closest to anything “official”.

Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvard_Grieg

Featured review: Allmusic’s detailed site with reviews of his various works.

Support the maintenance of Grieg’s crypt (and the various booby-traps and undead guardians situated within) by purchasing the excellent Peer Gynt suite (recorded by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra) from Amazon.com!  You can also download the Piano Concerto Opus 16 in A Minor as recorded by Rubinstein.

3 Responses to “Edvard Grieg – Aase’s Death”

  1. All hail trollish self-satisfaction and exaggerated Norwegian nationalism! I’ve heard these songs quite frequently, but now I know a bit more about them! Good choice!

  2. Mons, Zaizai is waitting for your new songs…

    pls!!! :)

  3. Grieg left a message from the other side! Read it in Aftenpostens discussion site under Music/Grieg