Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Nationality: Norwegian
Born: January 15, 1843, Bergen Died: September 4, 1907, Bergen (age 64)

String Quartet No. 2 in F major, EG 117

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
11:14 I. Sostenuto - Allegro vivace e grazioso
7:05 II. Allegro scherzando
7:08 III. Adagio
8:05 IV. Allegro giocoso
Duration: 20 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1891 (age 47-48)
Note: Completed by Julius Rontgen
1 recording, 2 videos
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Petersen String Quartet
I. Sostenuto - Allegro vivace e grazioso
Petersen String Quartet
II. Allegro scherzando
From Kai Christiansen

Edvard Grieg, 1843-1907

String Quartet No. 2 in F Major (Unfinished), 1891

Edvard GriegEdvard Grieg is the most well known Norwegian composer associated with the nationalistic trend in Romantic music in the latter part of the 19th century. Despite such blockbuster favorites as the Piano Concerto in a minor and the incidental music to Peer Gynt (particularly Morning Mood and The Hall of the Mountain King), Grieg is especially prized for his intimate musical miniatures: his art songs and his numerous Lyrical Pieces for solo piano. He wrote a small body of distinctive chamber music including sonatas for violin and cello, a one movement piano trio and two works for string quartet. Grieg wrote his only complete quartet, the String Quartet in g minor, in 1878. It garnered the admiration of Debussy and clearly influenced his own quartet in the same key written several years later. Ravel once said that nothing he wrote was very far from Grieg's influence.

Grieg began his String Quartet No. 2 in F Major in 1891. He more or less finished the first two movements, a sonata and a scherzo, but left only sketches for the final two. Some fifteen years later in 1906, a year before his death, Grieg returned to the quartet with a renewed attempt to finish what he called "that accursed string quartet which constantly lies there unfinished like an old Norwegian cheese". It seems that he was no longer inspired by the work and was unable bring the quartet any closer to completion. A few weeks after his death, his wife sent a number of Grieg's works to Julius Röntgen for his assessment of the unpublished legacy. Röntgen was a professional composer, conductor, pianist and close friend of Grieg's. He arranged to have some of Grieg's final works published posthumously and organized a commemorative concert in Copenhagen where the unfinished quartet was premiered before the public. Inspired by the quality of the music, Röntgen was convinced that Grieg would have published the quartet if only he had completed the final two movements, so he used Grieg's sketches to complete the quartet himself. Despite Röntgen's good intentions, the first two movements from Grieg's own pen stand complete in themselves as two wonderfully satisfying quartet movements, each significantly more than a miniature.

Both of Grieg's quartets share similar qualities that define a highly individual style. His handling of form feels relaxed, natural and spontaneous. Abrupt transitions, vivid contrasts and sudden recurrences fashion this exuberantly mercurial music into highly charged dramatic narratives. Especially noticeable is Grieg's use of suspenseful silence with the tendency for fragmentary gestures to evaporate into thin air. Both quartets bring new conceptions of texture and color to the string quartet, a feature that must have contributed to Debussy's admiration. On the one hand are bold, unified textures bordering on the orchestral. On the other, there are intricate chamber filigrees with each of the instruments contributing its own special sonority, figuration or contrapuntal response. Between these extremes, Grieg frequently divides the quartet into halves as pairs of instruments contend with each other in call and response imitations. Finally, both quartets feature a strong rhythmic vitality throughout, a quality that directly reflects Grieg's love of Scandinavian folk music, especially its fiddle dances. Overall, Grieg's unique string quartet conception is best described by his own words regarding the first string quartet: "It aims at breadth, vigor, flight of imagination and above all, fullness of tone for the instruments for which it is written".

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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