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Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Andante con moto for piano trio

October 15, 2023: Lysander Piano Trio

By 1878, when Grieg set out to write a piano trio, he had earned recognition as Norway’s foremost composer. He had made important connections in Germany through his studies in Leipzig and had won renown in Copenhagen as well as in his native Bergen, but it was not without great effort. Influenced by violinist Ole Bull, Grieg had begun incorporating Norwegian folk idioms into his compositions, but he struggled to meet expectations in the larger forms of the chamber music medium because of his natural inclination to short, self-contained, lyrical melodies.

Grieg had just completed his G minor String Quartet in the summer of 1878, which he said “is not intended to bring trivialities to market. It strives towards breadth, soaring flight and above all resonance for the instruments for which it is written. I needed to do this as a study. Now I shall tackle another piece of chamber music; I think in that way I shall find myself again.” Yet he composed only one movement of the projected piano trio, the Andante con moto in C minor. He made notes on the manuscript suggesting he might revise it, but he never returned to it nor did he write any other piano trio.

After Grieg’s death, his friend, Leipzig-born Dutch pianist and composer Julius Röntgen (who also played a role in this afternoon’s second work), unearthed the Andante con moto and wrote to Grieg’s widow, Nina Hagerup Grieg, saying, “It is a beautiful piece and completely in order. . . . What a solemnity it conveys!  How he can’t get enough of that single theme, that even in the major mode retains its mourning character, and then develops so beautifully its full power. . . . The piece can very well stand by itself and does not at all give the impression of being a fragment, as it constitutes a perfect entity in itself.” The piece was not published, however, until 1978 in the Grieg Critical Edition.

Grieg’s monothematic movement is so striking because of how often Grieg showcases his theme in octave unison, first presented by the piano after a hushed introduction of string chords. Whereas the major-mode section offers contrast—and one might consider it considerably less “mournful” than Röntgen suggested—there is no doubt about the overall dark intensity of the piece, which rises to a dramatic climax before ebbing quietly.

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