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A Day at Troldhaugen

After a busy week of Messiaen recording and concerts I am currently on a little holiday to Bergen, Norway, which happens to be the birthplace of Norway's most beloved and revered composer; Edvard Grieg.

My first piano teacher greatly admired Grieg, I think it was his sense of Nationalism and interest in folk culture that attracted him and something I think a lot of Scottish people can relate to. Grieg's great-grandfather actually moved to Bergen from Scotland! Grieg's Notturno was one of my favourite pieces to play as a child and of course as a young pianist his Piano Concerto was a dream of mine to play.

Here is Alicia de Larrocha playing the beautiful Notturno op.54 No.4.

After growing up in Bergen, a beautiful city on the coast of Norway, Grieg moved to Liepzig to continue his musical studies after showing considerable talent. It was only after many years traveling extensively throughout Europe and socializing the artistic elite that Grieg settled again in Bergen, building a house in the countryside overlooking a serene lake.

Apparently it was the perfect comprise between his wife Nina, a cosmopolitan woman and Edvard, who loved the Norwegian countryside and the seclusion it offered.

The surroundings of the house were so beautiful and luscious in colour I didn't find it hard to imagine where he got his inspiration from. The drama of Norway is unparalleled as the photogenic landscape contrasts dark pine forests and blue waters, set to a stormy backdrop adding a brooding nature to the environment. It was interesting to learn that Grieg required absolute silence for composing and did not allow water or electricity in the house as it proved to be a distraction.

For this reason, he created his own composition hut in a clearing overlooking the lake.

This was a real treat to see as his writing implements and piano have remained there and one could sense the feeling of peace he must have had here.

Inside his house, it was interesting to see Grieg's love for Norwegian folk culture reflected in the traditional decoration of the house, with exposed wood and woven fabrics. There were paintings and letters from his friends in the artistic community of the time, including Henrik Ibsen, Tchaikovsky and fellow Bergen violinist Ole Bull, who encouraged Grieg in his musical pursuits. Seeing Grieg's piano, where he would perform with his soprano wife was wonderful, and it is still used for concerts on very rare occasions.

On his writing desk were lucky charms that Grieg took to every concert he did, including a little frog and a picture of a troll.

All of the little artifacts created an enchanting picture of who Grieg was and his aesthetic world.

The trip was concluded by a concert in the recently built concert hall that sits directly above Grieg's composition hut, allowing wonderful views to the lake and the place where the music being performed was composed.

The lunchtime concert was given by pianist Marina Kan Selvik who is studying at the Norwegian Academy of Music and was born and studied in Moscow. There included selections of Grieg's lyric pieces, including Arietta op.12 no.6, Sommerfugl Op.43 no. 1 and Berceuse Op.38 No.1. These provided an atmospheric opening to the concert and Selvik's voicing added depth and warmth to the pieces which featured some of her most subtle phrasing and interpretation. Trolltog (March of the Trolls) Op.54 No.3 and Bryllupsdag på Troldhaugen (Wedding at Troldhaugen) Op.65 completed the set in a rousing and virtuosic manner. Two transcriptions of Grieg's songs followed, Op.52, which were more simple in style but again artistically managed by Selvik. Two pieces from Moods Op.73 followed which were more surprising as they sounded different in texture to the previous pieces and Resignasjon, was much darker in colour. Transcriptions of movements from the Peer Gynt Suite finished the concert in a crowd pleasing manner to showcase the composers most famous works, however I felt that the most moving performances were of the lyric pieces.

The experience was an immersive picture into Grieg's life and the inspiration for so many works the surrounded him. I hope to perform some of his songs in the future and will always be informed and inspired by his house at Troldhaugen.

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