Composed by Edvard Grieg
For Flute, Bb Clarinet, and Piano
Arranged by Michael Webster
Published by Theodore Presser Co.
Duration: ca. 18 minutes
Includes score, flute part, and clarinet part
…Grieg was not the first to have incorporated Norwegian folk song in his works, just the best!… Whereas Lindeman's renderings are no more than a tune with the most basic of harmonies, Grieg's Norwegian Dances evince this gifts in motivic variation and harmonization. Said Grieg: “The realm of harmony has always been my dream world, and my relationship to this harmonious way of feeling and to the Norwegian folk songs has been a mystery even for me. I have understood that the secret depth one finds in our folk songs is basically owing to the richness of their untold harmonic possiblilities.
The Norwegian Dances were the only pieces that Grieg completed during his two years (1880-1882) as conductor of the Harmonien, Bergen's professional orchestra. Sources that cite 1880 as the year of composition are incorrect; they were written during the summer of 1881. Grieg's biographers seem to agree that he accepted this important and visible performing post to keep his thoughts away from personal depression and waning compositional inspiration.
All four dances are in ABA form with a contrasting tempo in the middle section. Only in the second dance is the B section faster than the A section. The first dance is the Sinclair March from Vaga, commemorating a great Norwegian victory over Scottish intruders at the Battle of Kringen in 1612. Grieg contrasts the d minor march with surprising modulations, an augmentation of the theme (twice as slow), and his own B section, a lyrical theme in D major derived from a small motif in the march.
The remaining three dances are all hallings (a vigorous dance in 2/4 meter, usually with a solo male dancer). The second dance, however, is different from the final two because it is slower and lighter. In A major, it is the most-often performed of the set, with Grieg's own performances haivng set the standard with “matchless gentleness, charm, and delicacy.” The brusque B section in f sharp minor is even more closely related to the A theme than the first dance was, including an exact four-measure quote.
The third dance features a middle section with the theme augmented in Grieg's harmonic “dream world” in the parallel minor key. The fourth dance has an added introduction and middle section original with Grieg, using what is sometimes called the Gypsy scale – minor with raised fourth scale step. This adds mystery, weight, and import beyond the other three and heightens the brilliance of the ending.
Grieg chose piano four-hands as the medium and refused to orchestrate them himself, daunted by the brilliant orchestration of Johan Svendsen's Norwegian Rhapsodies. Grieg was pleased with an 1882 orchestration by Robert Henriques, but less enthusiastic about the orchestrations of Hans Sitt in 1887, the same year that Grieg created a solo piano verson. Nevertheless, Peters published Sitt's orchestration in 1891, and it remains the most popular version of the Norwegian Dances to this day.
-Michael Webster, June 2017