Sunday, April 5, 2009

Norway: Grieg's "En Svane" and selections from "Haugtussa"

Edward Grieg (1843- 1907)
Swedish baritone,Håkan Hagegård, baritone, Warren Jones, piano
"En Svane" (A Swan) Poem: Henryk Ibsen
The text and translations are in the video. It is in Norwegian.

The next performance is from "Haugtussa, op 67 (The Mountain Maid), 8 songs in Norwegian.

It is a song cycle to poems by Arne Garborg (1851-1924). "Grieg himself maintained that the 'Haugtussa' songs were the best he ever composed. Grieg's Haugtussa" cycle is a richly varied poetic work which nonetheless possesses a high degree of unity. The poems are centred around Veslemoey, a visionary young herd girl from a wilderness area in southwestern Norway. Rejected by her lover, she tries to escape life's harsh realities and the indiference of those around her. In her visions she comes into contact with nature itself and the powers of the underworld." by FinnBenestad; Cd. "Grieg; Songs Lieder"

Swedish mezzo, Anne Sofie von Otter singing, Bengt Forsberg, piano.

Haugtussa (Op. 67):
1. Det syng 00:00
2. Veslemøy 03:51
3. Blåbaer-li 06:20
4. Møte 09:03
5. Elsk 12:56
6. Killingdans 15:11
7. Vond dag 16:52
8. Ved gjaetle-bekken 19:21

The  fourth song in this beautiful  cycle is  Møte,  (The Enounter)  and can be heard at 09:03

Text is Norwegian (Nynorsk)
Translation below:

Ho sit ein Sundag lengtande i Li;
det strøymer på med desse søte Tankar,
og Hjarta fullt og tungt i Barmen bankar,
og Draumen vaknar, bivrande og blid.
Då gjeng det som ei Hildring yver Nuten;
ho raudner heit; - der kjem den vene Guten.

Burt vil ho gøyma seg i Ørska brå,
men stoggar tryllt og Augo mot han vender;
dei tek einannan i dei varme Hender
og stend so der og veit seg inkje Råd.
Då bryt ho ut i dette Undringsord:
"Men snille deg då, at du er så stor!"

Og som det lid til svale Kveldings Stund,
alt meir og meir i Lengt dei saman søkjer,
og brådt um Hals den unge Arm seg krøkjer
og øre skjelv dei saman Munn mot Munn.
Alt svimrar burt. Og der i Kvelden varm
i heite Sæle søv ho i hans Arm.

One Sunday she sits pensive on the hillside,
while sweet thoughts flow over her,
and her heart beats full and heavy in her breast,
and a shy dream wakens within her.
Suddenly, enchantment steals along the hilltop.
She blushes red; there he comes, the boy she loves.

She wants to hide in her confusion,
but timidly she raises her eyes to him;
their warm hands reach out for one another,
and they stand there, neither knowing what to say.
Then she bursts out in admiration:
"My, how tall you are!"

And as the day moves softly into evening,
they turn to each other full of longing,
their young arms wind around each other's necks,
and trembling mouth meets mouth.
Everything shimmers away, and in the warm evening
She falls blissfully asleep in his arms.

Here is something that I found completely by chance. This is Lynni Treekrem singing a beautiful composition by Ketil Bjørnstad, a composer I knew nothing about until today. It's actually hard to pin the style, straddling folk and a more modern idiom. I thought it would be interesting to hear what this rich poetry would sound like in the hands of a contemporary composer.

This is the prologue of the Haugtussa, Text: Arne Garborg (1851-1924) I wasn't able to find a translation.

Til deg, du Hei og bleike Myr
med Bukkeblad,
der Hegre stig og Heilo flyr,
eg gjev mitt Kvad.

Til deg, du visne Lyng um Haug,
der Draumar sviv,
eg gjev min Song um Dimd og Draug
og dulde Liv.

Eg kjenner deg, du Trollheim graa,
du Skugge-Natt!
Eg rømde rædd; men stundom maa
eg sjaa deg att.

Eg kjenner deg, du Havsens Marm,
med Galdre-Song;
du gauv meg Gru i rædde Barm
so mang ein Gong.

Eg kjenner Striden tung og sein
mot Trolldoms Vald.
Gud hjelpe oss for brotne Bein
og Mannefall!

Eg kjenner deg, - eg kjenner deg,
som ikkje vann! --
Eg saag din Strid, eg veit din Veg
i Skugge-Land.

Eg røynde sjølv den Striden stygg
i mange Aar,
med ville Mot, med bøygde Rygg,
med svære Saar.

Du um meg sviv, du hjaa meg sit,
du arme Aand!
I meg du enno riv og slit
i dine Baand.

Eg veit det væl: dei sterke Troll,
den Vilje rik;
ein Baat i Foss, eit Kvad i Moll,
sløkkt i eit Skrik. ­--

Men Lerka stig fraa gløymde Grav
med Sigers Ljod;
og Vinden stryker inn av Hav
so frisk og god.

Og um me kjenner Graat og Gru
og Saknad saar,
so maa me Lerkesongen tru,
som lovar Vaar.


  1. I love how the Grieg songs are so expansive and free! It reminds me so much of any fotos i've seen of Scandinavia: deep, austere, and striking. May be a stereotype, but its how I hear the music.

    The Treekrem and Bjørnstad recording brings about this character for me: daughter of Joni Mitchell, sister of Enya, cousin of Bjork, friend of Jewel, and neighbor of Fiona Apple. I like it very much!

  2. "The Swan" has an amazingly simple and elegant melody that truly depicts the grace of the still waters that a swan might swim. This piece is a great example of how nature and all it's water has effected the sound of music and the poetry that is included in the music.

  3. I've already heard the English version. It is so beautiful in the original language, and what an enchanting voice Hagegård possesses.

  4. His voice sounds so similar to Fischer-Dieskau's in this recording, I had to double-check who was singing. What a beautiful song. I think that the melody not only captures the stillness of the waters, as Julie pointed out, but also the mythological character of the swan; a kind of calm, knowing reservedness. I want to sing this.

  5. I don't know if it is just the fact that I am so sleep depraved or what but the Grieg songs made me cry. What incredible music. The rise and fall of that dramatic beautiful musical line must have brought up in me all my awkward encounters with boys i liked where the only think i could think of to say was "Hey!... I've got legs!" Amazing. And the language really has me flashing back to my mother playing the radio while making dinner in Stavanger. We didn't know what they were saying, we just loved the sound of Norweigen.

  6. Rachel, I like the raw, physical and honest comments you come up with!

    Julie, your linking of the poetic imagery with the music is very beautiful.

    Jake, your melange of singers to describe Treekrem is "einmalig."

    Great energy in Scandinavia!

  7. The Haugtussa songs are so captivating. You get immediately pulled into the story. Grieg had an almost love-hate relationship with his native country and its people. He liked to escape the long dark winters and spend them in Italy. He, like Ibsen, Munch and others, struggled with feeling closed in by the fjords and narrow minded people. However, inspite of that, or perhaps because of that, Grieg's love for his country and language shines through his music. It is romantic, longing and I believe that it strikes that chord within us all. I love the prologue and how it sets up the magic world where humans and other nature creatures coexist. When i was little I would ride out into the woods and sit under a tree for hours and wait for trolls and other forest creatures to appear.

  8. I sympathize with Grieg's outlook on his native land. In a way, Montana is very similar. Although the landscape may not be quite as impressive as that of the fjords of Norway, Montana creates a longing for your home landscape whenever you are away from it. In the same way, the presence of so many agriculturists brings about a certain degree of narrow mindedness that tends to drive artists to urban areas in search of open minds. Grieg, in his Peer Gynt music for Ibsen's drama, complained about his straightforward interpretation of that narrow mindedness with the mystical, magical landscape. He thought it was too blatant and that you could "smell the cowpies." It is in the music such as this or his first string quartet, or much of his other music that you really hear the depth of his longing and feeling for his homeland!

  9. I've studied a lot of Grieg's piano music and this song is a testament against the masses that may think of Grieg as a 'B-list' composer. I agree with Julie's comment about 'The Swan's' simplicity. This is a common element in a lot of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, many of which are models of the songs

  10. I think that Grieg is one of the greatest melodists in the classical world and so "The Swan" (and the slow movements of the only piano sonata, the concerto and the c minor violin sonata) shows this. This song reminded me very strongly of those above three examples. They all share a commonality of being quite simple melodies, but most importantly is the way that they are harmonized. Similarly as in "The Swan", Grieg removes "filler" texture in the accompaniment and you're left with the true musical message that Grieg wanted to present. I STRONGLY recommend listening to the middle movement of the C minor violin sonata. The piano opening is absolutely one of the most beautiful things he wrote.

  11. Just a side note: Rachmaninoff recorded the Grieg C minor violin sonata with Kreisler which was on YouTube last year when I played it.....I don't know if its still up, though. I think it can be sampled on, also

  12. About this time last year, I went to a recital with Maria Jette performing a program entirely of Grieg. I think my favorite cycle out of the program was Haugtussa. Maria described it as the “Norwegian Schöne müllerin,” mostly because the main character falls in love with someone, is eventually rejected, and then drowns herself in a brook. The two things that make the cycle so interesting for me are:
    1) The perspective of the poetry shifts from narrator to the maiden, so the listener almost gets two versions of this story
    2) The two characters contrast AND complement each other. The narrator is the more world- wise, mature person: she/he describes the main character and key situations in the story. The maiden is trapped in her own childish fantasy world most of the time. When the poetry is from her perspective, it is kind of sing- songy and simple. I think this is what makes the cycle so tragic: she is obviously not in a position to handle the real world, so when she does have a real-world encounter and it ends terribly, she cannot handle it. The last poem of the cycle is a little disturbing; in her usual childish fashion, she talks to the brook about how resting in its depths will help her forget her lover and wander away. The juxtaposition of simple, childish thoughts and suicide is so tragic and unsettling.
    Ann Sofie von Otter does such an amazing job of capturing the mood of this song. I love the music to the last two lines of each verse- it is such a great contrast to the serene music before it.

  13. It was interesting hearing the different recording styles between the Grieg and the Bjornstad. I never really thought about what my opinion was concerning recording styles of popular and classical regarding vocals. In popular music, everything things is recorded in separate layers. (one possible ording would be scratch tracks, Drums,bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals, then other production). The musical effect is drastically different. Musically I find these recordings hard to listen to because it's lack of humanism although it is sonically appealing. Vocally, I did like the ability to capture different vocal effects like whispering or some of the mixing decisions (i.e singing loudly but having the track lower in the mix). How do the classical singers feel about popular recording techniques?

  14. There is such simplicity and beauty in "The Swan" (as others have already pointed out). The song reminded me somewhat of Schubert and his ability to create something wonderful and very memorable out of the simplest of materials. I'm not familiar with Haugtussa, but after hearing the one song, I am very interested in becoming more familiar with it.

  15. In addition to the pieces Ben mentioned, I would also add Grieg's Lyric Pieces. He wrote many of these throughout his career--"songs without words" for the piano. For those who play some piano, I would recommend them to you--many are quite lovely and they're not extraordinarily difficult (I've assigned them to intermediate level piano students of mine in the past). Dover publishes Grieg's complete Lyric Pieces in a single volume.

  16. Emily, thank you for bringing up the Maria Jette concert from last year, I was reminded of it as well. Listening to Håkan Hagegård's poignant rendition of En Svane left me with the same thoughts I had last year during that concert: I really need to listen to more Grieg! Before I had no frame of reference to understand the language though, so thanks to the tools Annika gave us, it seems somewhat more approachable now.

  17. Listening to Grieg's Haugtussa, I am first struck by the text painting in the final phrase of each stanza. First, the piano's depiction of the sudden enchantment, full of exciting flourishes, then in the second stanza a similar reaction to the burst of admiration. Here also von Otter articulately underlines the intervalic description of the tall man she admires (a concept with which I can identify!).

  18. En Svane--The stillness and suspended feeling that Grieg achieves in this piece is captivating. To my ear there is something of Impressionism within the sparseness. Swans are an important element within Scandinavian poetry and folklore. Anyone interested should listen to Sibelius' Norden (op.90 no.1) which also discribes swans. It is beautiful and ethereal as well.

    Haugtussa--This cycle sweeps me off my feet. The harmonies and melodies and even the flow of the language are almost intoxicating to me. Greig's expression of the beauty and magic in the text through his music shows his careful attention to text setting. I find it interesting that the same atmosphere of magic can be heard in the modern adaptation as well despite the modern style. It is a very beautiful piece.

  19. Svane - The first thing I noticed about this piece was how Schubertian it sounds. Between the Haugtussa being reminiscent of "Die Schonen Mullerin" and using several Schumann - like piano motives and this piece sounding like a German Artsong, I think Grieg definitely took a page from the German Lied book.

    Haugtussa: Obviously these pieces have a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to perform them in June. Mote was the piece that hooked me and I simple melted at the end of each strophe. Something that really strikes me about Haugtussa is the fact that the poetry is so raw and real. I feel as though I connected with Veslemoy's awkwardness and simplicity, yet depth of personality.

  20. Also, the folkish version of the Haugtussa prologue is so haunting - and excellent representation to Veslmoy's mystical characteristics.

  21. Svane, Grieg: “En Svane”- The beauty of the voice transpires so eloquently above the piano line in this piece. The tranquil and yet striking mood of the both the piano and voice captivate the heartfelt moments, making this piece simply beautiful.

    Haugtussa, Grieg: Love is in the air! The soaring vocal line encapsulates the spring-like atmosphere of the couple meeting on the hillside. Their young and innocent love is captured in this moment with the rolling chords of the piano. When she admires how tall he is, I picture an awkward moment where silence must be broken. Even though the words don’t necessary express her admiration, the music says it all.

    Haughtussa prologue: I really enjoyed the modern/folk interpretation of this piece. (The overall sound reminded me of Enya) The atmosphere of this piece stays consistent with the cycle and emotes an even more mystical texture.

  22. En Svane is just beautiful. I can see where Katie hears Schubert in the texture, and this interpretation (also beautiful) reminds me of so many of the Fischer-Dieskau recordings we listened to last term. I love how the low register of the piano restore the calm of the water after the excitement and motion. That deepness gives weight to the stillness so many other people have mentioned.

    Grieg's Haugtusse has some of that same simplicity, with the wide voicing in the piano, yet it's a much more emotional singing. The pairing of artists here is wonderful - you feel them swept away or hesitant with the emotions of the characters. Some of Grieg's still chordal passages sound almost like sacred music to me.

  23. The “en svan” has such delicacy, even when sung with dramatic intent. It can be soft as a snowflake and crushing like an avalanche.

    Anne Sofie von Otter performance of the Grieg was beautiful and reminded me a lot of late German Lieder. Lush lines and accompaniment, characteristic text writing.

    I actually quite enjoyed the ‘contemporary’ rendition of the prologue to Haughtussa. I imagine the singer is a native speaker, so it was cool to hear someone who has a firm grasp on the language sing this poem. And because she sang with such intention and care for the dramatic content—I don’t mind her scooping, not uniting the vocal registers, and employing a lot of chest voice because all of those things are tools she used to authentically communicate. I also liked the setting: it seemed like an ancient mystical epic that has existed for thousands of years.

  24. Grieg's lieder really remind me of Schumann, especially Bengt Forsberg. The piano and the voice are inseparable and the beautiful interludes allude to Schumann. The piano accompaniment doesn't get in the way of the text. The declamatory nature of the vocal part is expressive and beautiful. The singers who performed En Svane and Bengt Forsberg have wonderful colors and sound sincere in what they have to say.

    I appreciated the tenor singing Flickan kom från sin älsklings möte. It was an interesting perspective, sung by a great tenor voice. Luonnotar sounds like a scene from an opera. The contemporary song by Kaija Saariaho makes me think of some of the early 20th century German lieds, where the boundaries of tonality is stretched.

  25. En Svane is truly a jewel of the art song repertory. While borrowing from old traditions (Schubertian textures, chordal harmonies reflecting the sacred aspects of the swan in the Scandinavian folklore) Grieg also gives so much of his own personal flavor to it, especially with the frequent use of 7th, 9th and augmented chords!

    I couldn't help but smile when I heard the half-steps that are heard frequently throughout the cycle Haugtussa in Møte (as in the words "Tankar" and "bankar"). I also think the folkish side of the poems is reflected both in Grieg's cycle and Bjørnstad's prologue, mostly with the use of strophic settings and modalism (although Møte is not modal, Veslemoy, the second song of the cycle, has some modal inflections).

  26. What I find the most striking in this listening of both "En Svane" and the first of the "Haugtussa" is the connection between text and music. From the first chord of "En Svane" I feel as though I am at the edge of a lake watching a swan gracefully darting through the water. Granted, we are given that image in the video but I am convinced that if I only had the words and translations in front of me, I would still feel that immediate connection to the static but gliding chords and flawless delivery of the poetry by Hagegard. In the "Haugtussa" I was struck by the variation in each strophe. Each nature image was distinct and I felt a warmth and depth come into the sound and expression when the text shifted from images of the natural world to that of a personal nature.

  27. I really like the harmonies of "The Swan". The tonic center, F major, is very clear but at the same time, there are some modal harmonies, making the song a lot more interesting.

  28. En Svane - struck me right from the beginning as a sparkling masterpiece. I love what Grieg does with texture to support the beautiful and almost folk-like melodies, with an openness and . The harmonic work is exquisite and richly emotional. I love the way that the lighter texture contrasts with the richness of harmony.

    Haugtussa - The character of the Mountain maid is instantly brought alive in the way the melody is set to music. We are able to live with her through these pieces so similar to the Schubert's Schone Mullerin

  29. Due to some technological problems, I listened to Marita Solberg's recording of Grieg's En Svane, also on youtube. What leaves an impression on me is the rather light but colorful orchestration, which is a contrast to some of the heavily orchestrated songs we heard from German counterparts such as Strauss and especially Mahler. The opening of Haugtussa reminds me of some of the drama and lyricism one might hear in Dvorak's lyrical writing such as in his op. 99 biblical songs or even parts of Rusalka. The piece certainly reminds me of some of Grieg's Lyric pieces for solo piano also. For me, there's a certain kind of melancholic sound that characterizes Grieg's music, which I hear in this opening. I look forward to getting to know the rest of this cycle.

  30. En Svane has a sort of calmness almost throughout it that is wonderfully done. Because of this, the middle section, having more intensity, really sticks out in the best way possible. Wonderful piece.

    During the fourth song in the song cycle, there is a beautiful crescendo at the end of the first line and as that happened I could almost see her beloved getting closer. There was also an excitement that came with that. I also felt a freedom in the piece as a whole. Beautiful work.

    I found "Til deg, du Hei og bleike Myr" to be extremely beautiful. I think because of the style of the singer of this piece, I can hear certain things that sound extremely different than the languages I am familiar with. While looking at the text with the music there are a lot of sounds that I did not expect. There were really interesting ends of phrases. At the end of the first stanza of text, it really does not feel like an ending but more like a continuation as the piano continues the same pattern.

  31. In regards to Grieg's MØte (the fourth piece in his cycle "Haugtussa"), my initial observation was that the piece sounded as though it could be by Wolf. My main assertion of this has to do with the way in which the musical line is written; the text is set beautiful and the music parallels the narrative in the poetry. The freedom of the line and the attention to the text is why I drew the comparison.
    After the first stanza (when I then realized the piece was strophic) I was blown away by the genius behind the repeated verses. While the musical material is practically identical, each stanza of text feels as though it has been treated with the same amount of detail as the first, as if the piece had been through-composed. After hearing this piece, Grieg is up there with Schubert in regards to the strophic genius of each composer.

  32. I'm obsessed with Grieg and feel he is totally under represented. Haugtussa is incredible. It is lyric and dramatic, introspective and extroverted, romantic as well as folk elements.
    The setting of Møte struck me as perfectly simple, shy but curious, depicting the young woman. And then the rush of passion, excitement, "bursting out in admiration" that the texture changes to be effusive
    and extroverted. Grieg tells the story through the piano and voice largely at the same time.

  33. Despite Grieg's ambivalent relationship with his homeland, his love of Norwegian culture and its natural beauty shine forth in his setting of "Haugtussa", which contains elements of Norwegian folk music which he loved. The musical depiction of the girls exuberance when surrounded by Nature and its lushness are pure Grieg. Even when describing her encounter with spirits, Grieg's music is full of beauty. It is interesting that he chooses to set most of the text in strophic form.