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Dr Lionel Carley
The Boydell Press
ISBN 1 84383 2070
488 pages


"I always associate Grieg with Winter. As Chopin is Summer and Tchaikowsky Autumn, so Grieg is Winter, sharpening painfully into Spring, tingling with vitality …….. Grieg’s music holds that swift, sweet pang which thrills the critic’s jaded heart with the last spring wind on the chord of the 9th – Grieg’s characteristic chord…."

‘A study in Silver’

Israfel in ‘The Dome’

Unicorn Press

It is surprising with a composer as popular as Grieg how little we really know of the Man - although there is surely no one in the land unable to whistle a few bars of one of the most popular piano concertos of all time? It is even more surprising that the influence on English music of the music of Grieg - which together with the music of MacDowell and Chaminade filled the music stools of every house with a piano - is even today not fully appreciated.

This beautifully produced book by the President of the Delius Society, Dr Lionel Carley, opens up a world of which few today will have any real knowledge – a period in English music-making (‘The roots and the soil’ was how Scott Goddard described it (1)) the details of which were overtaken by the more dramatic years of the English renaissance and the folk revival. In these pages, amongst the now virtually anonymous personalities of such as Eaton Faning, Leonard Borwick, Edward Dannreuther, Franklin Taylor, J F Barnett, Stanley Hawley, Ebenezer Prout, Johannes Wolff (the list is endless) move the diminutive figures of Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina – lauded in his few visits to the UK as the darling of the concert hall – as composer, conductor or pianist.

In his prefatory pages Dr Carley explains what he calls, appropriately "the Grieg phenomenon in England" – Grieg the composer with an exciting new musical vocabulary:

‘Here was a counterbalance to the weight of the Austro-German symphony, the folk idioms of Norway being deployed in subtly shifting forms to make quite new sounds.’

Among Grieg’s devotees were publishers, promoters, performers and friends – and also Royalty both English and Norwegian. Princess Louise attended Neupert’s premiere of the Piano Concerto in April 1869. Invitations to Windsor and to Buckingham Palace followed in 1897 and 1906. But it was the general music-lover who filled the concert halls.

Grieg wrote few large-scale works but the A minor Piano Concerto quickly worked its way to the current ‘top of the pops’ where it has steadfastly remained. Performances, not only by Grieg himself, followed with executants such as Charles Halle, Oscar Meyer (that at the Three Choirs Festival, the bastion of English music-making) Herbert Fryer, the 20-year-old Backhaus, and the ebullient Percy Grainger – this latter whose tripartite friendship with both Grieg and Delius made him perhaps the ideal if eccentric interpreter of the Concerto, and of op. 66 and op. 72)

And there we begin to know something more of the Man – his relations with the close friends, George Augener, Sir Edgar Speyer and with his closest colleagues Delius and Julius Röntgen – and also such endearing vignettes as Grieg’s taking a platform call, with hat and coat (to discourage encores!), his friendhip with Stopford Brooke and the Unitarian movement – or his daring rebuke to the English monarch, "because the King talked out loud to Nansen while I played".

Dr Carley’s 500 page account of the Norwegian composer’s relations with England - and a solitary visit to Scotland, the land of his forebears in November 1890 - is divided into seven sections:

First successes in England
Interlude 1
Grand Tour
Interlude 2
Final Curtain calls

covering the years from 1862 to 1907, the year of Grieg’s death even then ‘on the first leg of their circuitous route to England.’

The narrative of the book follows concert performances and subsequent press reactions in considerable detail, filling in much of the musical activity of these somewhat uncharted years and providing "a snapshot of London musical life as Grieg found it at the end of the 1880s". The many photogravure illustrations add a delightful sense of period.

The book is a meticulously researched contribution to musical history and should be on the shelves of all music-lovers.

Colin Scott-Sutherland


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