Back to index
Erdahl, Rolf Christian

Edvard Grieg's Sonatas for Stringed Instrument and Piano: Performance Implications of the Primary Source Materials

D.M.A. The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, 1994

This dissertation concerns itself with performance implications of primary source materials. While the author endeavors to reconstruct as closely as possible Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907, Bergen, Norway) formative influences and precise musical instructions relevant to his works for strings, the intent is not to instruct the performers how to perform, but rather to provide an authentic body of information on which to base an interpretation. In addition to details of notation, biographical and historical accounts of events that shed light on Grieg's ideals of performance, interpretation, and communication of ideas through music are also considered.

Music for strings, the sonatas in particular, occupies a special place in Grieg's oeuvre. Grieg collaborated with leading artists of his time in publicly and critically acclaimed performances of these works. Grieg learned from these performances and continually strove to perfect his understanding of stringed instruments and of ways to communicate his intentions from the keyboard, the podium, and the printed page.

In the years following Grieg's death, the respect his performances engendered for his music began to fade. New editions and revisions of his music have appeared, often with simplification for student performance taking precedence over achieving the composer's original intended timbres, articulations, and phrasings. Much has been done to remedy this situation in the preparation and publication of the Grieg Gesamtausgabe (New York: Peters, 1976-96). However, the Gesamtausgabe is not free from problems of translation, transmission of information, and transcription; also, new sources have come to light since its publication.

Hopefully this dissertation will serve to eradicate spurious indications in the received texts, to question the canon of biographical materials, to revive an interest in the performance of these masterworks, and to provide an informed point of departure for performers. Works most closely examined are the three Violin Sonatas and the Violoncello Sonata and Intermezzo. Relevant details regarding Grieg's other works for strings are related as they pertain to the works under discussion, and to general questions of late nineteenth-century performance practice. These musical choices are due both to the amount of significant primary material available, and to the prominence of these works in Grieg's own concert programs.

Background information concerning the creation of Grieg's works for strings is provided in each chapter and the nature of the primary sources and their implications for performance is discussed. Previously undocumented primary sources uncovered in the course of this study include music manuscripts and handwritten performance instructions and indications in Grieg's letters, personal papers, and printed performance scores. The Appendices include annotated scores for each of Grieg's sonatas for stringed instrument and piano, listing in detail all the findings of this study, including corrections and supplements to the information in the Grieg Gesamtausgabe. It is hoped that this study will serve as the basis for new performing editions of these masterworks.