There might also be a polemical assumption that whereas folk-music retains its vitality, authenticity and sense of purpose, Classical Tradition can become moribund, dulled and restricted by unimaginative adherence to convention, in effect unreal, irrelevant and no longer engaging.
Grieg’s special relevance to Bartok lay in ethnomusicological transcriptions and publications, Grieg’s own and those that he encouraged, Percy Grainger was a possible intermediary. Bartok’s Third String Quartet, the shortest of his six quartets, was composed in 1927. The two conjoined parts (effectively like the ‘lassu’ and ‘friss’ of Hungarian Czardas), subsume folkloristic melodic and rhythmic configurations into a sound-world that loosely connects to the chromatic counterpoint and expressionistic rhetoric of Berg’s ‘Lyric Suite’, a work dating from the previous year, and which had recently been heard by Bartok.
Ensemble chamber music constitutes only a very small part of Grieg’s output, additionally problematized by the incompleteness of the second String Quartet, the Piano Trio and the present work. In fact, and a little strangely, Grieg drafted almost 260 continuous and fully instrumented bars of a Piano Quintet in B-flat major [eventually catalogued as EG 118], with virtually no indication of how it might continue. It is not an early work, actually dating from the 1890s - and appearing in the same ‘Kladdebok’ as, and immediately adjacent to, the revisions for the 1892 performances of his incidental music to ‘Peer Gynt’. The germinal ‘motif’ of the Quintet was, however, recalled from the sketches for a Second Piano Concerto (dating from 1883-7).
The suggestion to complete this torso came from my ’cellist colleague at Southampton University: Paul Cox. It was his challenge, in effect, to become Grieg, making the joins between Grieg’s world and mine - a hundred years apart - inaudible. After considerable hesitation, unusually testing research, and two abortive attempts that even got as far as public exhibition, I finally sorted myself out and decided to tackle a monothematic realization of the original, as implied by Grieg’s sketches, including a newly composed folk-dance Scherzo and slow movement, with a recapitulation of Grieg’s extended exposition as Finale.
‘Monothematic’ in this context means that all the material derives from the same motivic source, clearly stated by the piano in Grieg’s opening bars. This type of compressed symphonic design was not advocated by later partisans of the Leipzig school, but would have been known to Grieg from the works of Liszt.
The ‘Grieg Quintettsatz’ replicates the design and proportions of the Grieg Quintet completion, but with my own material, and omitting the recapitulation/finale. Initially drawing on Grieg’s potential sources in Ludvig Mathias Lindeman’s ‘Ældre og nyere norske fjeldmelodier’ , then Schumann, Brahms and Wagner, and eventually continuing as myself, only after the exposition repeat, from bar 257. The folk-dance Scherzo of the completion, reminiscent of Hardanger fiddle music, reappears with only minor alteration. All the joins and differences here are noticeable and intentional, and part of the design.
‘Sæterjentens fridag’ was commissioned by the Ultima Festival in Oslo, to explore ‘contemporary interaction with the Hardanger fiddle tradition’. There is a previous setting of this folksong by Ole Bull, which I did not try to emulate. In fact the piece is an assemblage of diverse fragments, characteristic of Hardanger fiddle playing, grouped into five sections - the first, third and fifth of which start with variants of the same material. The piece may be performed solo, or with discreet accompaniment for either one or two keyboards. It is dedicated to Liv Merete Kroken, its superb initial executant.