only two left.
The story goes that a player of the Hardånger fiddle (a Norwegian fiddle with extra strings for drones) got in touch with Edvard Grieg in 1889, begging him to preserve in writing the great old slåtter -- the folk dances -- of his country, before they were lost forever. Twelve years later, Grieg sent his friend Johan Halvorsen to do the transcribing job. When he saw the charts, Grieg was so touched by their power that he then adapted them for piano. It was a way of not only preserving these great melodies, but also presenting them to the unsuspecting world. And of course it was a way of infusing new sounds and harmonies into classical music without being alienating: with their strange raised 4th -- "the ghost of some old scale," in Grieg's words -- these new sounds are actually old sounds, deep in our cultural memory.
This recording puts two Norwegian musicians together: the pianist Einar Steen-Nøkleberg and the fiddler Knut Buen. Instead of just playing Grieg's Op 72 straight, the fiddler plays the original tune; he's a descendant of Grieg's source man, and carries the authority of the tradition confidently. Then we hear Steen-Nøkleberg play the Grieg piece based on it.
So, you hear the roughshod, ruddy-cheeks honesty of the original tune, and then you hear that tune polished and classicalized. On the CD, of course (and by the way you should get the CD, not only for the richness of sound but also for the fascinating booklet material, which is as obliviously dorky as a fuzzy Oslo man in shorty shorts and socky sandals), they follow each other directly with a little pause between tracks. I love picturing these two very different musicians on the stage together, each respecting and listening to the other's performance. Every time the fiddle melody comes to an end, I bate my breath, waiting for the playful, agile Grieg version; every time, Grieg and Steen-Nøkleberg fill the air with delight.
It's a living example of the fertile relationship between folk and classical music: in every era, the music of the commonfolk refreshes the high culture and keeps it from stuffiness; in every era, the high culture ennobles the low by honoring its genius, bringing out unseen fineness the way that oil and stain and sandpaper and polish can bring out the deeply grained beauty of good wood.
01 Gibøens Bruremarsj fiddle
02 Gibøen's Bridal March piano
Gangars, Springars, and Hallings are all types of dances,
roughly equivalent to waltzes and polkas.