Norwegian Peasant Dances, Op 72

Edvard Grieg

Einar Steen-Nøkleberg, piano
Knut Buen, Hardånger fiddle

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

03 Jon Vestafes Springar fiddle
04 Jon Vestafe's Springar piano

05 Bruremarsj Frå Telemark fiddle
06 Wedding March of Telemark piano

07 Haugelat, Halling fiddle
08 Folkdance from the hills piano

09 Prillaren frå Os Prestegjeld (Springdans)fiddle
10 Folkdance from Os piano

11 Gangar Etter Myllarguten fiddle
12 Folkdance after Myllarguten (the Miller's Boy) piano

13 Røtnams-Knut, Halling fiddle
14 Røtnams-Knut from Hallingdal piano

15 Bruremarsj Etter Myllarguten fiddle
16 Wedding March after Myllarguten piano

17 Nils Rekves Halling fiddle
18 Nils Rekve's Halling piano

19 Knut Luråsens Halling I fiddle
20 Knut Luråsen's Halling I piano

21 Knut Luråsens Halling II fiddle
22 Knut Luråsen's Halling II piano

23 Springar Etter Myllarguten fiddle
24 Springdance after Myllarguten piano

25 Håvard Gibøens Draum ved Oterholt bru fiddle
26 Håvard Gibøen's Dream piano

27 Forspel / Tussebrureferda På Vossevangen fiddle
28 Prelude / Wedding Processional from Vossevangen piano

29 Skuldalsbruri (Gangar) fiddle
30 The Bride from Skuldal piano

31 Kivlemøyane (Springar frå Seljord) fiddle
32 The Kivle Maidens (Seljord Springar) piano

33 Kivlemøyane (Gangar) fiddle
34 Kivlemøyane (Gangar) piano

Gangars, Springars, and Hallings are all types of dances,
roughly equivalent to waltzes and polkas.