My music note for this week will be short. I don’t feel I did justice to Grieg’s Second Piano Concerto in B minor with the recordings I shared. I found a much better recording. I have been listening to it nonstop for days. It is one of the jazziest concertos I’ve ever heard. Every member of my large extended family was subjected to it – that’s how much I love it.
Edvard Grieg stood only 5 feet tall. When this is your height and your only other talent is that you are a gifted piano player, and you are growing up in Norway – a cold, mountainous country of fjords; long, unkind winters; Vikings – a place where physical strength decides if you live or die in the constant battle with Mother Nature – you are destined for a miserable and unhappy life. And so Edvard had a miserable childhood – he was bullied in school by the other kids. Luckily, he left Norway at age 15 and went to study at the Leipzig Conservatory. The emotional anguish of his childhood spilled over into beautiful music.
Today, more than a hundred years after his death, with his bullies converted into the nameless dust of history, Grieg is one of the most famous and admired Norwegians who ever lived. During his lifetime he wrote only one piano concerto, the A minor concerto. The A minor concerto is probably one of the top five most-performed piano concertos today (Tchaikovsky’s No. 1, Rachmaninoff’s 2nd, Beethoven 5th, and Mozart’s 20th are probably other contenders for top- five spots). Grieg wrote the A minor concerto when he was 25 years old. He attempted to write another piano concerto in B minor but never finished it.
Today we have two versions of it! Grieg’s sketches were turned into “fragments” of a concerto by two composers, Helge Evju and Laurent Beeckmans. We are going to listen to both today. The only way to know where Grieg ends and Evju and Beeckmans begin is to listen to both versions. Grieg’s melodies clearly come through – after all, they are the core both versions are built upon.
Laurent Beeckmans’s version:
Helge Evju’s version: