Monday, 30 June 2008

Frederick Delius: Grieg’s Norwegian Bridal Procession

It could be argued that a photograph of the view from Grieg’s summer residence at Troldhaugen has no place on a blog dedicated to British music. However, when I was there a few weeks ago, I recalled that Grieg was well acquainted with Frederick Delius. Now I did not know at that time if Delius had visited Edvard and Nina Grieg at their home. I asked one of the curators at the house but she could only point me to a photograph of Percy Grainger sitting on the terrace. I glanced at what literature I have concerning Delius, and although it is clear they were great friends and travel companions I could not find any reference to a house-call. Yet, irrespective of this fact, I felt it was rather appropriate to write a short post about two of my favourite composers from the context of one of the loveliest views in Europe.

A few days ago I asked the Delius Society for help: and Dr. Lionel Carley, the noted Grieg scholar put me right. Of course I had overlooked his book ‘Grieg & Delius: A Chronicle of their Friendship’. Dr. Carley told me that Delius had in fact visited Troldhaugen twice – in 1889 and 1891. And what is more, Delius has written about this in his diaries and letters.

On the 15th July 1889 Delius arrived at Troldhaugen accompanied by Christian Sinding. He wrote that “On arriving at Bergen we were met by Grieg, who conducted us to his home near Bergen at Hop Station. He lived in a comfortable little wooden house called Troldhaugen, situated rather high up on a little promontory jutting out into the fjord [actually a lake] Here we spent a very agreeable week fishing and walking, Grieg played some of his latest compositions to us, and making excursions to Bergen to buy the necessary knapsacks and provisions for our projected walking tour to Jotunheimen.”
Delius also mentioned the fact that he bathed in the lake at Troldhaugen. There still a little jetty there at the bottom of the promontory which is reached by a short walk down a steep, wooded path. Near the jetty both Edvard and Nina are buried in a cave by the waters edge. As an aside, I saw a robin feeding her nestling: I recalled how Grieg loved the birds in his garden.
Delius and Grieg left Trollhaugen on 23rd July and headed towards Vossevangen.

Some two years later, around the 21st July 1891, Delius again visited Grieg. The Norwegian met him and his friend Iver Holter at Bergen and took them back to his house. Grieg wrote to a friend that “I have just got one or your guests in my home – the Englishman Delius, a talented and modern musician with an exceptionally likeable nature.
Delius noted that he “spent a delightful week sea-bathing, fishing and taking walks.” After this visit, Delius, Grieg and Holter left for Hardanger and another tour of Norway.

The Norwegian Bridal Procession has a unique place in the life and history of Frederic Delius. It is his only orchestration or realisation of a work by another composer that appears in his catalogue. Lewis Foreman writes that the manuscript survives in an autograph pencil score which is dated 2 December 1889. Lionel Carley suggests that this work could have been intended as a Christmas gift to the older composer. However, there is no sign of a ‘fair copy’ given to Grieg in the archives,

The Delius Trust supported Boosey & Hawkes’s publication of the piece in 1993 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Edvard Grieg’s birth. The work was given its first performance at the Royal Festival Hall in 15h June 1993 by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Per Dreier.

From Grieg’s point of view the Pictures from Folk Life Op.19 were written in Bergen in the summer of 1871. Eleanor Baillie has written that this work represents one of Grieg’s few ventures into the ‘true concert piece’ – a ‘blending of folk elements with keyboard glitter’. There are three pictures presented – On the Mountains, Bridal Procession and From the Carnival. Interestingly, although the Bridal Procession works well as a stand alone piece, the composer actually intended the three pieces to be played as a set.

The Bridal Procession is a wonderfully happy and celebratory piece as befits its title. Grieg wrote in a letter written in 1872: “One Saturday evening some time ago I played “Bridal Procession” for the students in the Association (Norwegian Students Association) and wouldn’t you know I got tears in my eyes. First I explained to them what I had in mind and then I played- and then their understanding of my intention hit them like a bolt of lightening. They began shouting. “Play it again! Play it again!” How happy I was! For there was a mutual language of the hearer.” [Edward Grieg Letters to Colleagues and Friends ed. by Benestad & Halverson p28]

From Delius’s point of view, his walking holidays in Norway were serendipitous. He recorded in his diary for 1887 how he had witnessed a Bridal Procession whilst on his mountain tour of Norway. So the scene was set for this attractive and rather fetching transcription.

The procession arrives with a dancing march rhythm, suggesting brilliant costumes and presumably a warm sunny day. Baillie suggests that the music represents “the jangling of instruments, against a backcloth of fjord and mountain…”
Perhaps it is a case of Delius and Grieg having together a ‘mutual language’? Certainly the listener needs only to listen to the Norwegian's Op.66 'In Ola Valley' for piano and then turn to, say, Beecham’s recording of Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo to find an example of where he not “only borrows a folksong from Grieg, but also uses Grieg’s harmonization of that folksong as a springboard for his own invention.” (Trevor Hold)
Interestingly enough Norwegian Bridal Procession has been orchestrated in 1903 by another friend of Delius – Johan Halvorsen. It is this version that has been heard in the concert halls ever since.

Frederick Delius’s Norwegian Bridal Procession on Classico 364

1 comment:

Can Bass 1 said...

The first Mrs Can Bass and myself recessed to Greig's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Sounded rather good on the cathedral organ!