Nordic Symphony – Grieg at the cross-roads

  • Kjell Skyllstad
Keywords: Edvard Grieg, Nationalism in music, Nordic music


In music historiography there appears the notion of a Europe musically divided between a central "universal" culture and a peripheral "national" orientation. 19th century composers of the Scandinavian and East European countries share the same fate of being marginalized as provincial representatives of "national" or "regional" cultures, in contrast to those that »spoke the language of "humanity" (Alfred Einstein). In Germany Edvard Grieg is stili derogatively regarded as Kleinkünstler, who was not able to produce large scale works in sonata form, which alone would qualify for the stature of a "universal" artist. What  we now recognize as Norwegian or national in Grieg's works became carriers of such significance and interpretations only after the composer's death. The hermeneutic descriptive  analysis and criticism in Germany (Hermann Kretzshmar) and Norway (Gerhard Schjelderup) narrowed the interpretation of his works.This was further ideologically encased by the upsurge of Norwegian nationalistic music culture in the late 20ties. When Grieg's only symphony was released for performance in 1981 it was stylistically considered as a transition to the "real" Grieg with reference to the elements pointing to a national idiom.The author pleads far a more open attitude in approaching the complex nature of Grieg's compositional career. Unbiased analyses of his large scale works, including the symphony, testify to an acute sense of formal structure, even when deviating from the normative requirements of the genre. The artistic legacy of Edvard Grieg, like that of many other composers of "peripheral" cultures, need to be examined at the triadic point of dynamic convergence between the national, regional and European, and between stylistic trends, sociocultural background and the development of musical communication.


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How to Cite
SkyllstadK. (2003). Nordic Symphony – Grieg at the cross-roads. Musicological Annual, 39(1), 107-114.