I can see it all before me…snow, hail, storm and every kind of foul weather, huge male choir with open mouths, the rain streaming into them, myself conducting with waterproof cape, winter coat, galoshes, and umbrella! And a cold afterwards, of course, or goodness knows what kind of illness! Oh well, it’s one way of dying for one’s country!” – Edvard Grieg
He was grateful for the gig, but not necessarily about the circumstances. To celebrate the Bicentennial birth of hometown hero Ludvig Holberg, the “Moliere of the North,” the city fathers of Bergen turned to a contemporary artist similarly celebrated across Europe – their own Edvard Grieg.
Grieg was commissioned to write to write a cantata for male voices, that would accompany a grand unveiling of a new monument to Holberg in Bergen’s central marketplace. The whole event would take place on the exact 200th anniversary of Holberg’s birth….on December 3, 1884, during the onset of a typically dark, dank, and dripping-wet Norwegian winter.
As it turned out, the big day turned out to be about as dismal as Grieg feared, and his grand cantata was quickly forgotten. (If you’re curious, you can see a trombone choir version here.) But the story doesn’t end there: Grieg was also asked to write a piece to honor Holberg in the concert hall…which spurred the creation of one of his most beloved works: The Suite from Holberg’s Time. Taking inspiration from Holberg’s contemporaries Bach and Handel, Grieg worked up a five-movement suite for piano that somehow managed to blend baroque forms with Grieg’s unique style, both buoyant and poignant.
He may have called it a “a perruque piece” (a phrase meaning “after the 18th century’s powdered wigs”), but Grieg knew he had a Holberg hit on his hands. He quickly turned the piano piece into a work for strings, which is how it’s best known today.
Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907), who found musical inspiration in the life and works of fellow “Bergenite” Ludvig Holberg.
Grieg’s miniature masterpiece is performed ‘midst the masterworks hanging in the collection of the renowned Kreeger Museum of Art in Washington, DC, a frequent Heifetz on Tour destination. On stage: Violinists Kobi Malkin and Rachell Ellen Wong, violist Stephanie Block, and cellist Coleman Itzkoff. This performance was originally featured on the program Heifetz On Tour Showcase IV: “Masterpieces of Art & Music: Heifetz At the Kreeger Museum on Rubato: The Heifetz Virtual Concert Hall: Click here to view the entire program!
The much-admired writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), considered ‘the founder of modern Danish and Norwegian Literature.”