Classical Music | Music for Quartet

Edvard Grieg

String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27  Play

Euclid String Quartet Quartet

Recorded on 10/26/2012, uploaded on 03/12/2012

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

After busy years in Oslo, teaching and conducting to make a living, Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina left for Hardanger in 1877. In the course of a couple of years there, he wrote several masterworks, among them the String Quartet in G minor. On hearing Grieg's quartet for the first time, Franz Liszt declared: "It is a long time since I have encountered a new composition, especially a string quartet, which has intrigued me as greatly as this distinctive and admirable work by Grieg." Grieg himself characterized the quartet as a slice out of his own life: "Concealed within it are samples of that heart's blood of which posterity hopefully will see more than just a few drops."

The musical language is rather radical, and in many ways Grieg's quartet is a bridge between the late Beethoven quartets and Debussy's quartet of fifteen years later.

Working hard to find a thematic and formal framework, Grieg at last decided to build the whole quartet on the melody of his Ibsen song Spillemaend (“Minstrel”). This underlies all four movements. The opening motive (octave falling to major 7th and 5th) is also the main motive in, among other things, the A minor Piano Concerto. This motivic core pervades the entire quartet, binding it together to form a composite whole, all the way from the dramatic G minor introduction of the first movement to the entrancing final G major of the last.

This conceptual unity in the shape of a cyclic melodic idea did not originate with Grieg; it was a technique often used by Liszt, for instance. But Grieg made more consistent use of it than had been usual in chamber music up to that date.  Another unusual aspect is the thickness of sound in Grieg`s quartet. It is an unorthodox, magnificence of sound that verges on the orchestral. He uses simultaneous double stopping in fortissimo in several instruments. Grieg has been criticized for this, but he himself said that the quartet wasn’t designed to “… peddle occasional flashes of brilliance. It aims at breadth, to soar, and, above all, at vigorous sound for the instruments for which it is written.”

Finally the quartet is untraditional in its markedly homophonic style. But there are polyphonic passages too which prove that Grieg was a master also of this technique.     The Euclide String Quartet