By 1876 Grieg’s Piano Concerto and the Peer Gynt
music had spread his fame to a wider audience, but this growing recognition was not reflected in the composer’s personal life. His parents had both recently died, within a short space of time, and his marriage to Nina was going through a particularly stressful time. Perhaps, given his propensity for seeking poetry that reflected his personal circumstances, it was only natural that Grieg would be attracted by the more fateful, if not more aphoristic, expression of Henrik Ibsen. The first two songs of the Sex digte af Henrik Ibsen
(‘Six poems by Henrik Ibsen’), Op 25, offer further examples Grieg’s chosen texts mirroring his personal life. Spillemænd
(‘Minstrels’) derives from a Norwegian tale about a musician who is entrusted by a water-sprite with greatly expressive qualities, eventually settling the debt by forfeiting his own happiness. And in the haunting song En svane
(‘A swan’)—referring to the legend in which a swan sings for the only time in its life as it approaches death—we may note Beryl Foster’s observation that ‘Grieg matches Ibsen’s masterly aphoristic lines with a striking and mature musical restraint’.
The third song from this set, Stambogsrim (‘Album lines’), depicts—as Beryl Foster has said—‘a scene barely glimpsed rather than seen properly’. This twelve-bar song (the shortest in Grieg’s entire output) reflects aspects of early settings by contemporaneous French Impressionists—Fauré, perhaps, or Duparc—in its subtleties and inferences, characteristics which are further alluded to in the other songs in the group. A study of the texts and of Grieg’s inspired reactions to them through his distinctive melodic lines and their harmonic accompaniments reveals the deepening of the composer’s art by this time.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2008