Arne Garborg’s verse-novel Haugtussa
(‘The mountain maid’; literally ‘A girl of the hill-spirits’) was published in 1895. Comprising no fewer than seventy-one individual verses, it created a deep impression on Grieg, who had first encountered Garborg’s writing a few years earlier. No sooner had Grieg read the book than he wrote to his friend Julius Röntgen about the possibility of setting parts of it: ‘I have been deep in a highly remarkable poem … Haugtussa
. It is a quite brilliant book, where the music is really already composed. One just needs to write it down.’ This marriage of poetry and music is one of the miracles of the nineteenth-century song-cycle genre. Many regard Haugtussa
as Grieg’s masterpiece, a claim which it is hard to resist. It is certainly one of the greatest song-cycles for the female voice ever written, revealing the composer at the very height of his powers. But Grieg’s initial intention to set parts of it went through several refining processes before he finally settled on the eight verses that make up his Op 67. This work is in many ways the culmination of various strands in Grieg’s earlier song-writing, from the relative innocence of the Op 5 set to, for example, the ‘knowing’ character of the German songs Op 48, especially Lauf der Welt
. Although there is great originality in such works as the Piano Concerto, and a breadth of conception in pieces like the G minor String Quartet, Grieg’s sheer range as a song-writer—from the shortest settings, folk-like and immediate, to the depth of distinctive inspiration that runs through every bar of Haugtussa
—places him without question among the finest masters of the genre.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 2008