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Stimmungen 'Moods', Op 73
It stands to reason that if Grieg—the pianist who wrote idiomatically for the violin—was happier writing miniatures than sonata-structures, he would produce a gratifying amount of shorter pieces for violin and piano. Reason, though, has nothing to do with it: Grieg’s only other piece for violin and piano is a number from his incidental music to Bjørnson’s drama Sigurd Jorsalfar, Op 22, of 1872. In these purist days our historically informed violinists would simply shrug their shoulders and bemoan their lot. But a century ago musicians had more capacious appetites, and transcriptions were part of the normal musical diet. Joseph Achron, born in Lazdijai in Lithuania (then under Russian-Polish rule, as Lozdzieje) in 1886, first appeared as a prodigy violinist in Warsaw at the age of seven and studied violin with Leopold Auer and composition with Liadov in St Petersburg. Before his emigration to the United States in 1924 (from Berlin via Palestine), Achron and his pianist brother Isidor were active in the Society for Jewish Folk Music in St Petersburg, presenting concerts of music by Jewish composers; in one of them, on 14 April 1915, Jascha Heifetz (likewise a Lithuanian-born Auer student, then in his mid-teens) played Achron’s Dance Improvisation. It was natural, then, that Heifetz, a naturalized US citizen from 1925, should renew the acquaintance when Achron settled in America, and his 1926 recording of Achron’s Hebrew Melody, Op 33 (1911), with Isidor at the piano, was a popular success; he had first recorded it, with orchestral accompaniment, in December 1917.

But the connection with Norway predates their re-acquaintance in America. In the years before the Russian Revolution of 1917, their teacher, Leopold Auer, set up a summer school in Oslo (then called Kristiania), where his students would have deepened any acquaintance of Grieg’s music they had already formed in Russia. Achron made a number of transcriptions during this period of his life (including one of Mendelssohn’s ‘On the Wings of Song’ which Heifetz later made popular, recording it as early as October 1918), and the absence of Grieg original miniatures for violin and piano must have made them an obvious target. He produced a total of seven Grieg transcriptions. The six included here are ‘Dance from Jölster’, the fifth of the 25 Norwegian Folksongs and Dances, Op 17 (1869); ‘Lonely Wanderer’ and ‘At Home’, the second and third of the six pieces that make up the third series of Lyric Pieces, Op 43; ‘Grandmother’s Minuet’, the second of the ninth series of Lyric Pieces, Op 68; ‘Puck’ (the original Norwegian title, Småtroll, means ‘Little Troll’), third of the tenth series, Op 71; and the Scherzo-Impromptu, No 2 of the seven Stemninger (‘Moods’), Op 73.

Norway was to come to Auer’s aid, too, when in June 1917, after forty-nine years as professor of violin at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, he fled the upheavals of the Revolution and ostensibly went on holiday to Norway; in the event, he continued westwards, taking a boat for New York in February the next year. When in 1925 Carl Fischer of New York published six of Achron’s Grieg arrangements (the Scherzo-Impromptu followed a year later), Achron, Auer and Heifetz had all settled in the United States.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2006

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Details for CDA67504 track 13
No 2: Scherzo-Impromptu
Recording date
10 October 2004
Recording venue
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Eric Wen
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Grieg: Violin Sonatas (CDA67504)
    Disc 1 Track 13
    Release date: June 2006
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