Movement 1: Un poco andante – Allegro molto ed agitato
Movement 2: Romanze: Andantino – Allegro agitato
Movement 3: Intermezzo: Allegro molto marcato – Più vivo e scherzando
Movement 4: Finale: Lento – Presto al Saltarello
Working hard to find a thematic and formal framework, Grieg decided to build the whole quartet on the melody of his Ibsen song Spillemaend (‘Minstrel’, Op 25 No 1), which underlies all four movements. The opening motive (octave falling to major seventh then fifth) is also predominant in, among other things, the A minor Piano Concerto. This motivic core pervades the entire quartet, binding it together to form a composite whole, 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 was usual in chamber music at that time.
The thickness of sound in Grieg’s quartet is striking: it has an unorthodox richness of texture that verges on the orchestral, using fortissimo double-stopping in several instruments simultaneously. The composer has been criticized for this, but he himself said that his quartet was not designed to ‘peddle occasional flashes of brilliance’. He continues: ‘It aims at breadth, to soar, and above all at a vigorous sound for the instruments for which it is written.’ Furthermore, the quartet is unconventional in its markedly homophonic style, although there are polyphonic passages that prove that Grieg was also a master of this technique.
from notes by Erling Dahl Jr © 1999