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Many composers have unashamedly looked to the past for musical inspiration: think of Prokofiev with his Classical Symphony, Stravinsky’s Baroque-inspired Pulcinella Suite and this, Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time – Suite in the Olden Style, to give it its most accurate title.
Now always referred to as the Holberg Suite, it eschews the Romantic conventions of its day, instead harking back to the classical-era playwright Ludvig Holberg, who, like Grieg, was born in the city of Bergen.
Composed to mark the 200th anniversary of Holberg’s birth, the work opens with a sprightly, energetic Praeludium, followed by a more introspective Sarabande, a rather polite Gavotte, a stately Air and, finally, a boisterous Rigaudon. It was originally composed for piano – an instrument in front of which Grieg was always at home – but was later turned into an orchestral suite by the composer. It’s this arrangement that is by far the most often heard today.
First performed in its original piano version by Grieg himself at the Bergen Holberg celebration in December 1884, the work was very well received, which probably explains Grieg’s decision to transcribe it for orchestra so soon after. Although not so well known as his mighty Piano Concerto or the lyrical Peer Gynt Suites, this is supremely crafted music which drives home Grieg’s status as one of Europe’s most important Romantic composers.
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Ole Kristen Ruud (conductor). BIS:SACD 1491.
Illustration: Mark Millington