Author Topic: Agathe Backer Grøndahl  (Read 4404 times)

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Offline Ten thumbs

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Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« on: December 24, 2010, 01:35:55 PM »
As one of the great pianists of the latter half of the nineteenth century Backer-Grøndahl ought to be better known. Sometimes referred to as a 'second Clara Schumann' but she suffered criticism for promoting the piano concerto of her compatriot, Grieg. She was also forced to retire in her early fifties due to deafness.
Backer Grøndahl was also a recognised composer (see the list of Scandinavian composers on this board) and accumulated seventy opus numbers plus several unnumbered pieces; however only two of these are for orchestra. Her piano music is available complete on CD but I'm currently exploring it courtesy of free scores (quite a challenge on my poor thumbs). I'm not making an overall judgment yet but there is plenty of substance with Norwegian trolls combined with harmonic shifting reminiscent of Fauré. She has a better sense of form than Grieg but perhaps not his clarity.
As for her 190 lieder, I understand a number of these are well known in her native land. I should be grateful to hear of any good recordings. As Grieg's diary tribute after her untimely death says of her more beautiful and intimate tunes: if a mimosa could sing. . .
« Last Edit: May 06, 2016, 12:20:19 AM by Ten thumbs »
A day may be a destiny; for life
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With some one chance, the balance of all time:
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Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 11:49:44 AM »
Clearly we have no Norwegians on this board - pity!
If you want to hear a taste of Backer-Grøndahl, you will find one on:
http://www.nataliastrelchenko.com/
This is one of her Fantasistykker, the equivalent of Grieg's Lyric Pieces. Another from Op.39 is Springwand (The Fountain), an intriguing evocation of dripping water composed years before Debussy hit on the idea.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Online The new erato

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2011, 01:42:58 PM »
Oh yes you have. Her Ballade is very beautiful, though I reserve my main appreciation for her wonderfully gifted painter sister Harriet.




Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2011, 02:32:45 AM »
Oh yes you have. Her Ballade is very beautiful, though I reserve my main appreciation for her wonderfully gifted painter sister Harriet.





Greetings! I ought to have remembered seeing the flag. I once stayed in Balestrand with a resident Norwegian pianist who played Grieg for us. Marvelous! I'm aware of Harriet and have already looked at what images I can find of her work on the internet but would like to have them in context as regarding the development of her style and other artists. I love the way she uses light to create space.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Scion7

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Re: Agathe Backer-Grøndahl (1847-1907)
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2016, 01:08:58 PM »
Piano works
===========================

6 concert-etuder, op.11 (1881);
3 morceaux, op.15 (1882);
4 skizzer, op.19 (1886);
Suite, 5 movts, op.20 (1887);
3 études, op.22 (1888);
6 idylles, op.24 (1888);
3 klaverstykker, op.25 (1890);
[11] Norske folkeviser og folkedanse, op.30 (1891);
3 études de concert, op.32 (Copenhagen, 1895);
[8] Norske folkeviser og folkedanse, op.33 (1894);
3 klaverstykker, op.35 (1894);
[10] Fantasistykker, op.36 (1895);
Serenade, op.37 (1896);
3 ungarske studier, op.38 (1896);
[10] Fantasistykker, op.39 (1896)
I blaafjellet [In the Blue Mountain], fairytale suite, 6 pieces, op.44 (1897);
[5] Fantasistykker, op.45 (1897);
Etudes de concert, op.47 (Copenhagen, 1901);
3 klaverstykker, op.53 (1900);
[12] Smaa fantasistykker, op.55 (1902);
Etudes de concert, op.57 (Copenhagen, 1903);
Concert-études, op.58 (Copenhagen, 1903);
6 klaverstykker, op.59 (1903);
Prélude, op.61 no.1, Grand menuet, op.61 no.2 (Copenhagen, 1904);
[5] Lettere fantasistykker, op.63 (Copenhagen, 1904);
Danse burlesque, op.64 no.1, Valse caprice, op.64 no.2 (1905);
Barnlige Billeder [Children Pictures], 6 fantasias, op.66 (1905);
2 klaverstykker, op.68 (1907);
3 klaverstykker, op.69 (1907)

An admin should modify the topic to reflect birth-death, and the last name is hyphenated (in English.)
« Last Edit: March 22, 2016, 01:11:08 PM by Scion7 »
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Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer-Grøndahl
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2016, 12:43:06 AM »
Scion7 has kindly provided a list of Backer-Grøndahl's piano works, to which should added:
Caprice
Huldreslaat
Humoreske
Kunstnermarsch
Menuet in F

There are also her many lieder, which should not be disregarded.

As Luke can only have made a very superficial examination of Backer-Grøndahl's œvre, I will try here to provide some helpful pointers. Starting at the beginning can be misleading but that I must do. However, if we look in advance to the 3 Morceaux, Op.15, it strikes one at once that the influence here is not German but French, in particular Heller and Fauré. This probably explains her move into impressionism later. Her artist sister Harriet followed a similar road and I've no doubt they kept in contact. You aren't going to find late Liszt but you will come across a little foretaste of Ravel.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2016, 10:32:32 AM by Ten thumbs »
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2016, 10:35:53 AM »
Following Miss Backer’s debut in 1868, she was for some years principally involved in promoting a concert career and her compositions are confined to lieder. The dates given are a little confusing, but Opus 1 to Opus 10 include 49 songs plus 5 in Opus12, given as 1879. The six concert-etudes, Opus 11 are dated 1881.

Overall the lieder are numerous and cannot be ignored but there does not appear to exist any academic study of them. A Mendelssohnian sense of form has been observed (could this mean Fanny Mendelssonian form?) but, given the nature of her keyboard music, the musical language is likely to be rather different:
“The later songs are coloured by late romanticism, melody and accompaniment peppered with chromaticism and refined chord combinations. This is especially the case with the songs to texts concerning the ocean - this was one of her favourite themes - where the piano part is often clearly used for tone-painting.” Cecelie Dahm

Agathe studied with Bülow in 1871 and Liszt in 1873 before marrying in 1875. As she is reported as having played her compositions during these years, it seems possible that at least some of the Opus 11 studies were written earlier.

Opus 11 Études de Concert (1881)
These are dedicated to two of the masters under whom Agatha studied in Berlin:
À Monsieur le Professeur, Dr. Theodor Kullak, Numbers 1 - 3.
À Monsieur Edmund Neuport, Numbers 4 - 6.

1. Allegro con fuoco. Bb minor. Although directly in the Chopin-Liszt tradition, one is struck by the strength and maturity of this initial piece, which is art music through and through. Here the technical problem is rapid pairs of chords and the music is driven to a masterful climax before the recapitulation, whose final bars switch to the major. The composer is not afraid to conclude with a rising cadence fading to a quiet ending.
2. Andantino grazioso. Db. Here a dreamy melody is accompanied by phrases of notes in parallel. The crux is the midsection (switched from 3/4 to 4/4 Tempo un poco animato) in which the speed of these phrases is doubled and in a burst of Nordic self-expression, the composer takes us to a magnificent climax. The conclusion with its cascade of pianissimo chords from the top of the piano can only be described as delicious.
3. Allegretto scherzando. G minor. One can hardly doubt that the theme here is Norwegian and the little people are stomping away chromatically. By contrast the midsection in the major with its octave chords and forceful rhythms (molto marcato) is somewhat in the style of Kirchner. This mood has the last word after the small folk flit away (una corde, senza pedale).
4. Allegretto. Bb. This must be a strong candidate for the most beautiful étude ever composed. It opens with a dreamy melody beneath a rippling accompaniment. This comes more to the fore before fading again into a soaring theme (tranquillo), which migrates into staccato dance patterns in a very high register. These become wilder and wilder until they break back into the big theme, this time fortissimo. The music then subsides towards the reintroduction of the opening melody, whose second section this time concludes, through some lovely harmonic transitions, in utter repose.
5. Molto allegro e con brio. Eb. This is very ebullient étude, very much in the Chopin-Liszt mould. Showing less of Backer-Grøndahl personal style but nevertheless demonstrating her powers as a pianist. The main idea is repeatedly echoed contrapuntally in the bass and the midsection exp[lores the whole compass of the instrument in chromatic octaves.
6. Allegretto grazioso. A. Here rising and falling arpeggiation a high singing melodic line in octaves. Again there is little to pin this down specifically to Backer-Grøndahl but the constantly fluctuating harmonies are compelling.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2016, 12:51:27 PM by Ten thumbs »
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Scion7

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2016, 11:37:11 AM »
Your analyses of these works are interesting - thanks for making the effort.
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Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2016, 11:15:44 AM »
Opus 15 3 Morceaux (1882)
The French influence is given away by both the overall and the individual titles. At this date this probably means Heller (compare no.3 below) who was also a major influence on Fauré, with whom she was more or less contemporaneous and has a similar mastery of form and inventiveness. Whilst these pieces may be aimed at the amateur, they each contain passages that require dedicated practice.

Sérénade. Andantino. F. This is one of her best known pieces and there is a recording of this arranged as a lied. The somewhat rarified atmosphere is created by placing the accompaniment in mid-register. The placid melody is followed by a flowing midsection that maintains the feeling of quietude (tranquillo) until it reaches a descending flourish (rinforzando e stringendo, but no forte) that leads into a series of trills and the recapitulation.
Au bal. Allegretto. Bb. The dance is introduced by open strings, but remains at first at a distance (una corda). The tempo is a lilting 2/4. For a while we are drawn closer until a chromatic descent takes us away again. An Intermezzo suggests conversation, with interweaving irregular phrases, all treated with great subtlety. The music then returns directly to the ball room only to draw away again and then drop notes as it fades to a final farewell.
Humoresque. Allegro con spirito. G min. This could be subtitled ‘à la Hongroise’ (Heller was of course Hungarian). The whole is in ternary form, the main section being dynamic and strongly rhythmic. There are some tricky leaps in the second section before the music rises to a climax and spirals down to the reprise. Note the change of harmony in the final iteration of the theme and the more emphatic rhythm for the ending. The trio, with its high staccato pianissimo thirds, gives the feeling of walking on broken eggs.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2016, 04:22:43 AM »
Opus 16 4 Skizzer (Sketches) (1886)
Unlike Grieg, who published his third collection of Lyrical Pieces that year, no titles are given. Nor are any required.

Allegretto leggiero in C. This is the most straightforward harmonically and is built principally on staccato chords. However, the overall contour with its two big climaxes is very beautiful and marks this as music of the highest artistic quality and deserving a place in every pianist’s cabinet.
Allegretto leggiero in Ab. This consists of a written out repeat of 22 bars ( the opening of a repeat at bar 9 is a printing mistake). The main interest is in the semiquaver figuration in the right hand, which employs 2+3+3 in bars 15/16 and 3+5 between the hands in 21/22. The development in the coda, where we have 3+3+3+3+4 is most apt.
Allegretto semplice in A. The lack of a key signature warns us of an altered scale with the F# flattened to F. The structure is similar to the previous piece with a 30 bar repeat with a coda interrupting the third entry. The constantly rising answering phrases in the bass create a somewhat rarified atmosphere but the stringendo climactic passages provide contrast.
Allegretto semplice in Ab. Here the composer adopts a chromatic approach, both in the rising melody and in the harmonies. However, a contrasting section descends in rich harmonies (commencing with B major notated as Cb) only to rise into a wide-ranging climax. The return includes some minor variations and again there is a most satisfying coda.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2016, 01:02:23 PM »
Opus 20 Suite (1887)
This may or may not be a response to Grieg’s Holberg Suite - such suites were then in vogue and this one is in most respects very different from Grieg’s. However, it does open with a BIG prelude.
1.Prelude. Allegro non troppo e molto risoluto. G minor. This opens with a big leap followed by running semiquaver passages, a pattern that occurs again and again in various keys until the semiquaver figuration becomes continuous and the leap introduces counter-melodic phrases, which combine with the figuration in a huge extended climax. After a short recapitulation, the music unwinds and closes fittingly in a series of leaps.
2. Nocturne. Allegretto semplice. Eb. There is nothing antique about this; in fact it is not even Chopinesque but a modern nocturne with a fluid delicacy that suggests a watery setting. The exposition has no bass to speak of and ends with rising chromatic passages. A bass melody then enters briefly only to become a basso ostinato for six bars before reaching the return of the opening. The chromatic section is here replaced by development into new keys before a very quiet and peaceful coda.
3. Gavotte. Allegretto. A. The main section is in ternary form with a coda. There are no repeats and the principal feature is the high turns that interrupt the theme. The trio is most pleasing, having a very graceful melody with syncopated phrase openings; the second section is repeated and contains a rising chromatic passage reflecting that in the Nocturne
4. Menuet. Tranquillo. G. This reverts to the usual pattern of repeats (apart from the first section of the trio). The flowing theme noticeably begins on the beat rather than the upbeat. Again there is a very strong trio in the minor, which includes a fine climactic section.
5. Scherzo. Allegretto giocoso. G minor. This is a light-footed staccato scherzo, reminiscent of Kirchner. Again it is ternary form. The close is quiet first time round but loud in the conclusion. However, it should not be taken too fast because the trio is marked L’istesso tempo and it cannot be rushed. This trio is an original venture - at least I know of nothing like it. It begins pianissimo (una corda) and has the feel of a little folk dance but its scope broadens. It grows louder and the soft pedal is left behind; concordance begins to disappear and the regular rhythm is disrupted; the dissonances intensify and the volume rises to fff to be suddenly cut off. A soft rendition over an ostinato bass next builds up once again to fff (molto marcato) before declining chromatically to break up indecisively (F or Fb); a pianissimo coda rises to closure. Such a conception deserves notice for its originality, let alone its addictive dynamism.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Scion7

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2016, 01:39:34 PM »
Keep up the good work on giving detailed listening analysis.
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Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2016, 09:41:37 AM »
After a little delay:

Opus 22. 3 Etudes (1888)

Again these were written for the composer’s own use and are illustrative of her powers as a pianist. They can hold their own with most other works within this genre.

1. Allegro leggiero. Ab. The main idea consists of a rapid alternation of triplets between the hands, staccato and with the occasional syncopation thrown in. The relatively short midsection remains thematically consistent, the melody being taken up by the right hand, beginning in F minor but soon piling up harmonies in the manner of Rachmaninov. The piece concludes with a coda that fades into the upper reaches to end on a high chord that could be described as crystalline.
2. Allegro. Au rouet. D. This titled study is a very rapid interpretation of a spinning wheel. In form it is a little rondo with a very simple basic melody allowing great flexibility in the development and harmony. The first episode is in the bass and eventually winds up chromatically to the return; the second is high in the treble with overlapping hands. The coda again rises into the upper reaches, vanishing in a stringendo. Backer-Grøndahl deserves credit for originality here.
3. Allegro agitato. D min. This is a fast and furious study in thirds and sixths. It begins loud and remains so through to a climactic repetition of the opening idea, after which a descent to a bass pedal, which is preparatory to the midsection (a rather grating g# here). The music is here transformed into the major, very subdued (una corda) with the pedal persisting until a rise up in thirds to the recapitulation, this time commencing quietly (although tre corda) but at the climax ‘con fuoco’ once again. The descent is cut off and a coda ruminates quietly before closing with flourish of rising arpeggiation in sixths between the hands.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2016, 03:09:52 AM by Ten thumbs »
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.

Offline Scion7

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2016, 07:23:51 PM »
Your barricades lie broken ... your enemies lord.

Offline Ten thumbs

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Re: Agathe Backer Grøndahl
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2016, 10:29:13 AM »
Opus 24. 6 Idyllen (1888)

In these comparatively short pieces, Backer-Grøndahl embraces contemporary uses of harmony. The elusive sense of key often gives the music a somewhat fragile sound.

1. Allegro leggiero. Bb. Initially the primary key is only hinted at through a persistent F, after which the first period closes through Eb and C minor. The second period leads to rising chromatic phrases over a D pedal in the bass; the F then resumes to introduce the return, this time closing through Eb and Cb. A coda (meno mosso) then admits the key of Bb, which is finally reached through Eb and Eb minor.
2. Allegro leggiero. F. A quiet rustling that intermittently loudens (una corda initially with the home key including G# rather than G). The tritone is introduced and becomes dominant as the music rises to a climax. The third rendition settles into a low rumble and finally a Db dominant leads into the home key.
3. Andante espressivo. F. Alternating hands in 12/8 with, for the most part, the right hand supplying the chords. The first passage opens in D minor and the second (dolce cantabile) is in F but chromatics abound. The third plumbs the bass in a rich Db before the music rises to the F reprise (now poco agitato). Subtle keys changes descend to the bass again and a massive crescendo rises to the home key, one bar fortissimo, echoed pianissimo (still haunted by that Db).
4. Allegro giocoso. A. This is perhaps a sylvan idyll - it is set very high and the descending arpeggiation meanders, reaching a climax somewhat unexpectedly on the chord EBDA, top C# before returning to the opening idea.
5. Allegretto tranquillo. G minor. If this exquisite piece were to be adopted for the theme music of some classic drama, it would instantly be up there in ‘your hundred best tunes’. The haunting melody of the main section, with its snatches of counterpoint surround the idyll proper, ostensibly in Eb but floating around an undulating Bb/A. The argument over the Ab persists into the coda, which finally comes to rest in the major (G).
6. Allegretto grazioso. F. The whole piece proceeds with a gentle swing. The primary phrase opens with an augmented 5th triad in C, setting the tone for the often contorted harmonies to follow - the third iteration of the theme switches to entry on the augmented major seventh. A very tricky 8-bar passage of staccato leaps in thirds leads to further development before the climax, after which the music migrates into a brief coda closing with the initial phrase played very softly.
A day may be a destiny; for life
Lives in but little—but that little teems
With some one chance, the balance of all time:
A look—a word—and we are wholly changed.