MONDAY, December 30, 2019
Grieg: 15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907
Dvorak: 8 September 1841 – 1 May 1904
I don’t remember dates well, and I’m not an historian. I did not know there is less than two years difference between the births of these two composers, or that there was only about three years between their deaths.
But listen a bit to each of these:
See what you think of each. Listen to a little bit of each at first and get an impression.
I don’t expect anyone to listen to all of both these recordings, and for the record Grieg is more famous as a composer of the piano, while Dvorak’s fame is mostly from symphonic music. But there are similarities.
The rest of the story…
What I hope people will do is that they will start the music, then read a little bit about what happened. About half the information I share here is about things I did not know I started looking. Some of the information turns out to be what I had guessed. Other information is surprising and interesting. But there are always things to be discovered that are so different from what I expect, I’m dumbfounded at my own ignorance.
Norway and Bohemia are almost 1,000 miles apart…
These composers were from very different counties. Dvorak lived in Bohemia, which is today known as the Czech Republic. Grieg lived in Norway. The distance between Prague, close to where Dvorak was born, and Oslo, close to where Grieg was born, is around 950 miles. This is about the same distance as Atlanta is to NYC. To get from Prague to Oslo you have to go through Germany, then over Denmark to get to southern Norway, so today people generally fly.
Very different languages…
The Czech language, also known as Bohemian, is a Slavic language. Nowegian is Scandinavian, also known as North Germanic. In my mind these two countries don’t have much in common. But I would be wrong.
Welcome to my life as a high school and college student, where I either deliberately ignored history or fell asleep in class. So if you want to learn about history from me, you probably won’t learn much. But it was a horrible war estimated to have killed as many as eight million people. Supposedly there were around 600 million people in the world in 1600, so if eight million were killed, more than one percent of the world was killed in that war.
If the same kind of carnage happened now, with around 7.8 billion people, 100 million people would be slaughtered. This made the 30 Years’ War about as bloody as WWII, in which more than 50 million people died. In other words, by the first half of the 1600s people were very good at killing each other. Supposedly it was about religion, but the real causes were struggles for money and power – no different than war today.
It turns out that Scandinavia and all of Europe very much involved in this horrible war, so that whole area of the world was way more interconnected than we might think. Moving through the 1600s and 1700s by the latter part of the 1800s there were nationalistic movements in many countries not only about independence but also about establishing unique styles of music based on dance and individual culture. Both Grieg and Dvorak were part of that, although in different countries, and in strange ways countries who go to war with each also also learn a great deal about each other.
Do you hear the similarities in their music?
Apparently Grieg did not like Dvorak at first but later changed his mind. They both were heavily influenced by folk music, and they were contemporaries. Brahms was hugely supportive of Dvorak, and Liszt was very impressed with the Grieg Piano Concerto, which will be for another time. Not all of their piano music sounds alike. Sometimes it is very different. But there are times when it almost sounds as if they listened to the music of each other, and now we now that at least at times they did.