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“Scene III” from Olav Trygvason, Op. 50 is a Grade 5, well-suited to the outstanding high school or college band. Duration 12’30”.
This arrangement came about because of my research into the music of the Australian-American composer Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961).
As with many people, my knowledge of the music of Grieg was largely confined to music from the “Peer Gynt” Suites and his Piano Concerto. However, in one’s studies of the music of Percy Grainger, one is often reminded that Grainger’s chief musical influences (according to Grainger) were Bach, Delius and Grieg, and so if one knows little of Grieg, one must look closer.
It must be admitted that Grainger’s affection for Grieg had personal roots. In 1906, near the end of his life, Grieg took Grainger under his wing at a time when Grieg’s influence was very beneficial to Grainger’s career as a pianist. Grieg coached Grainger in preparation for a concert at the Leeds Festival in which Grieg would conduct and and Grainger would play the Piano Concerto; Grieg’s death unfortunately intervened. Grainger’s edition of Grieg’s Piano Concerto is considered by most pianists as the authoritative version, and Grainger’s reputation as perhaps the leading interpreter of Grieg served him well during his performing career.
Grieg and Grainger shared many traits. Both were staunch nationalists – Grieg on behalf of Norway and Grainger on behalf of Australia. Both were sympathetic to the genius of folk musicians, and both celebrated folk tunes in their music. Both attended Conservatory in foreign lands – Grieg at the Leipzig Conservatory, and Grainger at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt. Both found the conservatories largely stifling of their interest in pursuing music that deviated from the traditions of their respective times; their respective lacks of sympathy for traditions were not to end with their Conservatory experiences. Both developed lifelong friendships with countrymen met during their conservatory days. Oddly, both incorporated their mothers’ maiden names (Hagerup for Grieg and Aldridge for Grainger) as middle names (most Grieg scholars dispute whether Grieg ever made himself known as Edvard Hagerup Grieg, but there is certainly plenty of published music using that version of his name; the coincidence with Grainger’s renaming himself Percy Aldridge Grainger from his given name of George Percy Grainger is rather striking). Like Grainger, Grieg was known primarily as a miniaturist, and like Grainger, his larger works have been neglected.
It is my hope that this arrangement will bring a less well known side of Norway’s greatest composer to the attention of band musicians and conductors, and that students of Grainger’s music will look kindly on the music of perhaps Grainger’s greatest influence.
The arrangement was written for the University of Arkansas Symphonic Band, Timothy Gunter, conductor, and was premiered at the Spring Concert in April of 2004 in Walton Arts Center’s Baum-Walker Hall in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is dedicated to Mr. Gunter and the musicians of the Symphonic Band.
The orchestration takes as its model the wind writing strategies used by Grainger in his band works, and the percussion writing strategies he used in his larger orchestral works. The soprano saxophone and euphonium, two of Grainger’s favorite instruments, are used prominently, and the full mallet choir is featured as well through out (though not in an overly-soloistic manner, it is hoped; after all, Grainger believed in “musical democracy”).
Lastly, it is hoped that conductor, performer and listener are able to have fun with these pieces; the arrangement is meant to be enjoyed!
(notes by Chalon L. Ragsdale)
Notes on the Percussion Parts
I hope you can use all the percussion parts; however, a satisfactory performance can be achieved with less than the forces provided for.
The timpani, snare, bass drum and cymbals parts are original; they should be covered. After that, I would recommend the percussion parts be prioritized in the following order: Marimba 1 High; Marimba 2 High; Marimba 1 Low; Orchestra Bells; Xylophone; Vibraphone; Marimba 2 Low; Chimes.
Doubling the snare drum rolls in the Xylophone and vibraphone parts works well, I think, but may not be to your taste.
Fire at will!
About the Original Composition
Olav Trygvason is a case of “what might have been,” and was a victim of a classic failure of communication.One of Grieg’s dreams was to compose the “Great Norwegian Opera”, and in 1873 he appeared to have the makings of just such a project at hand. Bjørnsterne Bjørnson, the great Norwegian poet and playwright, had developed three scenes of a libretto for an opera on the subject of Olav Trygvason, the revered Norwegian historical figure and King of Norway from about 995 A.D. to 1000 A.D.
Grieg, A Symposium (ed. Gerald Abraham) contains a section by John Horton, on Grieg’s Works for the Stage.Horton tells us,
“Bjørnson seems to have begun Olav Trygvason in 1872. In July of the following year he sent Grieg the first three scenes with a characteristically exuberant note promising the remainder of the work and urging Grieg to have the whole opera ready by the following October. Grieg not unnaturally wanted a synopsis of the plot, or at least to know how the opening scenes were to be related to the whole drama. But Bjørnson had already gone off on a fresh tack; he had begun in the same year to interest himself in writing plays about contemporary life and manners, such as Redaktøren (The Editor) and En Fallit (A Bankruptcy), which in some ways ran on parallel lines to the experiments Ibsen was making at the same period. It is therefore not surprising that Bjørnson found it difficult to drag himself back to historical drama and complete Olav Trygvason; what wasless reasonable was his fury with Grieg for undertakingPeer Gynt in the summer of 1874, therebyshelving Olav for what Bjørnson took to be another opera text. The unedifying dispute dragged on for several years, dramatist and composer accusing each other of procrastination and negligence.
But Bjørnson never sent another line, and Grieg abandoned the work as an opera, letting the sketches lie in his desk until the end of 1889, when he adapted them for concert performance. This cause of estrangement between the two friends led, happily, to an opportunity for reconciliation when Grieg dedicated the concert version of Olav to Bjørnson in warm and generous terms.”
…Bjørnson’s verses describe Olav’s return to Norway, after an upbringing in England, to claim hisrealm and establish the Christian faith there, and Grieg’s setting is a straightforward, even obvious one, intended for massed singing by amateur male voices with organ accompaniment (to which orchestral parts were added for a later revival).
“…The setting of the three extant scenes of Olav Trygvason is an ancient Norse temple. The people, led by a high priest and a vølva or prophetess, are invoking the counsel of the gods on the approach of Olav and his ‘new gods, strange gods.’ The vølva, after carving runes to control the evil spirits, prophesies that Olav will enter the temple; ‘Come he unscathed out, then will we believe!’ The people thank the gods for their message. High priest and elders march round the sacred fires carrying the ceremonial horns.”
Scene III is a series of pagan ritual dances, leaping over fires, a sword dance, etc. The participants are celebrating their gods and pagan ceremonies, while at the same time summoning their courage to face the approaching intruder, Olav Trygvason. The following selected lyrics may give a sense of the underlying action.
Give to all gods a grace cup of gratitude,
Give to the gods your greatest of gifts!
Horns fill for Akethor, Drontheimer’s deity.
Fill them to Akethor’s daring in fight!
Gaily then join in, Games for the gracious god,
Gaily then join ye outburst of joy!
Fill up to Nyord and Frey, harvest and fish they send!
Fill up to Nyord and Frey, harvest fair, haul of fish,
Freedom and faith!
…Beakers to Braga brimming we raise!
Off’rings of flesh and blood make we for Olaf’s end,
Flesh and blood offerings, flesh and blood offerings we all freely bring,
…Young men and maidens, grandsire and grandmother,
Honour for aye the gods ever green!
Gladly then join in games to the gracious gods,
Gaily then join in outburst of joy!
…Beakers to Braga bring we with holy vows,
The lyrics of the second slow section speak to the national pride of the Norse people.
Faith of our fatherland, love thou dost light in us,
Faith of our fatherland, moving all men!
Faith of our fatherland, honour thou art to us!
Faith of our fatherland, fond and profound!
The concluding section promises to defend faith and fatherland.
Faith of our fatherland, love thou dost light in us.
Faith of our fatherland, moving all men.
We will defend thee, fight for our father’s faith,
We will defend thee, future be ours!
We will defend thee, source of our weal and woe,
We will defend thee, found of great deeds!
According to Grieg’s wife Nina, Scene III was to “conclude with a scene in which the high priest’s daughter, left behind in the deserted temple, is about to close the doors when she is suddenly confronted by the tremendous figure of Olav standing in dazzling armour on the threshold. Involuntarily she sinks to her knees before him.” (Horton, op cit.) Certainly the exciting ending of this neglected masterpiece would have provided a suitable climactic moment.