What is this?
In 2008 Sigurd Slåttebrekk and Tony Harrison recreated the only recordings made by Edvard Grieg in Paris in 1903. The recreations were made on Grieg’s own Piano at his home, Troldhaugen in Bergen Norway
1. We have used the process of recreating Grieg’s performances as a means of understanding his performance style from the inside. We wanted to study the performance style on a very deep level, going well beyond the obvious elements like basic tempo, articulation, or the actual notes Grieg is playing.
2. We wanted to see if there are elements of Grieg’s playing that link him with other great performers of his time. Could there be important elements of the playing style from this period that we have lost contact with today?
3. The Grieg recordings have no great standing among musicians today, and certainly not with the average listener. By recreating his performances as truthfully as possible, we wanted to demonstrate what these performances would have sounded like today had they been recorded with modern recording equipment. Our greatest wish in so doing is to create a renewed interest in – and appreciation of – Grieg’s own remarkable recordings.
Sigurd of course had to know the Grieg performances inside-out before starting the recording process. During the recording we worked our way, note by note, bar by bar, through all nine recordings. We tried to capture every element of Grieg’s playing as we recorded. Gradually we managed to develop an understanding of the various performance elements and how they worked together in combination. We integrated the performance details into longer spans, and eventually into complete takes of each piece.
The complex features of Grieg’s playing needed to be fully internalised into Sigurd’s playing. They needed to become second nature, for Sigurd’s performances to work in the way we had hoped. To achieve this, we spent the best part of an entire winter at Troldhaugen, in the end recording over 1850 individual takes. After recording, Tony has gone through a huge editing process, editing between material, in order to realise the full potential of the recorded material.
WHAT FOLLOWED THE RECREATION PROCESS?
The central point of this project is the incorporation of our new knowledge into other repertoire. How does this affect our performances of Grieg’s other music? Has recreating Grieg’s performances even helped us understand essential features of other late romantic music and its performance?
Following the recreations, Sigurd performed the missing movements of the piano sonata – the movements and parts of movements that Grieg himself never recorded. For example, we completed the last movement in our recording, of which Grieg only performed a little less than half. For this to work the new sections needed to be very close in style to Grieg’s own. Consequently, the recording of the complete piano sonata is a hybrid: Grieg and Sigurd. The first and second movements are performed in a way we believe Grieg could have played it. The third movement of the sonata as it appears on the disc is the recreation of Grieg´s performance. The Finale is a combination of the incomplete recreated performance, and Sigurd´s own.
Finally, Sigurd has tried to assimilate the principles of Grieg’s performances into his recording of Ballade Op. 24. Ballade is a piece that was conceived on a totally different scale than the pieces Grieg himself recorded, and requires a different approach on many levels. Nevertheless, there are important performance principles found in Grieg’s playing that have altered our views on Ballade, and we hope this new understanding of Grieg’s own personal performing language has broken new ground for the interpretation of this magnificent piece.
To us, the method of performance recreation has opened an entirely new world in the quest to really understand historic performance practice on a practical level. Making the Grieg recreations was our first project of this kind. In this first demonstration of the method, we were no less than obsessed with making everything as truthful to the original as possible. We also wanted to recreate all of his recordings, and to lift the recreations to a level where they would be issuable as independent performances.
In the future we might want to recreate very specific recordings for release, for example the Brahms cylinder from 1889 (which Tony already has been working on) and other recordings not generally easily accessible to the listener. We should also point out that the sound quality of the recordings from the late twenties is, generally speaking, of such quality that recreation as an end in itself and for issue is totally pointless. We see the future potential of this method as mainly related to research and educational activities. And there are certainly many interesting projects to do!
We strongly believe in the pedagogic potential of this method at higher educational levels. In that respect it would certainly not be necessary to recreate to the level we have done here. There are many things to be found in historic performances by recreating specific, targeted areas, and not complete performances. The recreations in that context will of course not be done for issuing purposes, but for research and artistic development only.