Masterclass: Eldbjørg Hemsing on Grieg Violin Sonata no.2 in G Major

Eldbjorg Hemsing 4 (c) Nikolai Lund

To bring out all the joy, innocence and darkness in this first movement, it is essential to understand its combined roots in classical composition and Norwegian folk music, explains Eldbjørg Hemsing

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Grieg’s violin sonatas are not complicated to play technically. More difficult is to bring them alive with Norwegian sounds and colours, with the right balance of romanticism and lyricism. They should sound almost improvised, with a sense of freedom and playfulness in the tempos. They also need to sound clean and lyrical, without overly dramatic or emotional rubato but without ever sounding too ‘correct’ or metronomic. For a truly Norwegian feel, they need a character that is innocent and optimistic but has an underlying sense of darkness.

I grew up listening to Grieg’s music and I love this sonata for its incredible positive energy and enthusiasm. It shines in such a lyrical, pure way. Grieg wrote it in about three weeks in 1867, directly after marrying his first cousin, the great soprano Nina Hagerup. He was evidently in a very good mood and that makes it so much fun to play. It is very much in his own musical language, but it is also the most Norwegian sounding of the violin sonatas, for its incorporation of Norwegian folk materials. It’s a masterwork, the way he combines his different themes makes total sense, and it hits all the right spots for me.

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