In the late 1860s Grieg married his cousin, Nina Hagerup, and settled in Christiania (now much less charmingly named Oslo). Life couldn’t have been easy, eking out a living from teaching and conducting, particularly as his over-zealous studies in Leipzig had permanently damaged his health. Then, in 1874, still aged only 31, came a stroke of good fortune: he was awarded a life annuity from the Norwegian government (nice work if you can get it!). Maybe he isn’t exactly a “front rank” composer, but his music is equally capable of charming the simple soul (like me) as it is the not so simple (like Liszt).
A composer of several choral works, reams of piano pieces, some chamber music, and a fair stack of orchestral music, Grieg generally shunned larger-scale forms (his celebrated Piano Concerto being the best-known exception), believing that his strengths lay in the more intimate forms associated with his native Norwegian folk culture. On the alter-stone of this credo he lay over 120 songs, many of which were inspired not only by Norway but also by Nina who, being a soprano, was equally often the intended interpreter.
The Two Elegaiac Melodies op. 34 are an arrangement for string orchestra of two songs from his op. 33. Shorn of their vocal element, both nevertheless reveal their provenance through the richly-inflected speech-rhythms of their melodic lines, simple and direct in their appeal to the listener’s emotions. Heart’s Wounds is the more overtly passionate, developing a strong compulsion in its central episode, while Last Spring (that’s “Last” as in “final” rather than “previous”) is generally more circumspect, tender, and achingly regretful.