"All and All Kinds": Harmonic Language and Questions of Identity in Edvard Grieg's Late Vocal Works

Date of Completion

January 2012


Literature, Scandinavian and Icelandic|Music|Sociology, Sociolinguistics




The purpose of this study is twofold: 1) to establish a methodology and theoretical framework with which to accurately analyze the harmonic elements of Edvard Grieg's late vocal works; and 2) to reexamine elements of individual and cultural identity in these works in a way that moves beyond the stark binary oppositions of language and genre that have characterized past approaches to Grieg's late style. The focus is on a critical period in Grieg's life, between ca. 1900 and his death in 1907, during which he was faced with multiple personal struggles including his ever-failing health, the sudden loss of his brother, and his spiritual embrace of the Unitarian faith. ^ Using an immanent approach to cultural history, this study traces the complex issues of identity throughout the nineteenth-century language debate in Norway. By advancing a concept of chromatic juxtapositioning, the connections between literature and harmonic style are explored as the dialectic between individual and collective, national and cosmopolitan, and past and present identities are unraveled. These tensions serve as the hallmark of cultural hybridity that surfaces in Grieg's late songs, Opp. 69 and 70. Similar issues are further investigated in the final chapter as the relationships between musical style, identity politics, and social discourse are investigated in the Fire Psalmer, Op. 74—Grieg's last published choral works. The analysis reveals a bold use of chromatic procedures, which are combined in an eclectic pitch space. Moreover, Grieg's settings of authentic folk tunes serve as models for the recovery of the spiritual domain for the nation—a procedure that can be traced back to Mendelssohn at the beginning of the nineteenth century. A reexamination of these issues in his late vocal works complements existing literature on Grieg's songs and Slåtter, Op. 72, and expands the sociological and theoretical framework necessary for a critical assessment of these syncretic compositions. ^