Edvard Grieg’s suite From Holberg’s Time is a tribute to the outstanding educator and enlightener, Danish playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754). A native of Bergen, also Grieg’s hometown, Holberg was a man of Danish theatre, as famous in Norway as he was in Denmark, and he hailed from two national cultures. On 3 December 1884 to mark two centuries since Holberg’s birth, Bergen unveiled a new monument to the writer. Under Grieg’s baton, the square before the monument hosted a performance of his choral cantata In Memory of Holberg. And on 7 December at an anniversary concert, Grieg premiered the piano version of the suite From Holberg’s Time. Already by February the next year, Grieg completed the orchestration of the score and on 12 March 1885 he conducted the premiere of the orchestral version. It was, indeed, in the orchestra that Grieg conceived, in his own words, the work for which he had used as a prototype the orchestral suites by Bach and Handel, Holberg’s contemporaries. As per tradition, the cycle opens with a Prelude expressed in a triumphal and lofty tone. Both the Sarabande and the Gavotte follow, imbued with Bach’s spirit, and in particular the sad Aria, which forcibly recalls the slow movements of Bach’s violin concerti, arias from his cantatas and his passions.
The lively Rigodon, replacing the traditional jig, crowns the suite: the contrasting centre episode recreates the lyrical and dramatic images of the Aria, and the triumphal pace of the final harmonies of the tutti draws an arch back to the Prelude.
The string sextet Souvenir de Florence was written by Tchaikovsky in the summer of 1890 on his return from Italy where he had been working on The Queen of Spades with tremendous enthusiasm.
The title does not indicate the creation of “local colour”. This memory concerns not so much the city itself as the time that Tchaikovsky spent there and the frame of mind he was in. One of the musical themes of the sextet, at least, was born during the composer’s sojourn in Florence.
The sextet was conceived much earlier, back in 1887, when Tchaikovsky had given a promise to dedicate a new work to the St Petersburg Society of Chamber Music which was headed by Karl Albrecht. The composer resolved to try his hand in this genre, new to him, halfway between chamber and orchestral music. Although he was already at the height of his fame, he approached this new and complicated task as a student. “You see, this is my first experience of expanding beyond the confines of a quartet,” he wrote modestly to Albrecht. Initially organising a private hearing, Tchaikovsky took a further two years to develop the work before giving his agreement for the official premiere and the work’s publication.