March of the Dwarfs

March of the Dwarfs

Edward Grieg, Arranged by Douglas Anderson
  • Spring 2016: Chaos and Order

In his lifetime, Edvard Grieg composed a series of over five dozen short pieces for the piano, which he titled ‘Lyric Pieces’. Grieg gave each of these pieces a name to help conjure up an image as to what each piece should visually represent. In a selection of five of these pieces, arranged for orchestra, published as the ‘Lyric Suite’, Grieg included the movement ‘Trolltog’, a name referring to Norwegian trolls. Listen to the quick, march-like steps, as these beings flee by.

Trolls play a central part in Norwegian folk culture. Trolls are ethereal and elusive beings. Trolls were mostly unknown outside of Norway at the time Grieg’s Lyric Suite was introduced to the wider world. When Grieg’s collection of Lyric Pieces was orchestrated, it was presented to a German-speaking audience, who, at the time, had no translation for the word 'troll'. In providing a title to this piece, the German word for ‘dwarf’ (Zwerg) seemed adequate for ‘troll’, and the name ‘March of the Dwarves’ was adopted. Unfortunately, tradition has carried this name forward, and the piece ‘Trolltog’ has lost its original meaning.

Grieg’s original concept might be better translated into English as ‘The Flight of the Trolls’. Trolls move from place to place, but, according to some legends, only in shadows and darkness. Sunlight might turn them into stone.

When you listen to this carefully crafted piece, imagine the hurried footsteps of these creatures as they quickly make their way to their next abode. Listen to the increasing worry that faces them as the impending light of day forces them to flee into shadows and darkness. When daylight breaks, shimmering sunlight sparkles through the trees and dances on the forest floor. No troll is left to be seen. A very calm melody signifies the lyrical sounds of the beginning of spring. Long awaited light rises in these northern climes. The melody reminds one of the balmy afternoon of a warm summer day. Quickly, shadows fall, sunlight fades, and the trolls resume their hasty procession. Footsteps quicken. The pace becomes frantic. In the final sweep of their flight, the trolls reach their destination and, with a last burst, they disappear.