Symphonic Dances (Grieg)

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The four Symphonic Dances Op. 64 by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg were written c. 1896 and published in 1897.

They draw their inspiration from the earlier folk works collected by Ludvig Mathias Lindeman. These pieces have become known latterly by being associated with the TV adaptations of E. Nesbit's book "The Railway Children", published in 1906 and thus almost contemporaneous with Grieg's music. The first two series were shown by the BBC in 1951 and 1957 and Grieg's music was used in both, with some scenes from the first series being re-used for the second. However, the best known was the third series, shown in 1968, which featured the actress Jenny Agutter as the eldest of the three children of the title. Again, remarkably, the same music was used, and the most famously known piece was the slower and beautifully melodic excerpt from the second dance: in fact, this piece was only used as the closing theme, perfectly suiting the poignancy of the emotionally moving storylines. The opening music was actually another excerpt, this time with a brighter piece taken from the fourth dance, cleverly chosen to introduce the programmes with a somewhat lighter mood, which subtly intertwines harmonic content from the other extract, hinting at the darker side of what is, at times, a rather sad tale of children separated from their father, perhaps associated with Nesbit having lost her father just before she reached the age of four. The fact that the music was itself adapted from folk tunes may explain the deep resonances which are struck by the use of the Grieg music in this universal and touching story.

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