Edvard Hagerup Grieg (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907) was a Norwegian composer and pianist who composed in the Romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.
Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway on 15 June 1843. The original family name was spelled "Greig". After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, his great-grandfather traveled widely, settling in Norway around 1770, and establishing business interests in Bergen. Grieg was raised in a musical home. His mother, Gesine, became his first piano teacher, who taught him to play from the age of 6. He studied in several schools including Tank's School, and often brought in examples of his music to class.
In the summer of 1858, Grieg met the eminent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who was a friend of the family, and whose brother was married to Grieg's aunt. Bull noticed the 15-year-old boy's talent and persuaded his parents to send him to further develop his talents at the Leipzig Conservatory, then directed by Ignaz Moscheles.
Grieg enrolled in the conservatory, concentrating on the piano, and enjoyed the numerous concerts and recitals given in Leipzig. He disliked the discipline of the conservatory course of study, yet he still achieved very good grades in most areas, an exception being the organ, which was mandatory for piano students. In the spring of 1860, he survived a life-threatening lung disease. The following year he made his debut as a concert pianist, in Karlshamn, Sweden. In 1862, he finished his studies in Leipzig, and held his first concert in his home town of Bergen, where his programme included Beethoven's Pathétique sonata. (Grieg's own recording of his Piano Sonata, made late in his life, shows he was an excellent pianist).
In 1863, Grieg went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and stayed there for three years. He met the Danish composers J. P. E. Hartmann, and Niels Gade. He also met his fellow Norwegian composer Rikard Nordraak (composer of the Norwegian national anthem), who became a good friend and source of great inspiration. Nordraak died in 1866, and Grieg composed a funeral march in his honor. Grieg had close ties with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (Harmonien), and later became Music Director of the orchestra from 1880–1882.
On 11 June 1867, Grieg married his first cousin, Nina Hagerup. The next year their only child, Alexandra, was born. The following summer, Grieg wrote his Piano Concerto in A minor while on holiday in Denmark. Edmund Neupert gave the concerto its premiere performance on 3 April 1869 in the Casino Theater in Copenhagen. Grieg himself was unable to be there due to commitments conducting in Christiania (as Oslo was then named).
In 1868, Franz Liszt, who had not yet met Grieg, wrote a testimonial for him to the Norwegian Ministry of Education, which led to Grieg obtaining a travel grant. The two men met in Rome in 1870. On Grieg's first visit, they went over Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 1, which pleased Liszt greatly. On his second visit, in April, Grieg brought with him the manuscript of his Piano Concerto, which Liszt proceeded to sightread (including the orchestral arrangement). Liszt's rendition greatly impressed his audience, although Grieg gently pointed out to him that he played the first movement too quickly. Liszt also gave Grieg some advice on orchestration, (for example, to give the melody of the second theme in the first movement to a solo trumpet).
In the summer of 1869, Grieg's daughter Alexandra became ill and died, at the age of 13 months.
In 1876, Grieg composed incidental music for the premiere of Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, at the request of the author. Many of the pieces from this work became very popular in the orchestral suites or piano and piano-duet arrangements.
Grieg's later life brought him fame. The Norwegian government awarded him a pension.
In the spring 1903, Grieg made nine 78-rpm gramophone recordings of his piano music in Paris; all of these historic discs have been reissued on both LPs and CDs and, despite limited fidelity, show his artistry as a pianist. Grieg also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Welte-Mignon reproducing system, all of which survive today and can be heard.
Edvard Grieg died in the autumn of 1907, aged 64, after a long period of illness. His final words were "Well, if it must be so". The funeral drew between 30,000 and 40,000 people out on the streets of his home town to honour him. Following his wish, his own funeral march for Rikard Nordraak was played in an orchestration by his friend Johan Halvorsen, who had married Grieg's niece. In addition, the famous funeral march by Frédéric Chopin was played. His and his wife's ashes are entombed in a mountain crypt near his house, Troldhaugen.
Grieg is renowned as a nationalist composer, drawing inspiration from Norwegian folk music. Early works include a symphony (which he later suppressed) and a piano sonata. He also wrote three sonatas for violin and piano and a cello sonata. His many short pieces for piano — often based on Norwegian folk tunes and dances — led some to call him the Chopin of the north.
The Piano Concerto is his most popular work. Its champions have included the pianist and composer Percy Grainger, a personal friend of Grieg who played the concerto frequently during his long career. An arrangement of part of the work made an iconic television comedy appearance in the 1971 Morecambe and Wise Show, conducted by Andre Previn.
Some of the Lyric Pieces (for piano) are also well-known, as is the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, a play that Grieg found to be an arduous work to score properly. In a 1874 letter to his friend Frants Beyer, Grieg expressed his unhappiness with what is now considered one of his most popular compositions from Peer Gynt, In the Hall of the Mountain King: "I have also written something for the scene in the hall of the mountain King - something that I literally can't bear listening to because it absolutely reeks of cow-dung, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism, and trollish self-satisfaction! But I have a hunch that the irony will be discernible.
Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky used a theme by Grieg for the variations with which he closed his Third String Quartet.
This performance of Grieg's piano concerto is by the Skidmore College Orchestra. It is courtesy of Musopen
Edvard Grieg: Letters to Colleagues and Friends & Edvard Grieg: Diaries, Articles, Speeches. (Book Reviews: Letters).
Sep 01, 2002; Edvard Grieg: Letters to Colleagues and Friends. Selected and edited by Finn Benestad. Translated by William H. Halverson....