The work is among Grieg's earliest important works, written by the 24 year old composer in 1868 in Søllerød, Denmark, during one of Grieg's visits there to benefit from the climate, being warmer than that of his native Norway.
Grieg's concerto is often compared to the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann — it is in the same key, the opening descending flourish on the piano is similar, and the overall style is considered to be closer to Schumann than any other single composer. Grieg had heard Schumann's concerto played by Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1858, and was greatly influenced by Schumann's style generally, having been taught the piano by Schumann's friend, Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel. Compact disc recordings often pair the two concertos.
Additionally, Grieg's work provides evidence of his interest in Norwegian folk music; the opening flourish is based around the motif of a falling minor second (see interval) followed by a falling major third, which is typical of the folk music of Grieg's native country. This specific motif occurs in other works by Grieg, including the String Quartet. In the last movement of the concerto, similarities to the halling (a Norwegian folk dance) and imitations of the Hardanger fiddle (the Norwegian folk fiddle) have been detected.
Grieg himself was an excellent pianist but the work was premiered by Edmund Neupert on April 3, 1869 in Copenhagen, with Holger Simon Paulli conducting. Grieg was unable to attend the premiere owing to commitments with an orchestra in Christiania (now Oslo). Among those who did attend the premiere were the Danish composer Niels Gade and the Jewish pianist Anton Rubinstein, who provided his own piano for the occasion Neupert was also the dedicatee of the second edition of the concerto (Rikard Nordraak was the original dedicatee), and it was said that he himself composed the first movement cadenza.
Grieg revised the work at least seven times, usually in subtle ways, but amounting to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. In one of these revisions, he undid Franz Liszt's suggestion to give the second theme of the first movement (as well as the first theme of the second) to the trumpet rather than the cellos among other changes. The final version of the concerto was completed only a few weeks before Grieg's death, and it is this version that has achieved worldwide popularity. The original 1868 version has been recorded, by Love Derwinger, with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra under Jun'ichi Hirokami.
In 1882–83 Grieg worked on a second piano concerto in B minor, but it was never completed. The sketches for the concerto have been recorded by pianist Einar Steen-Nøkleberg.
The opening piano piece in the first movement is featured in a 2008 Range Rover commercial.
The second movement of Grieg's piano concerto was used in a series of British 'Bisto Aah Nights' adverts (released August 2006), in which many people vowed to stay home more often for family dinners.
The concerto was used in a classic sketch by Morecambe and Wise featuring the conductor André Previn, in which Morecambe claims he is playing "all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order."
It is the piece played by the young concert pianist as her first public appearance in the film melodrama The Seventh Veil.
The comedian Bill Bailey is a skilled musician, and has used his ability to play Grieg's piano concerto for comic effect; in the TV Series Black Books it is played by his character Manny Bianco, and it is cited as an example in his solo mock-scholarly sketch on cockney music.
Parts of this concerto were also used in the movie, Milo and Otis.
Excerpts from the first movement are incorporated into the number "Rosemary", in the musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
On April 2, 1951, Russian-born American pianist Simon Barere suffered a stroke and died on the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York midway through the first movement of the concerto in a performance with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was to have been Barere's first performance of the work.