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Edvard Grieg (1891), a portrait by Eilif Peterssen.
Edvard Hagerup Grieg (June 15, 1843 – September 4, 1907) was a Norwegianmarker 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 Bergenmarker, Norwaymarker on 15 June 1843. The original family name was spelled Greig, originally from Scotland. After the Battle of Cullodenmarker 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 B. Hagerup, 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 Conservatorymarker, then directed by Ignaz Moscheles.

Grieg enrolled in the conservatory, concentrating on the piano, and enjoyed the numerous concerts and recitals given in Leipzigmarker. 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 Karlshamnmarker, Swedenmarker. 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 Copenhagenmarker, Denmarkmarker, 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 (a daughter of Edvard Hagerup), 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 Oslomarker 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 Romemarker 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).

Grieg's tomb

In 1876, Grieg composed incidental music for the premiere of Henrik 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.

In 1888, Grieg met Tchaikovsky in Leipzigmarker. Grieg was later struck by the sadness in Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky thought very highly of Grieg's music, praising its beauty, originality and warmth.

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.

In 1906, he met the composer and pianist Percy Grainger in London. Grainger was a great admirer of Grieg's music and a strong empathy was quickly established. In a 1907 interview Grieg stated: “I have written Norwegian Peasant Dances that no one in my countrymen can play and here comes this Australian who plays them as they ought to be played! He is a genius that we Scandinavians cannot do other than love.”

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 honor 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. He and his wife's ashes are entombed in a mountain crypt near his house, Troldhaugenmarker.


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 André 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-pies, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism, and trollish self-satisfaction! But I have a hunch that the irony will be discernible."

Grieg's popular Holberg Suite was originally written for the piano, and later arranged by the composer for string orchestra.

Grieg wrote songs, in which he set lyrics by poets Heinrich Heine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling and others.

Russian composer Nikolai Myaskovsky used a theme by Grieg for the variations with which he closed his Third String Quartet.

Worklist (exc.)

See also


Further reading


  • Edvard Grieg in England by Lionel Carley (The Boydell Press 2006) ISBN 1843832070
  • Grieg: Music, Landscape and Norwegian Cultural Identity by Daniel Grimley (The Boydell Press 2006) ISBN 1843832100
  • Songs of Edvard Grieg by Beryl Foster (The Boydell Press new edition 2007) ISBN 1843833433
  • Edvard Grieg by Henry Theophilius Finck (Bastian Books new edition 2008) ISBN 9780554963266


  • Benestad, Finn/Schjelderup-Ebbe, Dag (2007): Edvard Grieg – mennesket og kunstneren. H. Aschehoug & Co. (W. Nygaard), Oslo. ISBN 9788203234590
  • Bredal, Dag/Strøm-Olsen, Terje (1992): Edvard Grieg – Musikken er en kampplass. Aventura Forlag A/S, Oslo. ISBN 82-588-0890-7
  • Johansen, David Monrad (1956): Edvard Grieg. Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, Oslo.

External links

Recordings by Edvard Grieg

Music scores

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