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The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.

Structure

The concerto is in three movements:

  1. Allegro molto moderato (A minor)
  2. Adagio (D flat major)
  3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato (A minor → F major → A major)


Instrumentation

The concerto was originally scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A and B flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in E and E flat, 2 trumpets in C and B flat, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings (violins, violas, cellos and double basses). He later added 2 horns and changed the tuba to a third trombone.

History and influences

The work is among Grieg's earliest important works, written by the 24-year-old composer in 1868 in Søllerødmarker, Denmarkmarker, during one of his visits there to benefit from the climate, being warmer than that of his native Norwaymarker.

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 Leipzigmarker 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.

The work was premiered by Edmund Neupert on April 3, 1869 in Copenhagenmarker, with Holger Simon Paulli conducting. Some sources say that Grieg himself, an excellent pianist, was the soloist, but he was unable to attend the premiere owing to commitments with an orchestra in Christiania (now Oslomarker). Among those who did attend the premiere were the Danish composer Niels Gade and the Russian 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.

The Norwegian premiere in Christiania followed on August 7, 1869, and the piece was later heard in Germanymarker in 1872 and Englandmarker in 1874. The work was first published in Leipzigmarker in 1872, but only after Svendsen intervened on Grieg's behalf.

The concerto is the first piano concerto ever recorded, by pianist Wilhelm Backhaus in 1909. Due to the technology of the time, it was heavily abridged at only six minutes.

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.

Grieg worked on a transcription of the concerto for two solo pianos, which was completed by Károly Thern. The premiere recording of this version was by the British two-piano team of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow.

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 concerto in popular culture

The famous flourishing opening movement to the concerto


The enduring popularity of Grieg's concerto has ensured its use in a wide variety of contexts. It appeared in the film The Seventh Veil (1945) as the piece played by the young concert pianist (Ann Todd; the uncredited pianist was Eileen Joyce). It was famously parodied in Franz Reizenstein's Concerto Popolare of 1959 (written for Gerard Hoffnung's music festival). The opening theme of the first movement was used in the song "Asia Minor", a top-ten pop hit from 1961. The title of the song was also based on the key of the concerto, A minor.

The concerto was used in a sketch by the British comedians Morecambe and Wise in their 1971 Christmas show. Conducted by André Previn, with Eric Morecambe as soloist, Morecambe claims he is playing "all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order". Incidentally, Morecambe was actually playing the right tune.

The first movement of Grieg's piano concerto is used in Adrian Lyne's 1997 film Lolita. In 2004, it was featured in a Nikemarker commercial. The opening piano piece in the first movement is featured in a 2008 Range Rover commercial.

The first movement of this concerto was also used in David Lynch and Mark Frost's cult TV show Twin Peaks season two episode 21 and by composer Mark Snow in The X-Files episode Salvage.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.

Crossover pianist Maksim Mrvica plays a modernised version of the concerto in his album The Piano Player.

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 The Adventures of 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. It is also featured in the 80s series Beauty and the Beast in the first season's finale entitled A Happy Life.

On April 2, 1951, Russian-born American pianist Simon Barere collapsed while playing the first few bars of the concerto, in a performance with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hallmarker in New Yorkmarker. He died backstage shortly afterwards. It was to have been Barere's first performance of the work.

Media

 


Notes

  1. Though not as popular as the Peer Gynt suites, this book says.
  2. Oelmann, Klaus Henning (1993): Edvard Grieg - Versuch einer Orientierung. Egelsbach Köln New York: Verlag Hänsel-Hohenhausen, p. 246.
  3. Grieg and the Danish Connection
  4. BACKHAUS, WILHELM (1884 - 1969) at naxos.com
  5. Divine Art
  6. Hippopress: The NH Philharmonic's 100th Season
  7. The Remington Site: Simon Barere
  8. Jacques Leiser: My Father, Simon Barere


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