The Leipzig Conservatory was founded in 1843, the year Grieg was born, by Felix Mendelssohn. It soon became renowned, thanks to the excellent teaching staff. Mendelssohn brought here such figures as Moritz Hauptmann (cantor at St Thomas’s), Ignaz Moscheles (Grieg’s teacher, a piano virtuoso and expert on the music of Beethoven), Ferdinand David (leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra) and Robert Schumann. At the same time, it enjoyed a reputation as one of the most progressive in Europe. Pupils were taken on from all over Europe, and even from America. In Grieg’s year, there were forty-five youngsters from Germany, the United Kingdom, America, Russia and Scandinavia. The young Edvard felt best in the company of other Scandinavians, and he became particularly close friends with the Dane Johan Ole Emile Horneman.
In the spring of 1860, he contracted tuberculosis, which ruined one of his lungs and impaired his health for the rest of his life. The illness was so serious that his mother came to Leipzig and took him home. In the autumn of that same year, however, against the doctors’ advice, he returned to the conservatory, this time in the company of his brother John, who studied cello there for two years.
The old conservatory was situated in the courtyard of the first Gewandhaus on Gewandgäßchen (now Universitätsstraße), in the Old Town. It was there that Edvard Grieg studied. The new conservatory building was opened in 1887 in the Music District at 8 Grassistraße (Beethovenstraße), near the New Gewandhaus.
Grieg did not apply himself particularly to his studies (the same had been true of his schooling in Bergen). He later described himself as lazy and not interested in learning.
I must admit, unlike Svendsen, that I left Leipzig Conservatory just as stupid as I entered it. Naturally, I did learn something there, but my individuality was still a closed book to me. (from a letter to his biographer, Aimar Grønvold, 1881).
In his opinion, he was lacking practice in processing musical material in large forms and bigger instrumental ensembles.