Composers / Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) – a Norwegian composer, conductor and pianist. The greatest representative of the Norwegian national school in music. He was born in Bergen, where at the age of six he began learning piano with his mother. For Grieg, one of the most important events in his musical life was a meeting, in the summer of 1858, in Landås, with the Norwegian violin virtuoso Ole Bull, who quickly spotted the boy’s talent and encouraged him to pursue further studies at the Leipzig Conservatory. Thus from 1858 to 1862, Grieg studied in Leipzig composition (Carl Reinecke), harmony and counterpoint (Moritz Hauptmann, Ernst Friedrich Richter) and piano (Ignaz Moscheles). There, he encountered the European musical tradition and studied works by such composers as Mozart and Beethoven, as well as Schumann, Mendelssohn and Wagner. In the spring of 1863, he moved to Copenhagen, where he spent two and a half years. Among the people he met there were Niels Gade and Johann Peter Hartmann – leading representatives of Danish romanticism. It was then, under the influence of Rikard Nordraak, that he decided to devote himself to forging Norwegian national music. In the winter of 1865/1866, while staying in Italy, he met Henrik Ibsen. On the return journey, he stopped for a couple of months in Copenhagen, and there met his cousin, Nina Hagerup, whom he married on 11 June 1867. Nina was a talented singer, for whom he composed many songs, which they performed together in concert. In the autumn of 1866, Grieg lived in Christiania (now Oslo), where he entered into a collaboration with the great Norwegian writer, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. In 1871, Grieg was a prime mover behind the founding of a music society in Christiania (Musikforeningen), with a professional orchestra, of which he was conductor (alongside Svendsen) until 1880. He also taught at the Christiania Music Academy, opened in 1867.

While staying in Søllerød, in Denmark, in the summer of 1868, he composed the famous Piano Concerto in A minor. At the beginning of 1874, Ibsen asked Grieg to write music for the play Peer Gynt. A year later, the composer completed his work, and the play was performed with his music to great success as many as thirty-six times. Alongside the Piano Concerto, the two orchestral suites from Peer Gynt are among the most popular and most frequently performed orchestral compositions. Yet the Norwegian composer expressed himself most fully in miniatures (songs and piano pieces), which formed a central part of his output.

As a pianist and conductor, Grieg travelled a great deal around Europe. In the years 1869–1870 and 1874, he travelled for many months on a scholarship from the Norwegian government. In 1876 and 1883, he was in Bayreuth, where he saw stage productions of Wagner’s music dramas.

In 1880, he returned to his home city of Bergen and for two years was conductor of the local music society, the Harmoniske Selskab. In the spring of 1885, he moved into a house he had purchased in Troldhaugen (near Bergen), which became the Griegs’ permanent base.

As a composer, Grieg had the good fortune to gain celebrity during his lifetime. On his numerous travels to the main musical centres of Europe at that time, such as Prague, Paris, Warsaw, Munich, Amsterdam and Berlin, he met the greatest composers of the second half of the nineteenth century (including Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Liszt and Saint-Saëns).

Debilitated by chronic lung disease and exhausted by his intense lifestyle, Edvard Grieg died on 4 September 1907 in Bergen, at the age of sixty-four. He was buried in a rocky grave in Troldhaugen, not far from his home. Grieg’s funeral was attended by around 40,000 people, and the music performed included the Marche funèbre  from Fryderyk Chopin’s Sonata in B flat minor.