Edvard Hagerup Grieg
1843 - 1907
Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843-1907) is Norway's greatest composer.
Although his style was shaped by the Norwegian folk spirit, it
assimilated German romanticism and even anticipated features of
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on June 15, 1843. His father was
a merchant; his mother, a talented musician, gave Grieg his
first music lessons. At 15 he was sent to the Leipzig
Conservatory, where he studied under the leading German
academicians of the day. An attack of pleurisy in 1860 destroyed
one of his lungs and undermined his studies, and in 1862 he quit
Leipzig for good. Though Grieg looked back with loathing upon
this phase of his life, his music often showed the influence of
the Leipzig tradition of German romanticism.
In 1863 Grieg went to Copenhagen to seek advice from Niels Gade,
the leading Scandinavian composer. Gade commanded the young
Norwegian to compose a symphony - an uncongenial task over which
Grieg toiled for a year, producing a stilted work he soon
In Denmark, Grieg met the two most influential people in his
life. One was his first cousin, Nina Hagerup, whom he married in
1867. A gifted singer, she became an important influence on his
vocal composition, as well as the beloved companion of his life.
The other was Rikard Nordraak, another blossoming composer, who
had developed a passionate enthusiasm for Norwegian folk
This was the period when cultural leaders were attempting to
throw off the bonds of the Danish-oriented language and thought
dominating Norwegian life, and in which Grieg had been raised.
In its place they hoped to create a new national language and
literature based upon Norwegian peasant traditions. In 1865
Nordraak and Grieg were among the founders of the Euterpe
Society to promote the performance of new Scandinavian music.
Nordraak died the following year, and Grieg dedicated his
orchestral overture In Autumnto him. Nordraak roused Grieg from
his essentially Germanic orientation and awakened him to the
possibilities of developing a new, distinctly Norwegian musical
This new direction was more clearly displayed in the next few
years, during which Grieg became musical director in Christiana
(later Oslo), where he established his residence. The first of
his 10 books of Lyric Pieces for piano appeared in 1867; in them
Grieg achieved his first fusion of Felix Mendelssohn's
keyboard-miniature style with a Norwegian character. In 1869
Grieg was soloist in the original version of his Piano Concerto.
Stage music for Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Sigurd Jorsalfar (1872)
was followed by an abortive attempt at an opera. But
collaboration with the dramatist Henrik Ibsen produced his
famous music for the play Peer Gynt in 1876.
During the late 1870s Grieg became subject to ill health and to
the fits of depression and inactivity that plagued him
chronically thereafter. Though rapidly acquiring an
international reputation and becoming his nation's leading
musician, he was troubled with doubts about his "national" music
and began to seek more "respectable" expression with such works
as his String Quartet in G Minor (1877-1878). Nevertheless, his
love of the Norwegian countryside and his commitment to
Norwegian art persistently reasserted themselves.
Grieg built a house at Troldhaugen in 1885 and there passed his
later years almost entirely in composition. From this last
period came such works as his Norwegian Dances (piano duet 1881,
later orchestrated), his Holberg Suite (piano version 1884,
orchestrated 1885), the Haugtussa song cycle (1896-1898), the
Symphonic Dances (1898), and numerous songs and piano pieces.
Yet, with his urge for formal achievement unsatisfied still, he
continued to compose chamber works, such as the last of his
Sonatas for Violin and Piano, in C Minor (1886-1887), and
another String Quartet (begun 1892; unfinished). His nerves
badly strained and his health ravaged in his closing years,
Grieg died on Sept. 4, 1907, and was paid final homage in
national mourning throughout Norway, which had achieved its
independence only 2 years before.
While remembered outside Norway mainly for his orchestral works,
Grieg was highly esteemed in his day for his piano music. But
his most unique and perfect achievements were probably his
songs, especially those set to Norwegian verse.
Grieg was born was born in Bergen, Norway on June 15, 1843. His
mother was an amateur pianist and began to teach Edvard when he
was six. Grieg was considered a lazy and indifferent pupil in
school, and his compositions were ignored. However, his parents
continued to encourage his work, and when he was 15 years old,
they sent him to the Leipzig Conservatory.
Grieg graduated from the Conservatory in 1862 with the highest
honors, and soon afterward, he established his home in
Copenhagen. He met two musicians, Niels Gade and Rikard Nordraak,
who had an influence on his nationalistic style. His first
composition in this style was Humoresque for piano, op. 6, which
he finished in 1865. In 1866, Grieg arranged a concert entirely
devoted to Norwegian music, and its success established his
reputation. In 1867, he married Nina Hagerup. They had one
daughter, but she died when only 13 months old.
One of Grieg's most famous works was Piano Concerto in A minor,
which was performed in Copenhagen in 1869. Another of Grieg's
universally acclaimed compositions was the music for Henrik
Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. Grieg composed 22 pieces for the play,
which was performed in 1876.
In 1874, Grieg was given a pension by the Norwegian government
so he could concentrate on composition. During this time he
completed several masterpieces, including the Norwegian Dances,
the G minor String Quartet, and the A minor Cello Sonata. In
1888, Grieg was acclaimed in London during a concert of his
compositions. He was elected to the French Academy of Arts in
1890, and in 1894, he received an honorary doctorate from
Cambridge. In 1906, Grieg made his last public appearance in
London. On his return to Bergen, he suffered a heart attack, and
he died in his sleep on September 4, 1907.
Grieg's compositions have a distinct lyrical quality. They are
gentle, often whimsical, and full of expression. He is
remembered for his Lyric Pieces, which include 66 compositions,
as well as his orchestral and piano compositions.
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This web page was last updated on:
10 December, 2008