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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg  (1843-1907) was born in Bergen, Norway, on June 15, 1843. His ancestors were Scottish people who had moved to Norway around 1770. The original family name was spelled "Greig".


Edvard's grandfather and his father, Alexander Grieg, both served as British consul at Bergen.

His mother, Gesine Hagerup, who was the daughter of the mayor of Bergen, was a concert pianist. She was Edvard's first piano teacher.

The house where Edvard grew up, located in the street Strandgaten, was destroyed when the steam trawler Voorbode exploded in 1944.

Edvard started composing when he was about 12 and he used to take his compositions to school, but the teacher did not show much interest in them.

In the summer of 1858 the great Norwegian violinist Ole Bull visited the family, (his brother was married to Grieg's aunt.) Bull noticed the 15-year-old boy's talent and persuaded his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory to study music.

Grieg enrolled in the conservatory, concentrating on the piano. He worked so hard there, and for such long hours, that his health broke. Despite Pleurisy destroying his left lung., Grieg graduated with honors in 1862.

For the next three years Grieg lived chiefly in Copenhagen. There he became the close friend of Richard Nordraak, a young composer, who had composed the Norwegian national anthem.

Nordraak showed Grieg how wonderful Norwegian folk music was. The rhythms and melodies of Norwegian folk music stirred the poetic imagination of the youngster. He started to weave them into the songs and instrumental music that won him fame as Norway's greatest composer.


Grieg's First Violin Sonata in F Major, written in 1865, won a letter of praise from Franz Liszt that helped attract the attention of the Norwegian government to Grieg's genius.

When Richard Nordraak died in 1866, Grieg composed a funeral march in his honor.

Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor is among Grieg's earliest important works. It was written by the 24 year old composer in 1868 in Søllerød, Denmark, during one of his visits there to benefit from the climate, being warmer than that of his native Norway.

Edmund Neupert gave the Piano Concerto its first performance on April 3, 1869 in the Casino Theater in Copenhagen. Grieg himself was unable to be there because he was conducting in Oslo.

Greig met Franz Liszt in Rome in 1870 and they played the Norwegian composer's Violin Sonata No. 1 together. On a second visit, in April, Grieg brought with him the manuscript of his Piano Concerto which Liszt played by sight. Liszt gave him some advice about the orchestration.

In 1874 the Norwegian government granted Grieg a small annual pension. This enabled him to give up conducting and devote himself to composition.

Grieg in 1888, with signature, portrait published in The Leisure Hour (1889)

Grieg went to Bayreuth in 1876 to hear the first performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle. He wrote a review of the operas for a Norwegian newspaper.

In 1876, Henrik Ibsen asked Grieg to write some incidental music for the first performance of the play he had written about the Norwegian hero Peer Gynt.  Grieg wasn't particularly keen at first. Yet as he began getting ideas down on paper it became increasingly clear that this was the masterwork he had struggled for so long to achieve.. He eventually composed 90 minutes of music to accompany Ibsen’s dramatic masterpiece, including “Morning Mood.”

"In the Hall of the Mountain King" was a piece of orchestral music composed by Edvard Grieg as incidental music for the sixth scene of act 2 in Peer Gynt. Grieg hated the song. He intended it to be a parody.

Grieg made some recordings of his piano pieces, which are some of the very first gramophone recordings that were made. The sound is not very good, but they show that Grieg was an excellent pianist.


Grieg was small in stature - he stood not much over five feet and played the piano propped up on a volume of Beethoven sonatas.

Edvard Grieg (1891). portrait by Eilif Peterssen
Grieg always kept a lucky frog in his pocket.

The inspiration for many of Grieg's best songs was his cousin Nina Hagerup, whom he married on June 11, 1867. She was a concert singer and helped to make his music known throughout Europe.

The next year their only child, Alexandra, was born. In the summer of 1869, Alexandra became ill and died, at the age of 13 months.

In 1883  Grieg and wife parted for a while, although friends managed to persuade the couple to come together again and they spent four months in Rome.

Edvard en Nina Grieg 1899

Grieg built a house called Troldhaugen in Bergen, with a view of the fjord. The couple moved into their new home in 1885 and Grieg lived there for the rest of his life.

On Nina Grieg's suggestion he called it Troldhaugen ("The Hill of the Trolls")

Grieg immortalized the name of his home in one of his piano pieces, "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen", Opus 65, No.6.


Edvard Grieg died on September 4, 1907, aged 64, after a long illness. He had suffered from respiratory problems ever since his student days in Leipzig.

More than 40,000 people crowded the streets of Bergen on the day of Grieg's funeral to honor him. Following his wish, his own funeral march for Rikard Nordraak was played, as well as the funeral march by Frederic Chopin.

Edvard Grieg Museum in Troldhaugen

Both Grieg's and his wife's ashes are buried in a mountain crypt near his Troldhaugen house.

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