Grieg's most popular work, the Piano Concerto, was composed in the summer of 1868 while the composer was staying at Søllerød in Denmark. Later revised toward the end of his life, the Concerto was his first international triumph, and even won the approval of Liszt. Its first performance in Copenhagan on 3 April 1869 was a resounding success.
Opening with a characteristic Grieg motif (descending minor 2nd followed by a major 3rd), itself borrowed from Norwegian folk-song, the concerto makes extensive use of the music of Grieg's native land. The third movement, in particular, alludes to the halling and springar folk dances.
The abundance of melodic material evident in this concerto no doubt explains much of the work's popularity. There are seven themes alone in the first movement! The beautiful Adagio features some sublime writing for both Piano and Orchestra, and the exuberant finale is full of youthful vigour.
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway. His mother Gesine was a fine piano teacher and taught her son from an early age. In the summer of 1858, the violin virtuoso Ole Bull came to visit Grieg’s parents. The young Edvard had to play for the world-famous violinist, who convinced his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory, where he studied composition and piano. Whilst there, he contracted pleurisy, a kind of tuberculosis, which marked him for the rest of his life. His left lung collapsed, which made his back bend, and greatly reduced his lung capacity. Nevertheless he graduated from the conservatory with excellent marks in 1862. Bull remained a friend of and source of inspiration to Grieg until the violinist died in 1880.
After a period at home in Norway Grieg moved to Copenhagen and it was there that he met the young composer Rikard Nordraak, an enthusiastic champion of Norwegian music and a decisive influence on him. Whilst in Denmark, Grieg once again met his cousin Nina Hagerup. They had grown up together in Bergen, but Nina moved with her family to Copenhagen when she was eight. Nina was an excellent pianist, but it was her beautiful voice that fascinated Grieg. They were secretly engaged in 1864, and married on the 11th June 1867. None of their parents attended the wedding.
The Griegs moved from Copenhagen to Kristiania (Oslo) and lived off the income from Edvard’s work as a conductor and piano teacher. Their daughter Alexandra was born on the 10th April 1868. The same year, Grieg composed the Piano Concerto in A minor.
On the 21st May 1869 their daughter Alexandra died from meningitis, and in 1875 Grieg’s parents died. In addition to this, Grieg felt that he had stagnated artistically. The situation reached a critical point in 1883 when Edvard left Nina. The intervening force that rescued their marriage was Grieg’s friend Frants Beyer. He persuaded Grieg to reconcile with Nina, and they moved to Troldhaugen in order to start afresh.
Grieg's own performances of Norwegian music, often with his wife, established him as a leading figure in the music of his own country. This brought subsequent collaboration in the theatre with the poets Bjornson and with Ibsen. In 1888 and in 1893 Grieg published respectively the Peer Gynt Suites I and II, which contain the most popular melodies from the incidental music to Ibsen’s play.
Grieg continued to divide his time between composition and activity in the concert-hall. He toured extensively in Europe until his poor health caught up with him and he died, in 1907, of chronic exhaustion. He was the most important Norwegian composer of the later 19th century, a period of growing national consciousness.
- MIDI FILE - from "Lyric Pieces": Arietta (1'13'')