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Learn About the Norwegian Composer, Edvard Grieg's Works and Life

Edvard Grieg: Overview

  • Born: June 15, 1843 - Bergen, Norway 
  • Died: September 4, 1907 - Bergen, Norway
  • Historical Period: the Romantic era
  • Musical Media: Orchestra, chamber music, keyboard, choral, songs. 
Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg

Edvard Hagerup Grieg, the Norwegian musical prodigy was born in 1843 in Norway. Grieg attained fame for his many uniquely Norwegian compositions, which included concertos and piano miniatures. His popularity spread worldwide, with most of his music having a sense of traditional Norwegian emotions, scenarios and a great deal of descriptive imagery. 

Some examples of his masterful pieces are:

  • Lyric Pieces
  • Piano Sonata in E minor
  • Incidental music to Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt
  • Violin Sonata No. 1 in F major
  • Concert Overture in Autumn
  • Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major
  • Piano Concerto in A minor
  • Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's play Sigurd Jorsalfar’s incidental music
  • String Quartet in G minor
  • Ballade in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song in G minor
  • Piano Concerto in A minor
  • Album for Male Chorus

After an extensive and long musical career, the eminent composer passed away in the year 1907. At his funeral ceremony, his own, as well as Chopin’s funeral marches, were played. He is considered to be a composer of the Romantic era. 

Edvard Grieg: Composer of the Ages

Grieg was very attracted to the folk music Norway and its traditions which seamlessly got integrated into his pieces. Although Grieg was not exceptional at academics in his early years, his profound interest in music reflected his genius by the age of only nine. 

Grieg’s youthful years introduced him to the revered violinist Ole Bull, a well-respected figure in Norway’s nationalist movement, who was also related to his mother, Gesine. Bull, who paid a visit to the Grieg family in the year 1858, experienced Edvard’s compositional talents and suggested that he be sent to the Leipzig Conservatory for his studies. 

There, Grieg drew inspiration from many master composers, such as Chopin and Schumann, and learned piano with Ignaz Moscheles. He presented the Four Piano Pieces, Op. 1, in 1862, upon graduation. These were published along with the Four Songs for Alto, Op. 2, in 1863. 

In that very year, Edvard Grieg moved to Copenhagen where composer Niels Gade acted as his mentor, offering sound advice to the future genius. Edvard Grieg fell in love with his cousin Nina who later became his wife. Grieg dedicated his Six Songs, Op. 4 to her who was also a talented singer. It was during this period that he produced The Heart’s Melodies, Op. 5, which are songs associated with Danish texts written by the author Hans Christian Andersen.

Edvard Grieg had a distinct sense of Norwegian nationalism, which reflected in the musical pieces composed by him. An evidence of this is the piano piece Humoresques, Op. 6, which he dedicated to his close friend Nordraak. 

In the year 1865, Grieg finished a couple of other pieces, Piano Sonata, Op. 7, and Sonata in F major for Violin and Piano, Op. 8. 

Grieg lost his friend Nordraak to illness in the same year and wrote the Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak for piano. His first theatrical break came for Bjørnson’s play Sigurd Jorsalfar, for which he composed music in 1872. 

Edvard Grieg in 1874, was asked by Henrik Ibsen to compose incidental music for the latter’s play Peer Gynt. This resulted in the creation of Grieg’s most widely revered and played music. The play, written in 1867, was performed for the first time with Grieg’s music in early 1876. The music became a double set of suites, Op. 46 and Op. 55. That same year, he had also written several pieces which included Six Songs, Op. 25, “The Mountain Thrall,” Op. 32 and a String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27

After a period of illness, Grieg decided to start writing again in 1880. He started composing music for Twelve Songs to Poems of A.O. Vinje, Op. 33. Among these, Grieg transcribed two of the songs for the string orchestra in the form of Two Elegaic Melodies, Op. 34, as he was then the conductor of the Bergen Harmonic Society. 

In 1884, Grieg composed the Holberg Suite, Op. 40, honoring the writer Ludvig Holberg’s 200th birth anniversary. During the 1890s, Grieg finished composing the Norske folkeviser, Op. 66. In 1895, he began to write music for Haugtussa, which were poems by Arne Garborg. This was published as a set of eight songs in 1898.  

From the year 1896 till 1898, Edvard Grieg worked on and completed his Symphonic Dances, Op. 64. Published in the year 1899, it has become an extremely popular part of Grieg’s repertoire. 

From 1905 forward, Grieg’s creative works focused on piano pieces, giving us the memorable Norwegian Peasant Dances, Op. 72 and the Lyric Pieces, Op. 71. 

Additionally, Grieg's earliest pieces unusually include a symphony and a piano sonata. Also, Grieg composed three violin sonatas along with a cello sonata.

Such was Grieg’s mastery, that Nikolai Myaskovsky, a Russian composer, utilized one of the former’s themes for his Third String Quartet. Grieg had many of his piano compositions recorded during the latter stages of his life. 

Grieg wrote Holberg Suite originally for the piano but eventually presented it for string orchestra. The composer wrote classy pieces for eminent poets such as Heinrich Heine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Rudyard Kipling.

Edvard Grieg never received any proper training to deal with more long drawn pieces, such as symphonies. Due to his breathing problems that plagued him all his life, he was preferential to miniature pieces as most of his music is short. Grieg, nevertheless, proved that he was a master in the musical arts, and his music acted as an inspiration for future prospects like Ravel and Debussy. 


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