Great Composers - Edvard Grieg
Weekend Special

Great Composers - Edvard Grieg

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

What George Washington is to the US and William Shakespeare to Britain, composer and pianist, Edvard Grieg is to Norway: his country's most celebrated icon. Born in 1843, Grieg is regarded as the founder of the Norwegian nationalist school of music; his use of Norwegian folk music in his own compositions put the music of Norway on the map, and helped it to develop a national identity.

As a composer and pianist, Grieg is best known for his ‘Piano Concerto in A minor’ and ‘Peer Gynt’ (which includes ‘Morning Mood’ and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’).

Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op. 46 -

From childhood, Grieg was fascinated with the piano exploring all kinds of tunes on his own for hours. He is said to have remarked: ‘Why not begin by remembering the wonderful, mystical satisfaction of stretching one’s arms up to the piano and bringing forth – not a melody. Far from it! No, it had to be a chord. First a third, then a fifth, then a seventh. And finally, both hands helping – Oh joy! – a ninth, the dominant ninth chord. When I had discovered this, my rapture knew no bounds. That was a success! Nothing since has been able to excite me so profoundly as this.’

Embellished in the national folk tradition, Grieg’s music is noted for a refined lyrical sense. Between the ages 24 and 58, he wrote ten collections of ‘Lyric Pieces’ (‘Lyriske Stykker’) for piano. His harmonies were considered novel, originating from the late Romantic style. In his few works in the larger forms he uses a free sonata form—the ‘Piano Concerto, Opus 16;’ the ‘String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 27;’ and the three violin and piano sonatas.

Among his most acclaimed works are his incidental music to ‘Peer Gynt, Opus 23,’ and the suite ‘Holberg, Opus 40.’ His arrangements of Norwegian dances and songs, ‘Opus 17’ and ‘Opus 66,’ and especially his ‘Slatter,’ Norwegian Peasant Dances, ‘Opus 72,’ show his intrinsic sense of rhythm and harmony.

Grieg’s vocal works include the songs on texts of ‘A.O. Vinje, Opus 33;’ and the ‘Haugtussa cycle, Opus 67.’ In these songs, he discovered the musical equivalent of the poet’s imagery.

In the Hall of the Mountain King -

In Grieg's own lifetime the ‘Peer Gynt’ music scored a resounding international success. Setting music to ‘Peer Gynt’ wasn’t as easy as he had thought it would be—when he was 33, the play was performed for the first time on Christiania Theater in Oslo, and was an immediate success. Alongside the work with ‘Peer Gynt,’ Grieg also set music to six poems by Ibsen. When he was 45 and later at the age of 50, Grieg published the ‘Peer Gynt Suite I’ and ‘Peer Gynt Suite II,’ respectively, --these contained the most popular melodies from the play ‘Peer Gynt.’ These two suites are among the most played orchestral pieces of our times.

Grieg's ‘Holberg Suite’ was originally written for the piano, and later arranged by the composer for string orchestra. Grieg wrote songs in which he set lyrics by famous poets of his time, such as Goethe, Ibsen, Kipling and others. Nearly 70 years after Grieg’s death, Norwegian pianist, Eva Knardahl, recorded the composer's complete piano music; these recordings were reissued in 2006 on 12 compact discs by BIS Records. Grieg himself recorded many of these piano works before his death in 1907.

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (First Movement) -

Grieg's ‘String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27,’ is the second of his three string quartets-- the first, in ‘D minor’ was lost. The third quartet, in ‘F major,’ remained incomplete at the time of his death. Commenting on the ‘G minor Quartet’ Grieg once said that it ‘strives towards breadth, soaring flight and above all resonance for the instruments for which it is written.’ One year before his death at the age of 64, Grieg penned his final composition--the ‘Four Psalms.’

After Grieg’s death, his country estate, Troldhaugen, became one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. In 1995, a museum building was added to the estate, featuring a permanent exhibition of Grieg's life and music; it also displays the original Steinway grand piano, which he was given as a wedding anniversary present in 1892. Private and public concerts are frequently held at the estate. Several statues of Grieg can be seen alongside some of the most important cultural buildings in Norway.

In his lifetime itself, Grieg as a composer was fortunate to be successful and relatively wealthy: primarily because of his piano-concerto in ‘A minor’ and the music for ‘Peer Gynt,’ as well as a composer of Romances and of small piano-pieces.

Quite a few landmark buildings take their name from the composer: Bergen's largest concert building (Grieg Hall); the most advanced music school (Grieg Academy); its professional choir (Edvard Grieg Kor); and even some hotels (Quality Hotel Edvard Grieg).

Harald Herresthal, Professor at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo, writes ‘…Edvard Grieg's goal was to create a national form of music which could give the Norwegian people an identity, and in this respect he was an inspiration to other composers. But the greatness of his works lies not just in this, but in the fact that he also succeeded in expressing thoughts and emotions which could be recognized everywhere; music which people could identify with. Grieg's music transcended national boundaries. Viewed in this perspective, it is evident that he was far more than just a national composer.’

Siddharth Kumar holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London, and conducts weekend Classical Piano classes. Siddharth is Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year MNC stint, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music.