Edvard Grieg

Biography

Born: 1843   Died: 1907   Country: Norway   Period: Romantic
Composer Edvard Grieg, the icon of Norwegian music, left his home in Bergen, Norway to study at the conservatory in Leipzig. There he began his formal musical education under the auspices of Ignaz Moscheles (piano) and Carl Reinecke (composition). While in school, the young composer saw the premiere of his first work, his String Quartet in D minor, performed in Karlshamn, Sweden. Despite being diagnosed with a form of tuberculosis, which left him Read more with only one functioning lung, Grieg graduated from the conservatory in 1862. The composer had an intense desire to develop a national style of composition, but recognized the importance of becoming well versed in the work of the European masters, and consequently relocated to Copenhagen, studying with Niels Gade. He was thus able to remain in Scandanavia, while working in a thriving cultural center. In 1867 against his family's better judgment, Grieg married his cousin Nina Hagerup, a talented pianist, but whose vocal abilities enchanted the composer even more. Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to Oslo, where Grieg supported them by teaching piano and conducting. He and his wife traveled extensively throughout Europe and it was during a period of time spent in Denmark, the composer wrote his landmark opus, the Piano Concerto in A minor. The premiere was given in 1869, with Edmund Neupert as the soloist. The piece was received with an enthusiasm that would attach itself to the composer's reputation for the remainder of his career.

Grieg admired his literary contemporaries and forged a productive partnership with Bjötjerne Björnson, playwright and poet, with whom he staged performances of such works as Before a Southern Convert, and Bergliot. While Björnson struggled with his output, Grieg met and befriended Henrik Ibsen. The forthcoming collaboration would prove significant for both, as Grieg would supply incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt. The premiere was performed to critical acclaim and eventually led to Grieg's scoring of Peer Gynt into Suites 1 and 2 (1888 and 1893 respectively).

As a result of the success of Peer Gynt, Grieg enjoyed tremendous celebrity and continued to travel extensively, often meeting internationally renowned composers such as Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Liszt, among others. In addition to a grant he was awarded in 1874, Grieg was able to earn the majority of his money by adhering to a vigorous schedule of recital tours. He served briefly as the music director of the Bergen Symphony Orchestra, and from 1880-1882, held the same position at the Bergen Harmonien. In 1885, Grieg and his wife relocated once again, this time to his native Bergen, Norway, where he built their celebrated home, Troldhaugen. The property, a popular tourist destination to this day, features a secondary building overlooking the water, which the composer used as his work area, as he could only work in solitude. He and his wife summered in Norway and departed each fall for European tours that would last the remainder of the year. Grieg also conducted extensively throughout his country.

Grieg was adored wherever he traveled and lived at a pace that would eventually catch up with him. Grieg died of chronic fatigue, with much credit given to his lifelong health problems, in his hometown of Bergen.

Norway's most famous composer, dedicated his career to the pursuit of a national sound. The respect he had for his predecessors illustrates the sincerity with which he worked towards this goal. He wrote in the Romantic tradition with, in his own words, the determination to "create a national form of music, which could give the Norwegian people an identity." Read less
Grieg: Piano Concerto, Lyric Pieces / O'Hora, Judd, RPO
Release Date: 02/10/2009   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28140   Number of Discs: 1
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Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings; Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik; Grieg / simonov
Release Date: 10/12/2010   Label: Royal Philharmonic Masterworks  
Catalog: 28190   Number of Discs: 1
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Grieg: Complete Symphonic Works Vol 3 / Aadland
Release Date: 09/24/2013   Label: Audite  
Catalog: 92669   Number of Discs: 1
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Grieg: Piano Works / Ivana Gavric
Release Date: 10/29/2013   Label: Champs Hill Records  
Catalog: 67   Number of Discs: 1
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Scandinavia - Grieg, Rontgen, Johansen / Matangi Quartet
Release Date: 08/09/2005   Label: Challenge  
Catalog: 72137   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Peer Gynt Suite no 2, Op. 55

 

About This Work
After the sweeping success of the first concert suite drawn from Ibsen's Peer Gynt it is not at all surprising that both the public and Edvard Grieg's publisher cried out for a second installment. While Grieg had already selected four of the finest Read more numbers from the score's total of twenty-two, he had little trouble drawing up a second very effective concert suite. the Peer Gynt Suite No.2, Op.55, which appeared in 1891, has never achieved the popular success of its predecessor, but its four pieces are marked by the same freshness and vitality that earned the first Suite its special place in the repertory.

Ibsen's five-act drama concerns a young Norwegian ruffian named Peer Gynt, who dreams of becoming emperor of the world. His sundry adventures--abducting a bride-to-be during her wedding, abandoning her for another woman, being tormented by gnomes, posturing as a prophet among the Arabs, eloping with and being subsequently double-crossed by an Arab princess, and finally returning to Norway--are the stuff of high drama and adventure, and are rough and isolated in a way that is peculiarly Nordic. Grieg captures this tone perfectly.

"Ingrid's Lament" originally accompanied Peer Gynt's abduction of the maiden, Ingrid, on her wedding day. There is an operatic flair to this four minute work that listeners familiar with only the pastoral scenes of the first Suite would find surprising. A violent opening outburst gives way to mournful string writing; the winds join in for the repetition of this fine lyric idea. After a passionate climax, replete with throbbing timpani and trumpets, the opening outburst is repeated twice, only to sink back, each time, into quiet mourning.

Grieg follows this bleak portrait with a lively "Arabian Dance," which captures something of the superficial characteristics of near-Eastern music; colorful use is made of tambourine and piccolo. A middle strain is more flowing, with some melodic imitation between the violins and cellos and a happy woodwind tune. The "Arabian dance," while not either as famous or as charming as "Anitra's dance" from the first Suite, is probably the most well-known number from the second Suite.

In Ibsen's play, after his adventures in Africa and with the Arabs, Gynt makes his way back to Norway; "Peer Gynt's Homecoming" is a powerful depiction of this dramatic scene. The tension builds over a sustained dominant pedal, while occasional swells of hopeful passion do their best to offset the ominous gestures of the horns and bassoons. This piece makes its way directly into the final number, an orchestral arrangement of the song sung by Solvejg, Peer Gynt's patient and devoted wife, upon his final tragic return and death. "Solvejg's cradle song" is among the finest and subtlest works of late nineteenth-century song that one can find, and the orchestral version does it full justice. The essence of the North positively oozes from the unaccompanied opening melody. After the harp starts its gentle rhythm, Solvejg (represented here by violins) sings her song--a brief, happy reminisce.

-- Blair Johnston
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