Timeline: Edvard Grieg

Aug 15, 2016

The music of composer Edvard Grieg has become synonymous with his homeland, Norway. Grieg brought the folk tunes and artistic sensibility of Scandinavia to the world through his evocative music and extensive tours.

Edvard grew up in a musical household. His mother, Gesine Judith Grieg, was an accomplished and sought after pianist. His father was an amateur musician as well and played in the Bergen orchestra under the baton of Gesine’s father. Grieg began to take piano lessons from his mother when he was six, playing the music of Mozart, Weber and Chopin. When he was 15, he enrolled in the Leipzig Conservatory where he fell in love with the works of Robert Schumann. He later traveled to Copenhagen to study with Niels Gade. Gade sent him away to compose a symphony. Grieg dutifully finished it, but he was never satisfied with that work. In fact, Grieg had little interest in traditional forms, like a symphony.

The first 20 years of Grieg’s life were spent in urban middle class society heavily influenced by Danish culture. But, in 1864 he was introduced to Norwegian folk music. He knew then that his life goal would be to fully embrace the Romantic Nationalist movement of his time and become a voice for Norway. He co-founded the Eutrope Society, dedicated to promoting the music of Scandinavia.

Grieg found a champion in Franz Liszt, who supported Grieg financially and promoted his music across Europe. Though Grieg’s music was focused on the folk songs of his homeland, there was a forward looking aspect to his work as well. His music hints at the harmonies and expression of neo-classicism and impressionism that would take hold in the next century.

Grieg wrote over 140 vocal songs. He stated that their sole inspiration came from his wife, Nina Hagerup, an accomplished vocalist and Grieg’s life-long companion.

A Photograph taken in 1899 of Edvard Grieg and his wife Nina Hagerup.
Credit US-PD

He composed 10 volumes of solo piano works entitled Lyric Pieces. Among these 66 works are the familiar tunes of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen and March of the Trolls.

The playwright Henrik Ibsen was a long-time friend of Grieg and commissioned him to compose incidental music for his play Peer Gynt. This work includes In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Since Grieg was 20, he suffered from respiratory and pulmonary illnesses. He never let these conditions slow him down, even in the last year of his life. In 1907, he had toured Copenhagen, Berlin and Munich and was about to depart for England when he was forced into the hospital. He died the very next day. Grieg’s ashes were laid to rest on top of a fjord at Troldhaugen in his beloved Norway.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.