Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on June 15th, 1843. His father, Alexander Grieg, was a merchant, while his mother, Gesine, was considered to be the city’s best piano teacher. She started giving Edvard piano les- sons when he was six years old. A relative of Edvard’s mother, the world-famous violinist Ole Bull, rec- ognised the boy’s precocious talent and recommend- ed his parents to send him abroad to study music.
At the age of 15, Edvard Grieg enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory. The conservatory was considered to be the most modern of its day. After Leipzig, Grieg spent a few years living in Copenhagen, which had become a focal point for artists, musicians and writ- ers from all over the Nordic region. In Copenhagen, he developed his personal style, clearly influenced by Norwegian folk tunes and the wild Norwegian landscape. That was also where he met his cousin, Nina Hagerup, who was a trained singer. The pair fell in love and married in 1867.
The couple settled in the Norwegian capital Kristiania (now Oslo), where Edvard Grieg became a key figure in the city’s burgeoning professional music scene. Edvard and Nina had a daughter,
Alexandra, who died of meningitis when she was only 13 months old. After this, the couple spent their time undertaking extensive concert tours of Europe.
At the age of 25, Edvard Grieg made his break- through as a composer with a piano concerto in A-minor. It is still one of the most frequently played piano concertos in the world. Throughout his adult life, Grieg composed short pieces for the piano, dubbed Lyric Pieces, which also contributed much to his fame. His Lyric Pieces and his many songs would be published and played in countless well- to-do homes in Europe and America. Sheet music sales generated a substantial income for both Grieg and Peters, his publisher in Leipzig.
While on a visit to Rome in 1866, Grieg met the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, who felt that Grieg understood his works. When Ibsen was sub- sequently commissioned to write a stage version of his literary work Peer Gynt, he asked Grieg to write the accompanying music. Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt became his biggest success and is still one of the most often heard pieces of classical music. Grieg combined the most popular of the 28 pieces he wrote to accompany the play into the two Peer Gynt Suites. Here we find instantly recognisable melodies, such as “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, “Morning Mood”, “Solveig’s Song” and “Anitra’s Dance”.
In 1884, Grieg commissioned the construction of a villa in Bergen, which he called Troldhaugen. He
spent his summers there, while he continued to tour extensively during the winter. When the spring arrived, however, he would always return to Bergen and Troldhaugen.
One of his final works, a series of Norwegian Peasant Dances (“Slåtter”) originally written for the Hardanger fiddle that he arranged for the piano, won praise and admiration from a whole new generation of composers.
Edvard Grieg died in 1907, at the age of 64. Over a century later, his music remains as popular as ever. Not a day goes by without one of his many pieces being performed somewhere in the world.
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