Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907) was a composer from Norway who is probably best-known for his composition In the Hall of the Mountain King. This fairytale-inspired piece evokes the sound of subterranean trolls, gnomes, and goblins and comes from a larger work of music that was performed during a play by Henrik Ibsen named Peer Gynt. This play was based on a Norwegian fairy tale of the same name. Like composers Jean Sibelius of Finland and Antonín Dvořák of Czechia, Grieg was inspired by folk music of his native land and worked to capture the sounds of Norway within his own music. In fact, Grieg loved his home so much that he named his house Troldhaugen, which means Troll Hill, and even named a piano piece after it called Wedding at Troldhaugen. Throughout his life, Grieg composed many pieces, including piano pieces, orchestral works, choral works, songs, and chamber music.
Edvard Grieg’s Youth and Education
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born on June 15th, 1843 in Bergen, Norway. His mother Gesine Hagerup was a music teacher and began to teach piano to Edvard at the age of six. His father Alexander Grieg was a merchant of Scottish descent through his great-grandparents.
In 1858, at the age of 15, Edvard traveled to Germany to study piano at the Leipzig Conservatory with Ignaz Moscheles. He studied there until 1962. Grieg did not enjoy studying in Leipzig, later writing in a letter to a friend, “Naturally, I did learn something there, but my individuality was still a closed book to me.”
In 1860, at the age of 17, Grieg lived through two life-threatening lung diseases: tuberculosis and pleurisy, which destroyed his left lung and left him to deal with other health issues for the rest of his life. Shortly after this in 1861, Edvard made his concert debut as a pianist in Karlshamn, Sweden, in which he programmed Beethoven’s famous Pathetique Sonata.
Four days before his 25th birthday, on June 11th, 1867, Grieg married soprano Nina Hagerup. The following year, they had a daughter named Alexandra. She would be their only child and would pass away a year later from meningitis. His Piano Concerto in A Minor was written shortly after her birth and his marriage to Nina. It is said that these events were the inspiration for the composition of this enduring work.
Edvard Grieg’s Music
One of his most famous works, the Piano Concerto in A Minor, was written in 1868 while Grieg was vacationing in Denmark. He was unable to attend the premiere in Copenhagen, Denmark due to other conducting commitments he had made in Oslo, Norway. Shortly after the premiere, Edvard traveled to Rome, Italy, where he met with famous Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt. Grieg produced a copy of his Piano Concerto, which Liszt stunned everyone by sight-reading. In response, Grieg quietly whispered to Liszt that he had played the first movement of this piece too quickly. Liszt also provided Grieg with some tips on orchestration, which Grieg chose not to accept into his own orchestration.
From the years 1880 to 1882, Grieg became Music Director for the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1888, Edvard Grieg met Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who expressed his admiration for the warmth and beauty of Grieg’s music.
Edvard Grieg’s Works and Fun Activities
Now that you’ve learned a little more about Grieg’s music and life, here are some fun pieces of music to listen to while practicing our musical skills!
- Activity #1: Listen to the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor! In 1910, this became the first piano concerto to ever be recorded with Wilhelm Backhaus at the piano. The piano concerto takes about 30 minutes to perform, but due to the technological limitations of 1910, it had to be shortened – to only six minutes!
- Activity #2: Let’s practice listening and reading an orchestral score by clicking here! This is Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King – try and follow along. See if by listening and watching the music you can identify which instruments are playing when! Take a moment to write down all the dynamic levels you hear in the piece. Can you hear trolls, goblins, and/or gnomes living in underground caves?
- Activity #3: Let’s listen to the piano piece that he dedicated to his home, called Wedding at Troldhaugen! After your first listen, can you identify the form of this piece and the key signature? Does this song help you imagine trolls getting married on a hill?
- Activity #4: Where do you call home? Write your own music dedicated to your home! Visit this page to find out ways to start composing.