"From every point of view Grieg is one of
the most original geniuses in the musical world of the present or past.
His songs are a mine of melody, surpassed in wealth only by Schubert,
and that only because there are more of Schubert's. In originality of
harmony and modulation he has only six equals. Bach, Schubert, Chopin,
Schumann, Wagner and Liszt. In rhythmic invention and combination he is
inexhaustible, and as orchestrator he ranks among the most
Edward Hargarup Grieg, "the Chopin of
the North," was a unique
as well as an exceptional musician and composer. While not a "wonder
child," in the sense that Mozart, Chopin and Liszt were, he early
his love for music and his rapt enjoyment of the music of the home
Fortunately he lived and breathed in a musical atmosphere from his
babyhood. His mother was a fine musician and singer herself, and with
loving care she fostered the desire for it and the early studies of it
her son. She was his first teacher, for she kept up her own musical
after her marriage, and continued to appear in concerts in Bergen,
the family lived. Little Edward, one of five children, seemed to
the mother's musical talent and had vivid recollections of the rhythmic
animation and spirit with which she played the works of Weber, who was
of her favorite composers.
The piano was a world of mystery to the
sensitive musical child. His
fingers explored the white keys to see what they sounded like. When he
found two notes together, forming an interval of a third, they pleased
better than one alone. Afterwards three keys as a triad, were better
and when he could grasp a chord of four or five tones with both hands,
was overjoyed. Meanwhile there was much music to hear. His mother
daily herself, and entertained her musical friends in weekly
the best classics were performed with zeal and true feeling, while
Edward listened and absorbed music in every pore.
When he was six years old piano lessons
began. Mme. Grieg proved a
teacher, who did not allow any trifling; the dreamy child found he
not idle away his time. As he wrote later: "Only too soon it became
to me I had to practise just what was unpleasant. Had I not inherited
mother's irrepressible energy as well as her musical capacity, I should
never have succeeded in passing from dreams to deeds."
But dreams were turned into deeds before
long, for the child tried to
down on paper the little melodies that haunted him. It is said he began
do this at the age of nine. A really serious attempt was made when he
twelve or thirteen. This was a set of variations for piano, on a German
melody. He brought it to school one day to show one of the boys. The
teacher caught sight of it and reprimanded the young composer soundly,
thus idling his time. It seems that in school he was fond of dreaming
the hours, just as he did at the piano.
The truth was that school life was very
unsympathetic to him, very
and mechanical, and it is no wonder that he took every opportunity to
escape and play truant. He loved poetry and knew all the poems in the
reading books by heart; he was fond, too, of declaiming them in season
out of season.
With the home atmosphere he enjoyed, the
boy Grieg early became
with names of the great composers and their works. One of his idols was
Chopin, whose strangely beautiful harmonies were just beginning to be
heard, though not yet appreciated. His music must have had an influence
over the lad's own efforts, for he always remained true to this ideal.
Another of his admirations was for Ole
Bull, the famous Norwegian
violinist. One day in summer, probably in 1858, when Edward was about
fifteen, this "idol of his dreams" rode up to the Grieg home on
The family had lived for the past five years at the fine estate of
near Bergen. The great violinist had just returned from America and was
visiting his native town, for he too was born in Bergen. That summer he
came often to the Griegs' and soon discovered the great desire of young
Edward for a musical career. He got the boy to improvise at the piano,
and also to show him the little pieces he had already composed. There
consultations with father and mother, and then, finally, the violinist
to the boy, stroked his cheek and announced; "You are to go to Leipsic
become a musician."
Edward was overjoyed. To think of
gaining his heart's desire so easily
naturally; it all seemed like a fairy tale, too good to be true.
The Leipsic Conservatory, which had been
founded by Mendelssohn, and
directed for a short time by Schumann, was now in the hands of
distinguished pianist and conductor. Richter and Hauptmann, also
taught theory; Wenzel, Carl Reinecke and Plaidy, piano.
Some of these later gained the
reputation of being rather dry and
they certainly were far from comprehending the romantic trend of the
impressionable new pupil, for they tried to curb his originality and
it with rules and customs. This process was very irksome, for the boy
wanted to go his own gait.
Among his fellow students at the
Conservatory were at least a half
who later made names for themselves. They were: Arthur Sullivan, Walter
Bache, Franklin Taylor, Edward Dannreuther and J.F. Barnett. All these
making rapid progress in spite of dry methods. So Edward Grieg began to
realize that if he would also accomplish anything, he must buckle down
work. He now began to study with frantic ardor, with scarcely time left
for eating and sleeping. The result of this was a complete breakdown in
the spring of 1860, with several ailments, incipient lung trouble being
most serious. Indeed it was serious enough to deprive Grieg of one
leaving him for the remainder of his life somewhat delicate.
When his mother learned of his illness,
she hurried to Leipsic and took
back to Bergen, where he slowly regained his health. His parents now
him to remain at home, but he wished to return to Leipsic. He did so,
throwing himself into his studies with great zeal. In the spring of
after a course of four years, he passed his examinations with credit.
this occasion he played some of his compositions—the four which have
printed as Op. 1—and achieved success, both as composer and pianist.
After a summer spent quietly with his
parents at Landaas, he began to
prepare for coming musical activities. The next season he gave his
concert in Bergen, at which the piano pieces of Op. 1, Four Songs for
and a String Quartet were played. With the proceeds of this concert he
bought orchestral and chamber music, and began to study score, which he
not previously learned to do. In the spring of 1863—he was hardly
then—he left home and took up his residence in Copenhagen, a much
city, offering greater opportunities for an ambitious young musician.
also the home of Niels W. Gade, the foremost Scandinavian composer.
Of course Grieg was eager to meet Gade,
and an opportunity soon
Gade expressed a willingness to look at some of his compositions, and
if he had anything to show him. Edward modestly answered in the
"Go home and write a symphony," was the retort. This the young composer
started obediently to do, but the work was never finished in this form.
became later Two Symphonic Pieces for Piano, Op. 14.
Two sources of inspiration for Grieg
were Ole Bull and Richard
We remember that Ole Bull was the means of influencing his parents to
Edward to Leipsic. That was in 1858. Six years later, when Ole Bull was
staying at his country home, near Bergen, where he always tried to pass
summers, the two formed a more intimate friendship. They played
together, sonatas by Mozart and others, or trios, in which Edward's
John played the 'cello parts. Or they wandered together to their
haunts among mountains, fjords or flower clad valleys. They both
nature in all her aspects and moods, and each, the one on his
the other in his music, endeavored to reproduce these endless
Richard Nordraak was a young Norwegian
composer of great talent, who,
his brief career, created a few excellent works. The two musicians met
in the winter of 1864 and were attracted to each other at once.
visited Grieg in his home, where they discussed music and patriotism to
their hearts' content. Nordraak was intensely patriotic, and wished to
see the establishment of Norse music. Grieg, who had been more or less
influenced by German ideas, since Leipsic days, now cast off the
and placed himself on the side of Norwegian music. To prove this he
composed the Humoresken, Op. 6, and dedicated them to Nordraak. From
he felt free to do as he pleased in music—to be himself.
In 1864 Grieg became engaged to his
cousin, Nina Hargerup, a slender
of nineteen, who had a lovely voice and for whom he wrote many of his
finest songs. He returned to Christiania from a visit to Rome, and
to establish himself in the Norwegian capital. Soon after his arrival,
the autumn of 1856, he gave a concert, assisted by his fiancée
Norman Neruda, the violinist. The program was made up entirely of
music, and contained his Violin Sonata Op. 8, Humoresken, Op. 6, Piano
Sonata, Op. 7. There were two groups of songs, by Nordraak and Kjerulf
respectively. The concert was a success with press and public and the
composer's position seemed assured. He secured the appointment of
of the Philharmonic Society, and was quite the vogue as a teacher. He
married Nina Hargerup the following June, 1867, and they resided in
Christiania for the next eight years.
Grieg could not endure "amateurish
mediocrity," and made war upon it,
drawing jealous attacks upon himself. His great friend and ally,
passed away in 1868, and the next year his baby daughter, aged thirteen
months, the only child he ever had, left them.
In spite of these discouragements, some
of his finest compositions came
into being about this period of his life. Songs, piano pieces and the
splendid Concerto followed each other in quick succession.
Another satisfaction to Grieg was a most
sympathetic and cordial letter
from Liszt on making acquaintance with his Sonata for violin and piano,
8, which he praised in high terms. He invited Grieg to come and visit
that they might become better acquainted. This unsolicitated
from the famous Liszt was a fine honor for the young composer, and was
means of inducing the Norwegian Government to grant him an annuity.
This sum enabled him the following year, to go to Rome and meet Liszt
He set out on this errand in October,
and later wrote his parents of
visits to Liszt. The first meeting took place at a monastery near the
Forum, where Liszt made his home when in town.
"I took with me my last violin Sonata,
the Funeral March on the death
Nordraak and a volume of songs. I need not have been anxious, for Liszt
was kindness itself. He came smiling towards me and said in the most
"'We have had some little
correspondence, haven't we?'
"I told him it was thanks to his letters
that I was now here. He eyed
somewhat hungrily the package under my arm, his long, spider-like
approaching it in such an alarming manner that I thought it advisable
open at once. He turned over the leaves, reading through the Sonata. He
now become interested, but my courage dropped to zero when he asked me
play the Sonata, but there was no help for it.
"So I started on his splendid American
Chickering grand. Right in the
beginning, where the violin starts in, he exclaimed: 'How bold that is!
Look here, I like that; once more please.' And where the violin again
comes in adagio, he played the part on the upper octaves with
expression so beautiful, so marvelously true and singing, it made me
inwardly. My spirits rose because of his lavish approval, which did me
good. After the first movement, I asked his permission to play a solo,
chose the Minuet, from the Humoresken."
At this point Grieg was brave enough to
ask Liszt to play for him. This
master did in a superb manner. To go on with the letter:
"When this was done, Liszt said
jauntily, 'Now let us go on with the
Sonata'; to which I naturally retorted, 'No thank you, not after this.'
"'Why not? Then give it to me, I'll do
it.' And what does Liszt do? He
plays the whole thing, root and branch, violin and piano; nay more, for
plays it fuller and more broadly. He was literally over the whole piano
once, without missing a note. And how he did play! With grandeur,
"Was this not geniality itself? No other
great man I have met is like
I played the Funeral March, which was also to his taste. Then, after a
little talk, I took leave, with the consciousness of having spent two
the most interesting hours of my life."
The second meeting with Liszt took place
soon after this. Of it he
"I had fortunately received the
manuscript of my Concerto from Leipsic,
took it with me. A number of musicians were present.
"'Will you play?' asked Liszt. I
answered in the negative, as you know
had never practised it. Liszt took the manuscript, went to the piano,
said to the assembled guests: 'Very well, then, I will show you that I
cannot.' Then he began. I admit that he took the first part too fast,
later on, when I had a chance to indicate the tempo, he played as only
can play. His demeanor is worth any price to see. Not content with
he at the same time converses, addressing a bright remark now to one,
to another of his guests, nodding from right to left, particularly when
something pleases him. In the Adagio, and still more in the Finale, he
reached a climax, both in playing and in the praise he bestowed.
"When all was over, he handed me the
manuscript, and said, in a
cordial tone: 'Keep steadily on; you have the ability, and—do not let
"This final admonition was of tremendous
importance to me; there was
something in it like a sanctification. When disappointment and
are in store for me, I shall recall his words, and the remembrance of
hour will have a wonderful power to uphold me in days of adversity."
When Edward Grieg was a little over
thirty, in the year 1874, the
Government honored him with an annuity of sixteen hundred crowns a
for life. Another good fortune was a request from the distinguished
Henrik Ibsen, to produce music for his drama of "Peer Gynt."
With the help of the annuity Grieg was
able to give up teaching and
conducting and devote himself to composition. He left Christiania,
he and Mme. Grieg had resided for eight years, and came back for a time
Bergen. Here, in January 1874, Ibsen offered him the proposition of
music for his work, for which he was arranging a stage production.
Grieg was delighted with the
opportunity, for such a task was very
congenial. He completed the score in the autumn of 1875. The first
performance was given on February 24, 1876, at Christiania. Grieg
was not present, as he was then in Bergen. The play proved a real
success and was given thirty-six times that season, for which success
accompanying original and charming music was largely responsible.
Norway is a most picturesque country,
and no one could be more
fond of her mountains, fjords, valleys and waterfalls than Edward
For several years he now chose to live at Lofthus, a tiny village,
on a branch of the Hardanger Fjord. It is said no spot could have been
enchanting. The little study, consisting of one room, where the
could work in perfect quiet, was perched among the trees above the
with a dashing waterfall near by. No wonder Grieg could write of the
"Butterfly," the "Little Bird," and "To the Spring," in such poetical,
vivid harmonies. He had only to look from his window and see the
nature about him.
A few years later he built a beautiful
villa at Troldhaugen, not far
Bergen, where he spent the rest of his life. Some American friends who
visited them in 1901, speak of the ideal existence of the artist pair.
Grieg himself is described as very small and frail looking, with a face
individual, as unique and attractive as his music—the face of a
a genius. His eyes were keen and blue; his hair, almost white, was
backward like Liszt's. His hands were thin and small; they were
hands and his touch on the piano had the luscious quality of
Mme. Grieg received them with a fascinating smile and won all hearts by
appearance and charm of manner. She was short and plump, with short
gray hair and dark blue eyes. Her sister, who resembled her strongly,
up the rest of the family. Grieg called her his "second wife" and they
seemed a most united family.
Here, too, Grieg had his little work
cabin away from the house, down a
steep path, among the trees of the garden. In this tiny retreat he
many of his unique pieces.
As a pianist, there are many people
living who have heard Grieg play,
all agree that his performance was most poetical and beautiful. He
had great power, for a heavy wagon had injured one of his hands, and he
lost the use of one of his lungs in youth. But he always brought out
parts most expressively, and had a "wonderfully crisp and buoyant
in rhythmical passages." He continued to play occasionally in different
cities, and with increased frequency made visits to England, France and
Germany, to make known his compositions. He was in England in the
1888, for on May 3, the London Philharmonic gave almost an entire
of Grieg's music. He acted in the three-fold capacity of composer,
conductor and pianist. It was said by one of the critics: "Mr. Grieg
his own Concerto in A minor, after his own manner; it was a
Another wrote; "The Concerto is very beautiful. The dreamy charm of the
opening movement, the long-drawn sweetness of the Adagio, the graceful,
fairy music of the final Allegro—all this went straight to the hearts
the audience. Grieg as a conductor gave equal satisfaction. It is to be
hoped the greatest representative of 'old Norway' will come amongst us
Grieg did return the next year and
appeared with the Philharmonic,
14, 1889. The same critic then wrote:
"The hero of the evening was
unquestionably Mr. Grieg, the heroine
Madame Grieg, who sang in her own unique and most artistic fashion, a
selection of her husband's songs, he accompanying with great delicacy
and poetic feeling. Grieg is so popular in London, both as composer and
pianist, that when he gave his last concert, people were waiting in the
street before the doors from eleven in the morning, quite as in the old
In only a few cities did the artist pair
give their unique piano and
recitals. These were: Christiania, Copenhagen, Leipsic, Rome, Paris,
and Edinburgh. They were indeed artistic events, in which Nina Grieg
also greatly admired. While not a great singer, it was said she had the
captivating abandon, dramatic vivacity and soulful treatment of the
which reminded of Jenny Lind.
Mme. Grieg made her last public
appearance in London in 1898. After
she sang only for her husband and his friends. Grieg's sixtieth
June 15, 1903, was celebrated in the cities of Scandanavia, throughout
Europe and also in America: thus he lived to see the recognition of his
unique genius in many parts of the world.
Grieg was constantly using up his
strength by too much exertion. To a
friend in 1906, he wrote: "Yes, at your age it is ever hurrah-vivat. At
age we say, sempre diminuendo. And I can tell you it is not easy to
a beautiful diminuendo." Yet he still gave concerts, saying he had not
strength of character to refuse. Indeed he had numerous offers to go to
America, which he refused as he felt he could not endure the sea
Always cheerful, even vivacious, he kept up bravely until almost the
his life, but finally, the last of August, 1907, he was forced to go to
a hospital in Bergen. On the night of September 3, his life ebbed away
The composer who through his music had
endeared himself to the whole
was granted a touching funeral, at which only his own music was heard,
including his Funeral March, which he had composed for his friend
The burial place is as romantic as his music. Near his home there is a
steep cliff, about fifty feet high, projecting into the fjord. Half way
up there is a natural grotto, which can only be reached by water. In
spot, chosen by Grieg himself, the urn containing his ashes was
some weeks after the funeral. Then the grotto was closed and a stone
with the words "Edward Grieg" cut upon it, was cemented in the cliff.