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Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)


Peer Gynt
In the Hall of the Mountain King

I had long thought that "Grieg" was not a very Scandinavian sounding name, so was not surprised when researching these notes to discover that Grieg's family apparently came from Scotland originally, and were employed as British Consul in Bergen, Norway for many years. He was a fine musical miniaturist, and his fame largely rests on his Lyric Pieces for piano and his songs, as well as his (only) two major orchestral works, the Piano Concerto in A minor and the incidental music for Peer Gynt.

Morning represents a fresh Spring morning in the mountains; The Hall of the Mountain King, on the other hand, is the home of the trolls under the mountain, where the evil creatures attempt to capture our hero and turn him into a troll.

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
I. Allegro molto moderato
II. Adagio
III. Allegro moderato molto e marcato

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, on the West coast of Norway. Cut off from the rest of the country by mountains and fjords, Bergen had been a fishing and trading port since the Middle Ages, and Grieg's family had lived in the town ever since the composer's great grandfather emigrated there from Scotland. Grieg always loved Bergen and was inspired by the town, its fish market, its countryside and its cultural life. Once he even claimed that "I'm sure my music has a tang of codfish in it." Well, maybe! He was also inspired by Norwegian folk music, some of which he recorded and carefully transcribed, in particular music for the unique instrument of the Bergen district known as the hardanger fiddle. In this type of research he predated Vaughan-Williams, Bartok and others by several years, and inspired many early 2Oth century composers.

His genius for melody and harmonic colour means that he is at his best in smaller forms -piano music and songs in particular. He is sometimes described as the Chopin of the north. The composer Debussy cruelly (but memorably) described his music as "pink bon-bons stuffed with snow". But Debussy had the grace to acknowledge Grieg as a fine conductor who drew excellent performances from the orchestras he directed. Grieg was also a first rate pianist himself, performing his own solo works and concerto frequently, as well as music by other composers.

Early in 1867 Grieg married his cousin Nina, a fine and sensitive singer with a lovely voice. In April 1868 a daughter was born to Nina, and that summer all three spent an idyllic holiday in a rented cottage in Denmark. It was here that Grieg wrote his piano concerto. It was first performed in Copenhagen in April 1869, and was revised several times.

The famous opening, which is not just sweeping chords but a motto theme in itself, leads into a gentle theme on the woodwind. This is soon taken up by the piano. A graceful second theme appears on the cello - in the first version this was played by the trumpet, but was given to the cellos as part of a later revision. It is developed furiously by the piano before the orchestra takes it over. Much of this music appears a second time, though with scoring and harmonies transformed. Towards the end of the movement, the piano has a substantial and exciting cadenza.

The slow movement is in the, remote key of D flat, and is very lyrical and calm. The piano soon moves into the even more remote key of F flat, but the serenity of the song hides all complexity. The finale, which follows without a break, has two main tunes. The first is a dance known in Norway as a lalling; the second is a beautiful melody first heard on the flute. At the end, the lalling is transformed into triple time which, coupled with a powerful version of the second theme, drives the concerto to an exhilarating conclusion.

Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6

Grieg’s most perfectly formed music is contained in the 60-plus Lyric Pieces for piano, which he composed over many years and published in several separate sets. Justifiably popular, they are exquisite miniatures, and one of the best is “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”. Troldhaugen (“Troll’s Home”) is the name Grieg gave to the house he had built at Bergen for himself and his family, and so far as we know he never celebrated a wedding there. But he did celebrate his silver wedding anniversary shortly after it was built.

This arrangement for orchestra was made by an early 20th century composer and arranger with the splendid name of Theodore Moses Tobani.

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