“The empire of harmonies has always been my dream-world and the relationship between the harmonic way I feel and the Norwegian folk-tune has even for me always been a mystery.
I have realized that the secret depth one can find in our folk-tunes is caused completely by their richness in unimagined harmonic possibilities.
In my adaptations of folk tunes in Opus
66 and elsewhere I have tried to express my interpretation of the hidden harmonies in our folk-songs.”
~ Edvard Grieg
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) showed an early interest in music. Raised in a musical family, he received his first piano lessons by his mother. He wrote
his first piano composition when he was twelve.
At the age of fifteen, the prodigy was sent to the Liepzig Conservatory where he focused on piano.
Due to a fragile health system, Grieg had to fight against respiratory infections all along his life.
The young man miraculously survived after
being diagnosed with tuberculosis.
In 1863, Grieg decided to pursue a career as
a composer. After moving to Copenhagen,
he was introduced to several famous composers including Hartmann and Gade. He also met
Rikard Nordaak who became his closest friend.
A fervent nationalist, Nordaak believed in the Norwegian folk-music traditions. The composer
of the Norwegian National anthem, Nordaak
had a strong influence on his young protege.
Grieg abandoned the predominating German
style to develop his own Norwegian style of music.
After the tragic death of his mentor Nordaak,
Grieg relocated to Christiana (later called Oslo).
The young composer wrote several masterpieces including his Piano Concerto in A minor op 16.
Young Edvard Grieg
Despite opposition from both of their families, Grieg married his first cousin Nina Hagerup on June 11, 1867. Edvard and Nina were engaged since 1864. They had grown up together in their native city of Bergen. A good pianist, the young woman was also a talented Soprano. She studied singing under the tutelage of Carl Helsted. Grieg offered Nina his “Melodies of the Heart” and his song “I love you” as his engagement present. Praising his wife for her beautiful voice, he made Nina his favorite interpreter of his songs.
In 1868, Alexandra was born. One year later, the baby died tragically after contracting meningitis.
Devastated and depressed, Grieg found refuge in his music. A trip to Rome helped him to recover. In 1870, he met Franz Liszt. Liszt praised Grieg for his exceptional talents. The Hungarian Master liked to play some of his scores including his newly-composed Piano Concerto Opus 16.
In 1874, the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen asked Grieg to compose incidental music for his play “Peer Gynt”. The play and the music were premiered two years later.
Nina Hagerup Grieg
For more than eight years, the relationship between Edvard and Nina deteriorated.
The couple had to go through a series of crises.
Located in the middle of the Norwegian
mountains, their house was somehow isolated.
Nina felt lonely and depressed after trying
to live the life of a traditional housewife.
She also missed her successful career in Copenhagen and Oslo.
On his side, Grieg felt neglected by his wife.
From 1880 to 1882, the Master was appointed Music Director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. He organized concerts featuring Norwegian composers and taught at the Academy of Music. He conducted in Norway and Sweden.
In 1883, Grieg decided to separate from Nina.
The composer left Norway and went to Germany. After a long period of separation, he reconciled with his wife. In 1884, Edvard and Nina went to Italy where they performed again together.
Over these years, the productive composer wrote several masterpieces including his String Quartet
in G minor, the wonderful song “Spring”
and the exquisite Cello Sonata. On her side, Nina
appeared in concert and taught other singers.
In 1885, the Griegs moved to their
newly-built house. Called “Troldhaugen”,
the mansion was located near the city of Bergen.
During his career, Edvard Grieg wrote more than 180 beautiful songs. Unfortunately, this exquisite part of his repertoire is still neglected. In love
with poetry, the composer always thought that
the singer should be at the service of the poet.
After working on Norwegian poems for years, Grieg went back to German poetry. The Master chose six different German poets to compose his wonderful cycle “Six Songs” Op 48. Although his two first pieces were written in 1884, the cycle was completed in August 1889.
Dedicated to the Swedish Soprano Ellen Nordgren Gulbranson with whom Grieg gave several recitals, the cycle was published by Peters in 1889.
Grieg composed his last songs in 1898.
Titled “Haugtussa”, the song cycle was
written again for his beloved wife Nina.
Although Grieg was very popular during
his lifetime, his repertoire was neglected
during the early 20th century. The composer
was considered as “an arranger of folk-music”,
“a Master of small scores” by his detractors.
“The great spirit — the world-soul that we call God — has breathed into each human being a desire to bow before him, and I, too, do that in full measure as I calmly entrust myself to His care when I shall depart this life.”
~ Edvard Grieg
On September 4, 1907, Grieg died in Bergen, just one day before embarking for a trip to England.
More than fifty thousand people witnessed
his funeral procession. His beloved wife and “Muse” Nina passed away on December 9, 1935.
Edvard and Nina Grieg rest in peace together. Their ashes have been reunified in a mountain crypt close to their house.