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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (G)
Edvard Grieg


When Edvard Grieg grew up, Bergen was a small and busy European town. All through its past as a Hanseatic city, Bergen had established a net of connections that made it the only continental Norwegian city. The main business was the trade with fish and other products typical for the coast. There was a close contact with the rest of Europe, a fact that is easily retraceable in the origin of the bergener. Most of the families within the city limits had ancestors in Denmark, Germany, Scotland, England, the Netherlands and other European nations. Bergen was also a meltingpot for the population along the Norwegian coast. Edvard Grieg’s family was a typical Bergen-family: His great grandfather Alexander Greig (later changed to Grieg) came to the city from Cairnbulg close to Aberdeen in Scotland in the 1770’s. He founded the family business, which was trade with dried fish and lobster across the North sea. The raising of a child in a bourgeois family in the 19th century Norway often included teaching of music or other forms of art. Edvard Grieg’s grandparents were active in the society of music «Musikkselskapet Harmonien», one of the world’s oldest orchestras, founded in 1765. Edvard Grieg was also so lucky to have the best piano teacher in Bergen as a mother. Gesine Hagerup had studied at the music conservatory in Hamburg, Germany, an education that usually was offered only to men. She played with «Harmonien» and at chamber music concerts in Bergen.

He studied with E.F. Wenzel at the Leipzig Conservatory (1858-62), where he became intimately familiar with early Romantic music (especially Schumann's), gaining further experience in Copenhagen and encouragement from Niels Gade. Not until 1864-5 and his meeting with the Norwegian nationalist Rikard Nordraak did his stylistic breakthrough occur, notably in the folk-inspired Humoresker for piano op.6. Apart from promoting Norwegian music through concerts of his own works, he obtained pupils, became conductor of the Harmoniske Selskab, projected a Norwegian Academy of Music and helped found the Christiania Musikforening (1871), meanwhile composing his Piano Concerto (1868) and the important piano arrangements of 25 of Lindeman's folksongs (op.17, 1869). An operatic collaboration with Bjornson came to nothing, but his incidental music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1875), the most extensive and best known of his large compositions, produced some of his finest work. Despite chronic ill-health he continued to tour as a conductor and pianist and to execute commissions from his base at Troldhaugen (from 1885); he received numerous international honours. Among his later works, The Mountain Thrall op.32 for baritone, two horns and strings, the String Quartet in g Minor op.27, the popular neo-Baroque Holberg Suite (1884) and the Haugtussa song cycle op.67 (1895) are the most distinguished.

Grieg was first and foremost a lyrical composer; his op.33 Vinje settings, for example, encompass a wide range of emotional expression and atmospheric colour, and the ten opus numbers of Lyric Pieces for piano hold a wealth of characteristic mood-sketches. But he also was a pioneer, in the impressionistic uses of harmony and piano sonority in his late songs and in the dissonance treatment in the Slatter op.72, peasant fiddle-tunes arranged for piano.

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