About the composers
Edvard Grieg, ca. 1903. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) from Bergen is our most renowned and prominent composer. He was the first composer to place Norway on the musical world map.
He lived and worked at Troldhaugen, a villa outside of Bergen.
Edvard Grieg had his international breakthrough with his Piano Concerto in A minor, a work which is performed all over the world. He wrote more than 60 lyric pieces, most of them at Troldhaugen, and he published several collections of folk songs, dances and folk tunes.
Edvard Grieg lived at Troldhaugen with his wife, singer Nina Grieg. They lived there in the summers, right up to 1907 when Grieg died. Nina Grieg passed away in 1935.
Famous compositions: "Concerto in A minor", "In the Hall of the Mountain King", "Morning Mood", "The Holberg Suite".
Edvard Grieg, 1854.. Foto: Carl Anderson / Bergen Offentlige bibliotek
Edvard Grieg, ca. 1866. Foto: Claus Knudsen / Bergen offentlige bibliotek.
Nina Grieg, dato ukjent / date unknown. Foto: Bergen Offentlige bibliotek.
Grieg-familien på Landås / The Grieg family at Landås, ca. 1862. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Edvard Grieg, ca. 1858. Foto: Macus Selmer / Bergen Offentlige bibliotek.
Childhood in Bergen
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on June 15, 1843 in Strandgaten 152 at Nordnes. He grew up in a musical home and his mother Gesine Grieg (born Hagerup) became his first piano teacher in his childhood home in Strandgaten. She was one of Bergen’s most popular and best paid music educators.
Education and years in Europe
15 years old Grieg was sent to Leipzig to study at the music conservatory. Here, he was introduced to a vibrant musical life, attended numerous concerts and got to hear the musicians of his time, among others pianist Clara Schumann.
Later, Grieg spoke of his years at the conservatory with mixed emotions as he thought he had not received an adequate education. Still, he could boast good results when left after four years, and he had even been given piano lessons by the renowned Ignaz Moscheles, who had known Beethoven.
After his studies, Grieg lived in Copenhagen, where he and his Danish friends were part of a young and modern musical scene. He got acquainted with leading cultural figures like Niels W. Gade and H.C. Andersen.
Nina og Edvard Grieg på bryllupsdagen / Nina and Edvard Grieg on their wedding day, 1867. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Nina Grieg og datteren Alexandra / Nina Grieg with their daughter Alexandra (1868). Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige bibliotek.
Edvard Grieg med venner i Lofthus / Edvard Grieg with friends at Lofthus, ca. 1881. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Julius Röntgen, Frants Beyer og Edvard Grieg på Løvstakken / Julius Röntgen, Frants Beyer and Edvard Grieg at Løvstakken mouintain, 1900. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Nina og Edvard Grieg med Ninas søstre i København / Nina and Edvard Grieg with Nina´s sisters in Copenhagen, ca. 1865. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Nina Grieg. Foto: ukjent / Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek.
Grieg’s marriage to Nina Grieg
Grieg resumed contact with his cousin Nina Hagerup, whom he had known in his childhood in Bergen. They ended up getting engaged and eventually married before settling down in Christiania, where their daughter Alexandra was born in 1868.
Nina Grieg was a singer and she often performed Grieg’s songs. Grieg wrote almost two hundred songs altogether, and according to himself they were all written for her. Grieg described Nina as “the only true interpreter of my songs”. The best known among them, “I love you”, was written in Copenhagen while they were engaged.
Opus 5, nr. 3: Jeg elsker dig
Anne Bolstad og Audun Kayser, fra utgivelsen En konsert på Troldhaugen
Challenging years in the capital
As newlyweds, Nina and Edvard Grieg lived in Christiania, where they among others struck up a friendship with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, leading to a collaboration where songs as well as dramatic works were created.
Their years in Christiana were marked by great challenges and they struggled to make ends meet. Edvard Grieg gave music lessons to more or less talented students for insufficient pay while simultaneously working with composer Otto Winter-Hjelm to establish a music academy in the capital. After just a year, it had to be closed down due to lack of financial support.
The capital did not offer many concert events either and many of the orchestral musicians were amateurs. There was however a positive turn in 1871 when Grieg took part in establishing Musikforeningen with the intention of making it Christiania’s own orchestra. Concert life had an upswing and Grieg was celebrated as a conductor.
The big breakthrough
There was little time for composing, but in the summer of 1868, Grieg travelled to Denmark with Nina and their little daughter Alexandra, where he embarked on his work on a concerto for grand piano and orchestra.
Together with his friends Danish composer C.F. Emil Horneman and Norwegian composer and pianist Edmund Neupert he went to Mothsgaard in Søllerød north of Copenhagen, where he found peace and quiet for composing and the company of his friends was a great inspiration.
Here, far away from the trivialities in Christiania and in productive dialogue with Neupert, whom the work was dedicated to, most of the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16 took shape.
This was Grieg’s greatest assignment so far, and the concert would also be his international breakthrough. The concerto bursts with youthful vitality and energy and is played all over the world.
Opus 16, klaverkonsert i a-moll / Piano concerto in A minor. Allegro moderato.
Audun Kayser, BFO
Grief and inspiration
In spring 1869, tragedy struck Nina and Edvard Grieg; their one-year-old daughter Alexandra contracted meningitis and died shortly after while the family was visiting Bergen. A few years later both of Grieg’s parents died only a few weeks apart.
While grieving his parents, Grieg wrote his greatest work for piano, "Ballade in G Minor, op 24". The work builds on an old Norwegian folk tune Grieg found in Lindeman’s collection Ældre og nyere Fjeldmelodier (Mountain Tunes New and Old). From this sorrowful tune, Grieg created a grand-scale work of 14 variations over its theme, with large contrasts ranging from sombre expressions to bouncy dance rhythms.
Opus 24: Ballade i g-moll
Jan Henrik Kayser
At the same time, Grieg was working on the stage music for “Peer Gynt”, a project that would last for a year and a half. The request was made by Ibsen himself, whom Grieg met during his first visit to Rome.
The music for "Peer Gynt", which was later released as two orchestral suites, made Grieg’s name known worldwide.
After a decade in the capital, Nina and Edvard Grieg moved to Lofthus in Hardanger, where they stayed the winter 1877–1878, and where Grieg among other pieces wrote his famous "String Quartet in G minor, Op 27". Later, they would return to Lofthus for many summers.
Opus 23: I Dovregubbens Hall / In the Hall of the Mountain King
BFO, Linda Øvrebø
Troldhaugen is built
Longing for a home of his own, Grieg was now looking for a place to live in his hometown. He already lived in Bergen from 1880 to 1882 and worked as a conductor for the Philharmonic Orchestra.
The new infrastructures of the time and opening of the Voss Line made it easier to settle down outside the city. Grieg’s best friend Frants Beyer had already built a house in Hop, and Grieg got to buy a plot of land nearby from a local farmer.
Now Grieg and Beyer could cultivate their lifelong friendship through conversations about art and music and fishing trips to lake Nordåsvannet. “No opus has filled me with greater joy than this”, he wrote to a friend during the building process.
Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Troldhaugen: Komponisthytten / Composers hut. Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Shaping Norwegian music
With Troldhaugen, which was finished in 1885, Nina and Edvard Grieg had realized their dream of a home of their own. Here, Grieg found peace and quiet to compose.
During the building process, Grieg wrote the “Holberg Suite”, a tribute to the poet and playwright Ludvig Holberg.
The piece consists of Baroque dance forms, originally written for piano and later orchestrated. This work was often a part of Grieg’s repertoire at his own concerts.
Soon, a new collection "Lyric Pieces" saw the day of light, with titles celebrating the most beautiful time of year with its birdsong, nature and longing. Grieg wrote these lyric pieces throughout his whole life, and there are 66 of them in all. Most of them were written after he moved in at Troldhaugen.
Grieg also published several collections of folksongs, dances and folk tunes. Trough the famous violinist Ole Bull he had heard Norwegian fiddlers in his early years. He later became an enthusiastic hiker and he heard milkmaids sing in the mountains.
Opus 40: Holbergsuiten. Preludium
Signe Bakke, fra utgivelsen Grieg: Piano Works
Many guests and musician friends from all over the world visited Troldhaugen. Among them were Dutch pianist and composer Julius Röntgen, Russia-born violinist Adolph Brodsky and the young Australian pianist Percy Grainger.
Music filled the rooms at Troldhaugen, with Nina and Edvard playing the piano four-handed and Nina singing her husbands songs.
These two were a popular couple in the musical cities of Europe, and the winter season was often a hectic period of touring with concerts in many European countries.
Grieg moved the audience of his time. His music was played at concert halls and in people’s homes. With this, he became a household name also outside of Norway. Grieg himself said: “One must first be a human being. All true art grows out of that which is distinctly human.”
In 1906, he finished his last opus, “Four Psalms”, for mixed chorus and baritone solo. With free arrangements of old hymns and lyrics he created something completely new and bold.
Death and burial
With time, Grieg was heavily afflicted by illness, stemming from pleurisy he contracted in his student years. His travels affected his health, and the last trip he planned, to the music festival in Leeds, had to be cancelled already before he had left Bergen.
Grieg was admitted to Bergen Municipal Hospital and died there on 4 September, 1907.
Four days later he was lying in an open casket at Permanenten. During the burial ceremony, 30,000 people followed Grieg’s casket through the city, with members of the royal family, the government and the parliament attending. The urn containing Grieg’s ashes was placed in the grave in the cliff at Troldhaugen, at the site he had himself selected.
Nina’s life at Troldhaugen
Nina Grieg would survive her husband by 28 years. The first years after Grieg’s death she lived in Kristiania and Copenhagen with her sister Tonny Hagerup, but often spent her summers at Troldhaugen, where friends were visiting frequently.
From 1915, the sisters lived permanently in Copenhagen, and they often visited Norway in the summers. Nina Grieg was a sought-after pedagogue, and many of the singers and pianists in her days came to her. She concerned herself with conserving the heritage after Edvard Grieg and was consulted in connection with publications of his works.
Nina Grieg died in Copenhagen on 9 December in 1935. On Edvard Grieg’s birthday, 15 June in 1936, her urn was also placed in the grave in the cliff wall at Troldhaugen.