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Classical Composers A-Z: Edward Greig

Peter Wintersgill introduces the Norwegian composer Edward Greig.

15th June, 1843, in Bergen.

Alexander, merchant.

Great Grandfather
Alexander Grieg, from Aberdeen

Gresine, poet and musician.

Fourth of five children. One brother, John, was a cellist.

Had piano lessons from mother from age six. Was taught the works of Mozart, Beethoven and others, but preferred extemporisation to set pieces. From being a small boy he hated all institutions, including schools.

Met a famous violinist, Ole Bull, who was a national hero, a sort of symbol of Norway, recently freed from domination by Denmark. Bull heard him play and recommended to his parents that he be sent to Leipzig Conservatoire. He entered at age 15 and stayed four years, continuing his studies at Copenhagen. While at Leipzeig he heard Clara Schumann play her husband's piano concerto.

A less pleasant experience was an attack of pleurisy at 17, which left him with a damaged left lung, which remained a source of recurrent illness for the rest of his life. Also at this time he became friendly with a fellow student called Nordraak, who like himself was a keen nationalist. Together they vowed to work for the freedom of Norway through music. Nordraak died soon after of TB and Grieg wrote a funeral march in his memory.

Early Adult Life
After three years' stay in Copenhagen, he returned to Bergen, where he put on a concert, playing some of his own music, including the four Piano Pieces. At this time he felt the influence of Norwegian folk music, which can be seen in his own compositions, by the incidence of falling leading notes.

In 1866 he settled in Christiana (later Oslo), where he gave a concert of Norwegian music including some of his own. He was made conductor of the Christiana Philharmonic Society.

In 1867 he married his cousin Nina, a fine soprano, for whom he wrote the song "I love thee" as an engagement present. They gave many recitals together and she became a noted exponent of his songs, including "Among the Roses". Among his piano music were eight books of Lyric pieces.

In 1868 he wrote his well known Piano Concerto, and his daughter Alexandra was born. In 1870 he met Liszt in Rome, who admired his music and played his piano concerto by sight. In 1867 he wrote the Incidental Music to Ibsen's play Peer Gynt, which has been a favourite ever since.

Later Adult Life
During the 1880's he made several concert tours, at first to Germany and Holland, later to England, France and Belgium. During his 1888 tour in England he visited the Birmingham Festival and played his piano concerto for the Philharmonic Society in London. In 1885 he had a house, Troldhaugen, built on the coast near Bergen, where he lived for the rest of his life. While in England he met Delius' father, a woollen dealer, and persuaded him to let young Frederick give up wool dealing and devote himself to composition. In his later years he accumulated many honours, including honorary doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge, also the Dutch Order of Orange-Nassau; he used to pack them on top of his suitcases to impress the customs officials.

He ran a national music festival in Bergen in 1898, which caused his health to deteriorate. In 1906 he wrote his last work, a choral one, the Four Psalms. He prepared to go to the Leeds Festival the next year, but was admitted to hospital at the last minute; he died soon after on 4th September, 1907, in Bergen aged 64, from heart failure due to emphysema.

At his funeral, which was watched by 40,000 people, his own funeral march was played, which he wrote for his friend Nordraak. Nina lived on to the age of 90.


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