Edvard Grieg (1891), portrait by Eilif Peterssen

Edvard Hagerup Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist. He is widely considered one of the leading Romantic era composers, and his music is part of the standard classical repertoire worldwide. His use and development of Norwegian folk music in his own compositions brought the music of Norway to international consciousness, as well as helping to develop a national identity, much as Jean Sibelius did in Finland and Bedřich Smetana did in Bohemia. Grieg is the most celebrated person from the city of Bergen, with numerous statues depicting his image, and many cultural entities named after him: from the city’s largest concert building, to its most advanced music school and its professional choir. The Edvard Grieg Museum at Grieg’s former home, Troldhaugen, is dedicated to his legacy. Of Scottish descent (the family name, originally spelled Greig, is associated with the Scottish Clann Ghriogair, Clan Gregor), Edvard Grieg was raised in a musical family: his mother was his first piano teacher and taught him to play at the age of six. The eminent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who was a family friend, recognized the 15-year-old boy’s talent and persuaded his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory where he enrolled, concentrating on the piano.

Edvard Grieg Museum in Troldhaugen

Grieg made his debut as a concert pianist in Karlshamn, Sweden (1861), whereas in 1862 he finished his studies in Leipzig and held his first concert in his home town, where his programme included Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata. In 1868, Franz Liszt, who had not yet met Grieg, wrote a testimonial for him to the Norwegian Ministry of Education, which led to Grieg’s obtaining a travel grant: the two men met in Rome in 1870 for the first time. Liszt was very pleased with Grieg’s Violin Sonata №1. On his second visit in April, Grieg brought with him the manuscript of his Piano Concerto, which Liszt proceeded to sightread. Liszt also gave him some advice on orchestration. In 1874–76, Grieg composed incidental music for the premiere of Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, at the request of the author. From 1880 to 1882 Grieg became Music Director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1888 he met Tchaikovsky: Grieg was struck by the greatness of Tchaikovsky, who thought very highly of Grieg’s music. In 1906, Grieg met the composer and pianist Percy Grainger in London, who was a great admirer of Grieg’s music and a strong empathy was quickly established. In a 1907 interview, Grieg stated that Grainger could play his ‘Norwegian Peasant Dances’ like no one else in his country: “He is a genius that we Scandinavians cannot do other than love.” Edvard Grieg died at the Municipal Hospital in Bergen, Norway, on 4 September 1907 at age 64 from heart failure. Throughout his life, Grieg’s health was impaired by a destroyed left lung and considerable deformity of his thoracic spine: he suffered from numerous respiratory infections, and ultimately developed combined lung and heart failure. The funeral drew between 30,000 and 40,000 people to the streets of his home town to honor him, and a century after his death, Grieg’s legacy extends beyond the field of music.