Yes, life is just as strange as folk music tunes; you never know whether they unfold in a major or minor key.
These lines from a letter Norwegian composer, pianist, and conductor Edvard Grieg wrote to a friend, begin a short biography that I read after visiting Grieg’s home in Bergan, Norway earlier this week.
Edvard Grieg: His life and music is a 2002 work written by Erling Dahl, Jr. and published by the Edvard Grieg Museum — Troldhaugen. It was an excellent short intro for those — like me — who may have heard a number of Grieg’s compositions through the years but do not know much about the life, influences, and work of Norway’s most famous composer.
Grieg’s grandparents were involved with the Bergen Symphony Orchestra and his mother was a piano tutor who taught her son to play in this most international of Norway’s cities. The violinist Ole Bull “discovered” the young Grieg’s musical talent and convinced his parents to let the young man attend the conservatory of music in Leipzig, Germany. Grieg, never a committed student, hated the experience but clearly learned important elements of harmony and found his calling. The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók later said that “Grieg was the first to cast off the yoke of Germany.”
There is much packed into this short biography: Grieg’s marriage to his cousin and fellow musician Nina Hagerup; his bouts with depression; his friendships and connections with Liszt, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, and many more. I was most fascinated by Grieg’s connections to, and love of, Norwegian folk music which flowered in an especially creative period in the mid-1870s, when he lived in western Norway. The “synthesis of life experienced, the artistic endeavor and the power of the Norwegian landscape and folk music is expressed in the profundity of these exalted and highly personal, heartfelt compositions.”
Edvard Grieg died rather early in 1907 after suffering most of his life from a childhood bout with tuberculosis. Piano Concerto in A Minor (Opus 16) is his most famous work, and everyone knows those stirring opening chords.
It was a treat to visit the home that he and Nina bought and named Troldhaugen (or the Troll Hill) outside Bergen. The composer’s cottage overlooks a beautiful lake and would be a magical place to write for any creative individual. The house museum is rather old-fashioned in its presentation, but one still gains the essence of the place and its relationship to the life of Edvard and Nina Grieg.
Dahl ends his work with an assessment of Grieg’s life and music.
His preference for the smaller musical forms has, for example, led to their describing him as a miniaturist — a drawing room composer. Such an assessment merely shows a failure to realize that greatness can manifest itself in simple and small forms.
Grieg himself said that he was not in the same class as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven, but, like Thalberg, he noted that “His province is the smaller forms, but in this he is great.”
Enjoy the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King from “Peer Gynt” with photos taken around the house and grounds.
More to come (from my recent adventures in travel)…
For other posts on my reports and impressions from the Scottish Islands and Norwegian Fjords National Trust Tours trip click here for Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, here for Orkney, and here for the cultural landscapes of Norway.
Image of the composer’s cottage at the Edvard Grieg House by DJB, as are all photos from Norway in this post.