1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Grieg, Edvard Hagerup

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17411131911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12 — Grieg, Edvard Hagerup

GRIEG, EDVARD HAGERUP (1843–1907), Norwegian musical composer, was born on the 15th of June 1843 in Bergen, where his father, Alexander Grieg (sic), was English consul. The Grieg family were of Scottish origin, but the composer’s grandfather, a supporter of the Pretender, left his home at Aberdeen after Charles Edward’s defeat at Culloden, and went to Bergen, where he carried on business. The composer’s mother, Gesine Hagerup, belonged to a pure Norwegian peasant family; and it is from the mother rather than from the father that Edvard Grieg derived his musical talent. She had been educated as a pianist and began to give her son lessons on the pianoforte when he was six years of age. His first composition, “Variations on a German melody,” was written at the age of nine. A summer holiday in Norway with his father in 1858 seems to have exercised a powerful influence on the child’s musical imagination, which was easily kindled at the sight of mountain and fjord. In the autumn of the same year, at the recommendation of Ole Bull, young Grieg entered the Leipzig Conservatorium, where he passed, like all his contemporaries, under the influence of the Mendelssohn and Schumann school of romantics. But the curriculum of academic study was too narrow for him. He dreamed half his time away and overworked during the other half. In 1862 he completed his Leipzig studies, and appeared as pianist and composer before his fellow-citizens of Bergen. In 1863 he studied in Copenhagen for a short time with Gade and Emil Hartmann, both composers representing a sentimental strain of Scandinavian temperament, from which Grieg emancipated himself in favour of the harder inspiration of Richard Nordraak. “The scales fell from my eyes,” says Grieg of his acquaintance with Nordraak. “For the first time I learned through him to know the northern folk tunes and my own nature. We made a pact to combat the effeminate Gade-Mendelssohn mixture of Scandinavism, and boldly entered upon the new path along which the northern school at present pursues its course.” Grieg now made a kind of crusade in favour of national music. In the winter of 1864–1865 he founded the Copenhagen concert-society Euterpe, which was intended to produce the works of young Norwegian composers. During the winters of 1865–1866 and 1869–1870 Grieg was in Rome. In the autumn of 1866 he settled in Christiania, where from 1867 till 1880 he conducted a musical union. From 1880 to 1882 he directed the concerts of the Harmonic Society in Bergen. In 1872 the Royal Musical Academy of Sweden made Grieg a member; in 1874 the Norwegian Storthing granted him an annual stipend of 1600 kronen. He had already been decorated with the Olaf order in 1873. In 1888 he played his pianoforte concerto and conducted his “two melodies for strings” at a Philharmonic concert in London, and visited England again in 1891, 1894 and 1896, receiving the degree of Mus.D. from the university of Cambridge in 1894. He died at Bergen on the 4th of September 1907.

As a composer Grieg’s distinguishing quality is lyrical. Whether his orchestral works or his songs or his best pianoforte works are submitted to examination, it is almost always the note of song that tells. Sometimes, as in the music to Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, or in the suite for stringed orchestra, Aus Holbergs Zeit, this characteristic is combined with a strong power for raising pictures in the listener’s mind, and the romantic “programme” tendency in Grieg’s music becomes clearer the farther writers like Richard Strauss carry this movement. Grieg’s songs may be said to be generally the more spontaneous the more closely they conform to the simple model of the Volkslied; yet the much sung “Ich liebe dich” is a song of a different kind, which has hardly ever been surpassed for the perfection with which it depicts a strong momentary emotion, and it is difficult to ascribe greater merits to songs of Grieg even so characteristic as “Solvejg’s Lied” and “Ein Schwan.” The pianoforte concerto is brilliant and spontaneous; it has been performed by most pianists of the first rank, but its essential qualities and the pure nationality of its themes have been brought out to their perfection by one player only—the Norwegian pianist Knudsen. The first and second of Grieg’s violin sonatas are agreeable, so free and artless is the flow of their melody. In his numerous piano pieces and in those of his songs which are devoid of a definitely national inspiration the impression made is less permanent. Bülow called Grieg the “Chopin of the North.” The phrase is an exaggeration rather than an expression of the truth, for the range of the appeal in Chopin is far wider, nor has the national movement inaugurated by Grieg shown promise of great development. He is rather to be regarded as the pioneer of a musical mission which has been perfectly carried out by himself alone.

See La Mara, Edvard Grieg (Leipzig, 1898).