• Steve Moretti

Edvard Grieg

Norway's musical gift to the world keeps delighting new generations

His music is more well known than his name.

Edvard Grieg, born in 1843 in Bergen, Norway, is to that country what Shakespeare is to England - a national cultural treasure. To the rest of the world, his music still resonates in both classical music circles and across popular culture.

From video games like Paul van Geldrop's old-time favourite "Day of The Tentacles" to establishing shots in many Warner Bros. cartoons including Bugs Bunny to modern-day animation such as the Simpsons and the Family Guy, Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King stirs the imagination.

A wide range of artists has sampled the song, from the Who to ELO and beyond.

The family name ‘Grieg’ is derived from ‘Griogair’ from Clan Gregor or MacGregor in Scotland. Rob Roy McGregor was the most famous member of the clan. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Grieg’s great-grandfather, Alexander travelled widely and settled in Norway.

He established a business in Bergen, where Edvard would be born 73 years later. At the time Bergen was the largest town in Norway - 14,000 then, 280,000 now.


Young Edvard attended the Leipzig Conservatory of Music, started by Felix Medelsoohn the same year as Edvard was born. At Leipzig, he started is formal musical training but later he said he left the conservatory "as stupid as when I entered it."

Henrick Ibsen and Peer Gyntfive-act

On Christmas Eve 1865: Edvard Grieg, 22 years old, met the playwright Henrik Ibsen for the first time, in Rome. Henrick was 37 at the time and had voluntarily exiled himself to Sorrento, a year earlier. from Norway.

He would not return for 27 years, preferring Italy and Germany to Norway, even though his plays were mostly set in Norway. Ibsen was a prolific writer, and his plays were performed frequently - secondly only to Shakespeare in popularity. His play the Doll’s House became the world’s most performed play early in the 20th Century.

On January 23, 1874, while in Dresden, Ibsen wrote to Edvard. Ibsen has decided to turn his dramatic poem Peer Gynt into a stage work and he wants Grieg to write incidental music for it. The composer readily accepts.

Peer Gynt (Pear Kit) is a five act play in verse, written in Danish and loosely based on Norwegian folktales, but with a hyper-realistic characters. Hans Christian Anderson hated it, but others like the satire and mixture of realistic scenes with surreal ones.

February 24, 1876: Incidental music to Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (32) is performed for the first time, for a performance of the play in Oslo. Although neither author nor composer is present, it is an unqualified success. Says the composer of this music, “It reeks of cow turds.”

Grieg's wife once wrote: “The more he saturated his mind with the powerful poem, the more clearly he saw that he was the right man for a work of such witchery and so permeated with the Norwegian spirit.”

Edvard and wife Nina at their home in Trodhaugen

Edvard and Nina

Nina was Edvard’s first cousin. She was a Danish-Norwegian lyric soprano.

When he was 21 nd Nina about 18, they secretly engaged. Nina’s mother was not impressed. She told her daughter, “Edvard is nothing and he has nothing and he writes music that nobody wants to listen to.”

When he moved to Christiania (Oslo), Edvard introduces himself and his music to the city with a concert where he performs his own music with Nina Hagerup and Wilhelmine Neruda. The concert is very successful.

Nina and Edvard married when she was 21 in Copenhagen, four days before his Edvard’s 24th birthday. None of their parents were present. Not sure they were invited.

They were Unitarians - Christians who believe God is one person, not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The also believe in the eternal punishment of Hell.

In 1885 the family took up residence in Troldhaugen near Bergen, where Grieg was to stay for the next 20 years. His piano piece Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, taken from the Lyric Pieces, was written to commemorate his and Nina's own silver wedding anniversary.

His country estate Troldhaugen is now one of the city's most popular tourist attractions.

In 1995, a museum building was added to the estate, featuring a permanent exhibition of Grieg's life and music. In the villa’s living room stands the original Steinway grand piano, which he was given as a silver wedding anniversary present in 1892. Private and public concerts are frequently held at the estate.


Music used on Episode 3 of Musical Footprints:

1) Edvard Grieg - String Quartet no. 2 in F major 2) Ole Bull - The Herdgirl's Sunday 3) J.S. Bach - Fantasia in C major, BWV570 4) Edvard Grieg - Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak 5) Edvard Grieg - Piano Concerto in A minor 6) Edvard Grieg - Peer Gynth suite no. 1 - Morgenstimmung 7) Edvard Grieg - Holberg Suite - first movement 8) Edvard Grieg - Wedding Day at Troldhaugen 9) Edvard Grieg - I Love You