This exquisite piece put a spring into my step this Monday morning. Below is the first of a suite of 5 movements written by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Based on eighteenth-century dance forms it was written to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dano Norwegian humanist playwright Ludvig Holberg. The Holberg Suite was originally composed for the piano, but a year later was adapted by Grieg himself for string orchestra. It is an attempt to echo as much as was known in Grieg’s time of the music of Holberg’s.
Edvard Grieg is considered one of the main Romantic era composers. 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 who has already featured here with his phenomenal Finlandia Op.26. Edvard Grieg was raised in a musical family. His mother was his first piano teacher and taught him to play when he was aged six. He studied in several schools and eventually studied at the Leipzig University, but he unsatisfied with the course stating ‘I left Leipzig Conservatory just as stupid as I entered it. Naturally, I did learn something there, but my individuality was still a closed book to me.“
After undergoing some life threatening illnesses namely, lung diseases, pleurisy and tuberculosis in 1860 he made his debut as a concert pianist in Karlshamn, Sweden which included Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata. In 1867 Grieg married his first cousin Nina Hagerup a lyric soprano (pictured left).
On 6 December 1897, Grieg and his wife performed some of his music at a private concert at Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria and her court.
Grieg was awarded two honorary doctorates, first by the University of Cambridge in 1894 and the next from the University of Oxford in 1906. Edvard Grieg died at the Municipal Hospital in Bergen, Norway, on 4 September 1907 at age 64 from heart failure. He had suffered a long period of illness. His last words were “Well, if it must be so.” His funeral drew between 30,000 and 40,000 people to the streets of his home town – the city of Bergen, to honor him.