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Keyboard Kids Companion: May/June 2017

Edvard Grieg: Romantic Period Composer

  • Born: Bergen, Norway 1843
  • Died: Bergen, Norway 1907

  • Famous works: 
  • Concerto in a minor
  • Peer Gynt Suite
  • Lyric Pieces for Piano

Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born into a wealthy family in Norway on June 15, 1843. He had a brother and three sisters. He started piano lessons at the age of six with his mother, and he began composing at age nine.

Edvard did not like school. He worked out a trick to miss classes. Walking more than two miles to school meant often walking in his town's frequent rains. But he didn't try to stay dry. He tried to get as wet as possible by standing under a rain spout! When he entered the classroom dripping wet, he was sent home to change clothes. One day when it had hardly rained at all, he showed up soaking wet. He was caught! After a spanking, he didn't try that trick again.

Edvard's aunt married a famous violinist named Ole Bull. Bull later recommended him to the best music conservatory in Europe, the Leipzig Conservatory, when Edvard was fifteen.

He had a happy marriage with his wife, Nina, but their only child, Alexandra, died when she was just thirteen months old. His wife was an excellent pianist and had a beautiful singing voice. Edvard was very happy to hear her sing the songs he composed. They traveled to many cities in Europe to play concerts. Sometimes they performed together. Even though he was invited many times, he never traveled to America because he was afraid of seasickness.

Grieg worked as a pianist, conductor, composer, and music critic. His music was very popular during his lifetime. He was welcome wherever he went, and he met many famous people. Grieg was one of Queen Victoria of England's favorites, and he played for her at Windsor Castle. Grieg was friends with famous composers Percy Grainger, Johannes Brahms, and Franz Liszt. Liszt gave Grieg lots of encouragement for his work. Liszt also wrote a letter to the Norwegian government recommending that they pay Grieg for his work, and the government began paying him an annual income.

During most of Grieg's lifetime, Norway struggled for independence; the country was a subject of Sweden until two years before Grieg died. Grieg composed using folk melodies from Norwegian songs and dances. He is credited with helping the Norwegian people feel they had their own identity. He often composed keeping in mind the beautiful forests, mountains, streams, and fjords of Norway. Many referred to him as the "Chopin of the North" because of his piano style and beautiful melodies. Grieg's music has been used in advertisements, movies, television programs, rock songs, and even cartoons!

Grieg loved nature, eating oysters, and walking in the mountains. He loved animals. He always went to the zoos in cities he visited, and he had lots of pet birds in his home. Some of his compositions, such as his "Nocturne" for piano and "Morning Mood" from Peer Gynt, have sounds like bird calls.

Edvard and his wife built a home near Bergen, and called it "Troldhaugen" (Small Troll Hill). He wrote many of his famous compositions in a small hut he built on the property.

Edvard Grieg died September 4, 1907. The boats in Bergen harbor flew flags at half-mast on the day of his funeral. At noon, all the church bells rang. More than 30,000 people lined the streets to watch the funeral procession. His wife Nina walked behind, and as they left the funeral service, a band played Chopin's Funeral March for Edvard Grieg, known as the "Chopin of the North."Mr. and Mrs. Grieg were buried in the mountainside near Troldhaugen.


History from 1843, the year Edvard Grieg was born

Ask the teachers...

Question: I finished learning and memorizing my piece for the Spring recital. Why should I go back to reading the music? Won't this make me forget how to play it from memory? And do I really need to practice slowly when I already know how to play it fast? 

Answer: It's wonderful that you are prepared and feeling confident before the recital! For many students, the hardest part of the journey toward a performance isn't getting the repertoire in good shape, but keeping it there. It's tempting to play through your piece over and over once you know it. But let's think about it this way:One page of early intermediate music can have hundreds of details. Many pitches, rhythms (notes and rests), fingering numbers, dynamic markings, slurs, staccatos, and more must be remembered. How likely is it that we can remember all of those details correctly every time if we never review the page?Re-reading what we already know, preferably in sections, helps us to refresh our memory and catch errors that may creep in. The same goes for practicing slowly. After reviewing slowing with the music open, it's important to re-test memory and full tempo. But playing through fast every time can cause us to collect stumbles and missed details, which can turn into habits we don't notice

Imagine your Mom making a favorite treat that has lots of delicious ingredients. She has made it dozens of times. So, she should prepare it in a big hurry, and she doesn't need to measure anything, right? Wrong! In order for that treat to turn out the way you've always liked it, she needs to take her time so that she can think clearly and avoid mistakes, she must measure carefully, and she should double-check the recipe. Be sure to treat your recital piece with the same care and attention to detail: practice slowly, in sections, continue counting, and read your music. Good luck, and have fun! 

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