Grieg, Edvard, 1843-1907
- Existence: June 15, 1843 - September 4, 1907
The dedication of “celebrated Norwegian composer,” hints to a period of Grieg’s life beginning in 1864. Having grown up a middle class Norwegian family in the mid 1800’s, Grieg spoke Dutch, and all his cultural heritage would have resulted from the 400 year occupation of Norway by Denmark. And although this occupation ended in 1814, it only resulted in a new occupation of Norway, this time by Sweden. To further separate Grieg from his Norwegian identity, he was sent to the Leipzig Conservatory to study music. This naturally resulted in his compositions baring the unmistakable sound of their German influence. It was in 1864 that a series of meetings occurred resulting in Grieg’s newfound nationalism, and a need for the composer to express these ideals in his work. The first of these meeting occurred with the violinist Ole Bull, the man who originally recognized the talent of Grieg and made the suggestion that he go to Leipzig. During the summer of 1864, Grieg went to visit the violinist at Osterøy where they not only performed classical works together, but where Bull performed music he had collected from Norwegian peasant culture. This marks the first time Grieg hear any native music of his homeland. Later that year, Grieg met with the composer Rikard Nordraak who was working with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson to produce incidental music for the dramatist’s Sigurd Slembe; all texts were in Norwegian. Not only was Nordraak promoting nationalism in his music, but he was also working to establish a Norwegian national school of music, a school where the people of Norway could be taught the true music of their country free from Dutch, Swedish, and German influence. So inspiring was Nordraak’s fight to establish a national identity through music, that Grieg found the need to support the cause in his music as well. Grieg’s first attempts at national music were songs with Norwegian texts written by Bjørnson. As his career continued he would eventually set the texts of Ibsen and Arne Garborg. Grieg’s instrumental music also began to incorporate folk song material much of which Grieg would have heard on the Harbinger Fiddle, an instrument native to Norway. During the 1890’s, the time that this letter was written, Grieg continued to incorporate folk idioms in characteristic miniatures like Gjaetergut (‘Herdboy’) and Klokkeklang (‘Bellringing’) from the fifth set of Lyric Pieces op.54, as well as in the folksong variations for two pianos op.51, the 19 Norske folkeviser for piano (on folksongs collected by Beyer in the Jotunheimen mountains) op.66, the children’s songs op.61 and, most distinguished of all, the Haugtussa song cycle op.67, on poems by Arne Garborg.