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June 15 composer birthday: Edvard Grieg

June 15 composer birthday: Edvard Grieg featured image

Grieg captured the sweeping, epic landscape of Norway in his music

Edvard Grieg trained as a pianist, and was one of the leading Romantic composers of the era. Like many composers of this time, he wanted to integrate music of his homeland to create a sound unique to his country of Norway. As a result, Norwegian music became recognized internationally, and helped develop a national identity, much as Sibelius did for Finland, and Dvorak did for Bohemia.

Grieg’s influence these days can be heard in his “Hall of the Mountain King”, which has been used in various media, such as radio and TV, both in programming and commercials, as well as film. Piano students will have played many of his piano gems, such as “Arietta”, “Butterfly”, and “Nocturne”, the last of which I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of, as I’ve heard it played, um, not super musically so many times in competitions and by students I’ve taught as a sub (as I can’t bear to teach it myself). It reminds me of a slow bus trying very hard to get up a steep hill. And not succeeding.

The “Piano Concerto in A minor” is what Grieg is best known for – a lush, heart-felt work, with heart-on-sleeve melodies. The opening features a dramatic timpani roll and an arresting chord on the piano with a flourish of an opening statement. The cadenza (flashy piano solo) at the end of the first movement is one of my all-time favourites. A true pianist will make it sound like the greatest piano concerto ever written, and, like the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, if the audience doesn’t clap after the first movement, the pianist will wonder if he or she wasn’t exciting enough.

Emil Gilels was a legendary Russian pianist, with a full, rich, satisfying sound. The cadenza I was referring to starts at 9:35. The way Gilels plays it, it gets more and more exciting, and just when you think it can’t possibly be more so – it’s even MORE exciting.

Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born June 15, 1843 in Bergen, Norway, and died September 4, 1907, also in Bergen.

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