Grieg was the most prominent Scandinavian composer of his generation and a great leader in Norwegian art music. He was particularly skilled in lyrical melody-writing, for which he drew on both Nordic folksong and the Romantic tradition. His piano concerto remains a staple of the piano repertoire.
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway. From the age of six, he learned to play the piano with his mother. He was brought up in a middle class family in which Danish language and culture prevailed. The turning point in his musical education was when the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull visited the Grieg family and heard young Edvard playing, persuading them to send him to study in Leipzig, which he did. In Leipzig Grieg studied piano with Wenzel and Moscheles and composition with Reinecke. As a young musician, Grieg was highly impressed by the performances he heard at the Gewandhaus, such as Wagner’s Tannhauser and Schumann’s Piano Concerto performed by Clara Schumann.
After graduating from Leipzig, Grieg had great success in Copehagen where he was encouraged by the Danish composer Niels Gade. Grieg also met the writer Hans Christian Andersen. His Hjertets melodier (‘The Heart’s Melodies’) op.5 was based on Andersen’s poems and this was Grieg’s first work that is written in such a personal style.
In the mid-1860s, Grieg began to learn more about Norwegian folk culture. Ole Bull and Rikard Nordraak taught him some Norwegian folk melodies that were previously unknown to him, having grown up far removed from Norwegian peasant culture. The experience enlivened a newfound Nationalism in him. He composed Humoresker op. 6 for piano in 1864, his first piece in the Norwegian folk idiom, which he dedicated to Nordraak. From that point forward, Grieg saw a new direction for his work – to follow the path of Romantic Nationalism.