Mercury Orchestra


Notes on the composers and the pieces

Edvard Hagerup Grieg

Edvard Hagerup Grieg: Piano Concerto

Edvard Hagerup Grieg (1843–1907) was born in Bergen, Norway. His father, an amateur  musician, worked in business and government. His mother was an accomplished pianist and her son’s first piano instructor. At the urging of Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, Grieg attended the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied composition with Carl Reinecke. His piano teacher was Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel, a friend of Clara and Robert Schumann, who planted an enthusiasm for Schumann’s music in the young man. Grieg was not happy at the conservatory, but he emerged well schooled in the German Romantic tradition. He also heard many concerts, most notably Clara Schumann’s performance of her husband’s Piano Concerto. After graduation in 1862, he moved to Copenhagen where he studied with Danish composer, Niels Gade. More telling was his work with Bull and Norwegian composer Rikard Nordraak, who instilled in him a love for Norwegian classical and folk music, fomenting the ambition to “create a national form of music, that could give the Norwegian people an identity” (following the analogous courses of Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov). He reveled in Nature, and much of his music reflects the  landscapes, waterfalls, and storms of Norway. “To paint Norwegian nature...folk-life...history, and... folk-poetry in music is...something in which I believe I can succeed.”

Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor (1868) and his later incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt helped certify his international fame. He wrote the Concerto for himself, but scheduling conflicts sent the 1869 premiere to Edmund Neupert. While in Rome that same year, Grieg showed the work to Liszt, who was highly impressed. Grieg revised it several times over the years, completing the final version just before he died. Though the work reflects the influence of Schumann and that composer’s own Piano Concerto, also in A Minor, it is full of Norwegian folk-like melodies. These are all original and have a distinct impact on the work’s modal harmonies. Grieg’s impressions of Nature are emotional and Romantic, yet cleanly defined.  Many of the stormy passages are probably literally storms, not just pyrotechnics. The famous opening, with its falling minor second and major third typical of Norwegian folk music, can be heard as a great waterfall. One of the first movement’s attractions is the seven distinct and attractive ideas. The Adagio is quietly rapturous. The lively finale is based on a Hallingdans, a Norwegian folk dance.


—Roger Hecht

Roger Hecht plays trombone in the Mercury Orchestra, Lowell House Opera, and Bay Colony Brass (where he is the Operations/Personnel Manager). He is a former member of the Syracuse Symphony, Lake George Opera, New Bedford Symphony, and Cape Ann Symphony. He is a regular reviewer for American Record Guide, contributed to Classical Music: Listener’s Companion, and has written articles on music for the Elgar Society Journal and Positive Feedback magazine. His latest fiction collection, The Audition and Other Stories, includes a novella about a trombonist preparing for and taking a major orchestra audition (English Hill Press, 2013).

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