Grieg, Edvard Hagerup


"The most familiarly known and affectionately regarded of living composers," wrote Lawrence Oilman of Grieg. Four months later this composer was no more, and all musiclovers felt an almost personal loss in the death of the gifted man who was recognized everywhere as the chief exponent of Norway's national spirit in music. His great grandfather was a Scotchman, Greig by name, who settled at Bergen, Norway, and in a generation or two the spelling of his name had changed to suit the adopted nationality. Edvard Grieg was born at Bergen in 1843. His father was the British consul there; his mother, formerly Gesine Hagerup, came of a prominent Norwegian family, and was an accomplished pianist. From the age of six Edvard received piano lessons from her and attempted composition at nine in the form of variations on a German melody. A journey with his father at the age of fifteen through the beautiful scenery of his native land made such an impression on him that he desired to become a painter; but by the advice of Ole Bull, then visiting Bergen, to whom Edvard's mother showed some of the boy's work, he received instead the education which was to make him a master of painting in tones. In 1858 he entered the Conservatory at Leipsic, where he was placed under the instruction of Moscheles and Wenzel in piano, Richter and Moritz Hauptmann in harmony, and Rietz and Reinecke in composition. The restrictions of Moscheles, who had no admiration for Chopin, Schumann or the Romantic school of music in general, were chafing to the young enthusiast, who was in thorough sympathy with the objects of this master's dislike. However, in spite of discouragement he worked on, graduating in 1862 and winning a moderate commendation for some small compositions performed during the school's closing exercises. The next year Grieg went to Copenhagen, attracted chiefly by his admiration for Gade, then living in that city, which was at that time the musical center of Scandinavia. Here he soon met Gade, who was an exponent of the school of Mendelssohn, and later Hartmann, and was influenced by them to some extent, though, contrary to the usual statement, he never became a pupil of the former. An intimate friendship sprang up between Grieg and Rikard Nordraak, a rising young composer, who infused into his comrade an enthusiasm for the formation of a new Scandinavian school of music, and brought him to a clearer understanding of his own ability. Nordraakdied in 1866, before he had had time to make his own mark, and his mantle fell upon Grieg. In 1866 Grieg removed to Christiania, where in 1867 he married his cousin, Nina Hagerup, to whom he had been engaged some three years, and the same year founded a choral society, which he conducted alone until about 1874.

Grieg's first effort to arouse an interest in national music was by giving concerts with programs made up exclusively of Norwegian compositions, but it took several years and a certain amount of recognition from outside to win the prophet any honor in his own country. The honor did come, however, and more quickly than it has done in the life of many other gifted composers; for in 1874, eight years after his settlement in Christiania, the Norwegian government allotted him a pension ample enough to enable him to devote his entire time to composition. In 1870 he had visited Italy for the second time, at the invitation of Liszt, then in Rome, and enjoyed much of the great pianist's society, which not only stimulated him to still more earnest endeavor but increased his reputation. About this time, too, his acquaintance with Bjornsen and Ibsen was of great benefit, and his music to the latter's Peer Gynt elicited an expressed desire from the writer for music to an opera, the libretto of which he promised to furnish. Bjornsen began the libretto to Olaf Trygvason, which he himself had proposed to Grieg with enthusiasm; but after the first act was completed he, like Ibsen, failed to keep his word. This first act was produced three years later as a concert number, and the   fickle Bjornsen, excited with admiration of the music, seized the opportunity to end the estrangement which had resulted from his conduct. Grieg never therefore wrote an opera. From 1874 to 1880 he traveled much, playing his own piano concerto at a Gewandhaus concert in 1879, and visiting France, Holland and Denmark, as well as Germany. In 1888 he visited London, where he played  his piano concerto at a Philharmonic concert, and conducted his Zwein Melodien for string orchestra. He also appeared in a private recital with his wife, who was the first to interpret his songs to the world, and so charmed the listeners that the two were induced to appear again in joint public recital, and also in the Popular concerts. Grieg thus appeared in the " quadruple capacity of composer, conductor, soloist and accompanist." His reception by the English was scarcely less warm than that of his own countrymen; it would seem that they felt something akin to Jiheir own national spirit in the straightforward, hardy little Norseman. He visited England again in 1889, 1894, 1896, and finally in 1906. The honorary degree of Doctor of Music was conferred upon him by Cambridge in 1894, and by Oxford on his last visit in 1906. It was his intention to be present at the Leeds Festival in the autumn of 1907, but death frustrated his plans. In 1880 he had again settled near Bergen in the villa of Troldhangen. This lovely mountain home of his later years was a quiet and happy one. He had no children, his only daughter having died in infancy, but his wife was a perfect helpmate for him. The damp climate was, however, hard on Grieg's health; he had only one lung, and three years before his death friends became alarmed at his condition. As late as 1904 he played in chamber concerts at Stockholm, Sweden. He was always greeted with enthusiastic applause at such appearances, although 'prevented by his health from frequent playing in public. American managers besieged Grieg with lucrative offers, but the dread of an Atlantic voyage and of the effects of a New World tour upon his health led him to decline them all. In 1906, on his way to England, he conducted the Bohemian Orchestra at Prague, and the Concert Gebouw Orchestra at Amsterdam; and in London a program of his compositions was performed under his own baton by the Queen's Hall Orchestra.

It is a melancholy fact, now generally recognized by writers on Grieg's work in composition, that the peculiar condition of his health was the most important reason for his not producing music in the larger forms. His best work was done between the ages of twenty and thirty; and this, as has been observed, was enough to make the world indebted to him. In his thirty-first year he received the government pension, but it was then too late for the results hoped for. From that time the quality of his work never reached the freshness and vigor of his earlier and more original compositions. While his music reflects the natural characteristics of his native land to such an extent that Finck has compared "a trip through Grieg's music" to a first tour through the scenery of Norway, the same writer calls our attention to the fact that his actual use of ready-made folk-tunes is limited. He states that out of seventy of Grieg's works there are only three in which the composer has incorporated Norwegian melodies, and that a study of the country's folk-song and of Grieg's predecessors in composition will convince one that he is a genius of genuine originality. Of Grieg's failure to compose in the larger forms and the consequent denial of his right to a place in the first rank by some critics, he says, after ridiculing the idea of " measuring genius with a yardstick," "A painter can give us his best quite as well in a canvas a foot wide as in one that covers a whole wall." Von Billow's well-known comparison of Grieg to Chopin has been much discussed by various writers. He is most nearly akin to the Polish tone-poet in these respects: that he embodied in tones most faithfully the national spirit, and that his music has made for itself, even during his lifetime, an especial place in the hearts of the world of music-lovers. This, with the predominance of the poetic and imaginative over the purely intellectual, constitutes the chief resemblance between two composers of very different temperaments and modes of living. As a song-writer, Finck, whose statements are rendered more authoritative by his personal correspondence with the composer, wavers between Grieg or Franz as being entitled to the place second to Schubert. As a writer for orchestra, also, his horizon is wider than that of Chopin. As to his originality, when his works first began to be performed, his modulations and harmonies were considered bold and striking in the extreme, but in the present state of modern composition, the qualities in his   music which impress the intelligent listener are more especially delicacy and refinement. Grieg himself was fully conscious of the combination of strongly contrasting elements which his music presents grace, melancholy, grotesque humor, a roughness which is almost brutal at times, and in some of his works, mystery. This last is noticeable in the melodrama Bergliot, and in the Peer Gynt suite, probably most widely known of all his works.

The composer's wife accompanied him on his concert trips, and gave with him a limited number of recitals of his songs in Christiania, Copenhagen, Rome, Leipsic and Paris, as well as in London; but she was not classed as a professional singer, and it would seem that Grieg himself did not realize that her talent was of such a high order till she had passed her prime. Although, had her appearances been more frequent, she could have made her husband's songs much more widely known; yet perhaps her most important contribution to music was that she inspired him to his best efforts, as it was for her that the finest of his songs were composed. Death came to Grieg unexpectedly. He was in Bergen, intending to sail for Christiania on the third of September, and had already had his baggage placed on board the steamer, when he was seized with sudden illness and taken to a hospital, where he passed away the following day. The world-wide esteem in which the composer was held was attested by many memorial concerts of his works which were given after his death in the United States as well as in Europe. As to Grieg's personal appearance, we quote the description taken from the diary of Tschaikowsky, written when the composer was about forty-five years of age: "A very short, middleaged man exceedingly fragile in appearance, with shoulders of unequal height, fair hair, brushed back from his forehead and a very straight, almost boyish beard and mustache. There was nothing very striking about the features ... it would be impossible to call them handsome or regular, but he had an uncommon charm, and blue eyes, not very large, but irresistibly fascinating, recalling the glance of a charming and candid child." Another writer has said: "Grieg's face is intelligent and very handsome, with long grayish hair, thrown back, smooth shaven chin, short, thick mustache, small, full nose, and eyes superb, green-gray, in which one can fancy one catches a glimpse of Norway with its melancholy fjords and its luminous mists. His gaze is serious, wonderfully soft, with a peculiar expression, at once worn, tentative and childishly naive. The entire effect is of kindness, gentleness, candor and' sincere modesty." Among Grieg's principal compositions are Autumn Overture; piano concerto; the melodrama, Bergliot; music to Sigurd Jorsalfar; the Peer Gynt music; the violin sonata, in F major, holding a position among the few great violin sonatas; the piano sonata; many lyric pieces, including To Spring, The Butterfly and the Erotik poern; and the characteristically Norwegian pieces, spring dances, March of the Dwarfs, Kobold, Evening in the Mountains, Norwegian dances and folk-songs, and peasants' dances. Other representative works of Grieg's are the Holberg suite for piano, which is also scored for orchestra; the Aus dem Folksleben, or Sketches of Norwegian Life, comprising On the Mountain, Norwegian Bridal Song, Carnival, and the well-known Bridal Procession; the cello sonata; and numerous songs, among which may be named The First Primrose; The Princess; The Odalisk, possessing a genuine Oriental character; The Youth; The Wounded Heart; The Minstrel's Song; Solvejg's Lied, a distinctly Norwegian work; By the Riverside; A Fair Vision; Springtide; On the Way Home; The Old Mother; Friendship; I Love Thee; The Mountain Maid; The Tryst; Love; An Evil Day; Cradle Song; and the Wood Wanderer. Grieg's numbered works are seventy-four in all; twenty of these are made up of numerous lyric pieces, romanzas, ballades, tonepictures, album-leaves, humoresques, etc., for piano, exclusive of the sonata and the concerto already mentioned, the many transcriptions of Norwegian melodies, of Grieg's own songs and others, and the four-hand arrangements of orchestral music and other duets. There is also a romance and variations for two pianos. The songs comprise nineteen works, besides a song cycle, Haugtussa, choruses for mixed and male voices, and three single songs, two of which, The Princess and The Odalisk, have been named, the third, an Ave in B flat. Four of the songs are set to words by Hans Christian Andersen, and one set consists of seven children's songs. There is a cantata, At the Convent Door; a string quartet, and several melodies and dances for string orchestra; beside some Norwegian dances for orchestra; the funeral march and others already mentioned. An album leaf in E minor for piano, a second piano part to four of Mozart's  sonatas, and some of the song transcriptions for piano, are without numbers.