The composer

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on 15 June 1843. During his life, he gained worldwide recognition as a composer. Although small in stature, he had a great artistic heart that beat for justice, truth and solidarity. He sought to build up a strong national Norwegian culture by refining Norwegian folk music. Today, many Norwegians, and many foreigners, consider Grieg’s music to be an integral part of Norway’s national identity.
Grieg’s yearning for freedom
Had Grieg been alive today, in a country that has just celebrated the centenary of its independence from Sweden, in a country that has a completely different position in the world than it did at the end of the 1800s, his longings and musical vision would in all likelihood have been different. However, Norway was a poor country in Grieg’s lifetime, in many ways comparable to those countries that today desire to break out of unions with other countries. It is this yearning for Norway’s freedom that moulded Grieg as a composer.

Grieg the Romantic
Grieg considered himself a Romantic, a child of his time. Even though Ibsen and Bjørnson had both turned towards Realism at the end of the 1880s, Grieg believed that it would be weak or cowardly for him to suppress his Romanticism. Like all Romantics, Grieg was a mystic. He sought out beauty – beauty in nature, and beauty in truth. Building on his German, Schumanesque schooling and his vision of painting pictures of Norwegian nature in his music, he found his mystical palette in Norwegian folk music’s hidden harmonies. These formed a dream world in which he searched for the Norwegian identity. He claimed that there was a mysterious connection between his own use of harmonies and the Norwegian folksong tradition. In the dark depths of Norway’s folk songs he found, “as if by chance”, a wealth of undiscovered harmonic opportunities. Grieg was thus able to create a completely new harmonic perspective that was unique in European music for a long time, and on which both Debussy and Bartôk based their work.

The role of music in society
Grieg strongly believed in the importance of music in society. He held free concerts for labourers and the poor on several occasions, and after one of the concerts wrote, “This evening represents the fulfilment of the dream of my youth: that, just like in ancient Greece, art should reach out to all, precisely because it… communicates from heart to heart. […] May art belong to the people!”. Grieg claimed that there was no upper or lower class in art, and that art could therefore have a educating effect on society.

Although Grieg stood by his calling as a Romantic, he was still interested in modern developments, and was afraid of being left behind: “I would not say that I am afraid of either Life or Death, but there is one thing of which I am afraid: noticing that I am getting old … that young people are undertaking adventures whose purpose I do not understand. In short, I am afraid of the possibility of not being able to feel what is true and great in the spiritual outposts, which advance as we age. I therefore have an instinctive urge to know all of the shadows of the spiritual world, now more than ever.”

The objective of Grieg 07
Grieg 07 aims to revitalise Grieg’s heritage. Rather than dwelling on facts about Grieg’s life and the strict framework of his musical scores, it is inviting young musicians and other artists to consider Grieg’s music from today’s aesthetic perspective.

As Grieg himself said:

Yes, if there is one person who is right, it is a young person. I will even go further and say that only the young person is right. Therefore, if we want to have a right to live, we need to commit ourselves to feeling young.

Send this article to a friend  
Print version

Edvard Grieg, 1907Photo: Foto E. Bieber / The Grieg Archives / Bergen Public Library

Norway - the official site in the UK / Contact the Embassy / Contact information
© 2003/2007