Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 16 (1868)
Solo piano, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings.
Edvard Grieg’s beloved Piano Concerto was the product of a particularly happy period in the Norwegian composer’s life. In 1867, Grieg and his wife, Nina, were married. The following April, their daughter, Alexandra, was born (Alexandra died in 1869 from meningitis). In the summer of 1868, Edvard, Nina and Alexandra Grieg traveled to Søllerød, located near Copenhagen. The Grieg family vacationed in a rented cottage. There, Edvard Grieg composed the A-minor Piano Concerto.
The premiere of the Concerto, which took place in Copenhagen on April 3, 1869, was generally well received by the Norwegian press. One critic viewed the work, which incorporated Norwegian folk idioms, as presenting “all Norway in its infinite variety and unity,” and compared the second movement to “a lonely mountain-girt tarn that lies dreaming of infinity.”
In early 1870 in Rome, Grieg met the great Hungarian pianist and composer, Franz Liszt. During one visit, Grieg presented the score of the A-minor Concerto to Liszt, who played through the work, often shouting his approval. As Grieg related: “Finally, (Liszt) said in a strange, emotional way: ‘Keep on, I tell you. You have what is needed, and don’t let them frighten you.’” Liszt did suggest some changes to the score, finally published in 1872. Grieg was never totally satisfied with the Concerto, and continued to pen revisions until the time of his death. Despite the composer’s misgivings, the Grieg A-minor remains one of the most popular of piano concertos.
The Concerto is in three movements. The first (Allegro moderato) features one of concert music’s most famous and dramatic openings. The second movement (Adagio) opens with an extended introduction spotlighting the muted strings. This precedes the entrance of the soloist, whose presence dominates the remainder of this brief and affecting slow-tempo movement. The finale (Allegro moderato molto e marcato) begins with a short introduction that anticipates the soloist’s presentation of the main theme—a jaunty rhythmic passage based upon a Norwegian folk dance known as the halling. The flute initiates a lovely contrasting interlude, but the spirited halling motif soon returns. After another virtuoso cadenza by the soloist, the principal dance theme is transformed from the duple-time halling to a triple-time springdans. The closing pages present the orchestra’s majestic transformation of the interlude, accompanied by the soloist’s grand flourishes.
Program Notes by Ken Meltzer © 2019