Grieg – Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op. 16

by Max Derrickson

Edvard Hagerup Grieg   (b Bergen, June 15, 1843; dBergen September 4, 1907)

Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op. 16
1. Allegro molto moderato
2. Adagio
3. Allegro vivace


On April 3, 1869, Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto was premiered by the Norwegian pianist Edmund Neupert in Copenhagen to immediate success.  Neupert wrote to his friend Grieg, who could not attend the premiere, “On Saturday your divine concerto resounded in the great hall of the Casino.  The triumph I achieved was tremendous.  Even as early as the cadenza in the first movement the public broke into a real storm.”  The famous Franz Liszt also became a great fan of the 25 year old‘s concerto, remarking that young Grieg had the “stuff” of a great composer.  Rachmaninov, who kept Grieg’s concerto as one of the relatively few pieces in his repertory, remarked on how wonderfully pianistic and beautiful it was.


And so on has the praise for this exceptional concerto continued for more than a century as a nearly perfect concerto.  It is concise and yet abounds with exquisitely rich themes    [. . .]


Discussions of Grieg’s music inevitably link his inspirations to the Norwegian countryside in which he spent his entire life.  Certain are the characteristic sounds of Norwegian folksong in so many of his works.  And to imagine the craggy, wild fjords ofNorway, or the distinct “dragon style” architecture of a Norwegian country town half dipped in theArctic Circle, seems inescapable when listening to Grieg.  More noticeable, perhaps, are the conspicuous hearkenings to Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin (and sure indebtedness to Liszt), composers with whom he had great respect.   [. . .]


As does Schumann’s Concerto, Grieg’s opens with a wonderfully exclamatory introduction,   [. . .]


The second movement Adagio comes in perfect balance, soft and pastoral, as a lovely improvisational lullaby.  Exquisite is its sense of calm and lyricism, with moments of such magical wonderment.


The finale Allegro is essentially in two parts, the first being a generous helping of a fancied up “halling,” a regional Norwegian dance that requires exceptional athleticism,   [. . .]


It’s impossible to hear Grieg’s Piano Concerto and not feel its infectious vitality and delicate warmth.  Another of Grieg’s early admirers, Tchaikovsky, described his music aptly: “there prevails a fascinating melancholy which seems to reflect in itself all the beauty of Norwegian scenery, now grandiose and sublime in its vast expanse, now gray and dull, but always full of charm . . . and quickly finds its way into our hearts to evoke a warm and sympathetic response . . . If we add to this that rarest of qualities, a perfect simplicity, far removed from affectation and pretense . . . it is not surprising that everyone should delight in Grieg.”