Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway in 1843. He studied piano from the age of six, and by his late teens he had enrolled in the Conservatory at Leipzig. His music was a synthesis of traditional German harmonic theory, and Norwegian elements, such as modal melodies and Hardinger Fiddle. He died in 1907.
Grieg’s only piano concerto was written in 1868 while he was vacationing in Søllerød, Denmark. While the form is standard for a concerto – fast, slow, fast – many of the details differ. Grieg’s strength was in melodic variation and thematic transformation rather than motivic development. His melodies incorporated many elements of Norwegian folk song.
The first movement is introduced by a timpani roll leading to the defining descending flourish on the piano. The first theme is introduced almost immediately in the 7th bar. It is comprised of two alternating ideas: the first quite rhythmic and the second lyrical. Here, a departure from double-exposition sonata form is seen. Instead of repeating the exposition with the piano, the piano simply alternates with the orchestra in the presentation of the themes throughout. The second theme is beautiful and lyrical as the piano and horn interweave their melodies in the relative key of C major. The development explores the ideas from the first theme, showing them in different guises, colors, and orchestrations. Quietly, the recapitulation begins with a piano dominated return of the first theme. In typical sonata-allegro form, the second theme is recapped in A major, the parallel key of the first theme. The cadenza presents the first theme with a fast arpeggiated accompaniment followed by a grandiose variation using massive chords interspersed with fast bass runs. The first movement ends with a return of the opening flourish speeding to a powerful conclusion.
The D-flat major second movement is almost a polar opposite of the first. The harmonic material is alternately dark and heart-wrenchingly beautiful. The first theme is a beautiful melody in the piano interrupted by a trill which leads to the next note. The second theme is grand and soaring, using deliberately played chords in the piano accompanied by a more flowing orchestral scoring. Snatches of the first theme return to close the movement.
The third movement begins with a flourish before rapidly presenting the famous first theme. The main theme is varied and orchestrated several different ways before climaxing after a short cadenza. Suddenly a beautiful second theme is presented by the flute with tremolo harmonies in the strings. The piano then takes the theme and beautifully presents it with depth and emotion, finally drifting into silence. Suddenly material from the introduction appears, preparing for the reappearance of the first theme in the piano. The ideas and variations from the first part of the movement are recapped followed by a cadenza. The cadenza morphs into the first theme; however it has been transformed into ¾ and A major, the parallel key of the original. The second theme reappears, as grand and magnificent as it was beautiful before. A timpani roll underscores a series of tutti chords which punctuate the final cadence.
Bromberger, Eric. “Sommerfest 2008 – Grieg’s Piano Concerto Program Notes.” 19 July 2008. Minnesota Orchestra. 21 October 2010 <http://www.minnesotaorchestra.org/programnotes/Jul-2008_Grieg.pdf>.
Grout, Donald Jay, J. Peter Burkholder, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music, 8th Edition. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010.
Horton, John and Nils Grinde. Grieg, Edvard. n.d. 25 September 2010 <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/11757>.
Wikipedia Contributors. Edvard Grieg. 20 September 2010. 25 September 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edvard_Grieg>.
Wikipedia contributors. Piano Concerto (Grieg). 9 September 2010. 25 September 2010 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grieg_piano_concerto>.