Piano Concerto in A minor Op.16 (Grieg)
The Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 by Edvard Grieg was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of Grieg's most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.
The work is in three movements. A closer examination of all 3 movements follows:
Allegro molto moderato
The opening motive of the a minor concerto (A, A #G E) has taken it's standing as the typical Grieg Motive. The motive, a falling minor second followed by a falling major third, is found in many of his works, but it is used to best effect here, in the opening cadenza of the a-minor concerto.
After the magnificent opening, Grieg introduces the main theme characteristically in the orchestra. The first two measures of the theme are set in A minor, while the next two are identical - though transposed up to C major. In the exposition, this theme is initially displayed as a theme of much rhythmic vigour and agility, but it soon swells into long, romantic phrases. In the bridge between the first and second subjects, the piano bounces around to the rhythm of a Norwegian peasant dance, setting the scene for the lyrical second subject. The second subject is displayed, beautifully, in the 'celli - initially in major, subsequently in minor.
In the development of his material Grieg shows great mastery, creativity and imagination. Towards the end of the movement expectations are built up to their maximum to prepare for the grand cadenza and when it arrives, Grieg lets the cadenza leap from a completely unexpected harmonic cliff. Despite the surprise, leap and landing are both pulled off masterfully.
The adagio is a lyrical, song-like slow movement of much grace and tenderness. One might feel compelled to describe this movement as musical still-life, because it seems to suspend time. The entire movement runs at a basic tempo - the composer has obviously been quite confident in his material here.
Allegro moderato molto e marcato
This movement is called in by weak, but rhythmic winds before the piano bounces onto the stage with its theme inspired by the Norwegian peasant dance. The music has a character reminiscent of Hardanger fiddle music due to the obsessive employment of the interval of an open fifth. The second theme is reminiscent of the first, but the presentation creates a large contrast - the lyrical melody of the flute might remind one of the composer's own Morgenstemning from the stage music for Peer Gynt. When the recapitulation arrives, it arrives with full force, and the movement is lead to a thrilling conclusion.
Robert Schumann's piano concerto
Grieg's concerto is often compared to the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann — it is in the same key, the opening cadenza is similar, and the overall style is considered to be closer to Schumann than any other single composer. Grieg had heard Schumann's concerto played by Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1858, and was greatly influenced by Schumann's style in general, having been taught the piano by Schumann's friend, Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel. Compact Disc recordings often pair the two concerti.
Norwegian folk music
- See also Edvard Grieg and Norwegian folk music.
Additionally, Grieg's work provides evidence of his interest in Norwegian folk music — the opening cadenza is, as noted above, based around the motif of a falling minor second followed by a falling major third, which is typical of the folk music of Grieg's native country.
The work is among Grieg's earliest important works, being written in 1868 in Søllerød in Denmark, during one of Grieg's visits there to benefit from the climate, being warmer than that of his native Norway.
The concerto was first performed on April 3 1869 in Copenhagen featuring Edmund Neupert as soloist. Regarding the première of the work, Grieg was unable to attend it owing to commitments with an orchestra in Christiania (now Oslo). Among those who did attend the première were the Danish composer Niels Gade and the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein. The Norwegian première in Christiania followed on August 7, 1869, and the piece was later heard in Germany in 1872 and England in 1874. The work was first published in Leipzig in 1872.
Grieg revised the work at least seven times, usually in subtle ways, but amounting to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. In one of these revisions, he undid Franz Liszt's suggestion to give the second theme of the first movement (as well as the first theme of the second) to the trumpet rather than the 'celli among other changes. The final version of the concerto was completed only a few weeks before Grieg's death, and it is this version that has achieved worldwide popularity. The original 1868 version has been recorded, by Løve Derwinger, with the Noorköping Symphony Orchestra under Jun'ichi Hirokami.
- Free study score on IMSLP
- Listen to a MIDI realization of the concerto on Kunst der Fuge
- An excellent recording of the concerto on Amazon, featuring celebrated pianist Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist
- Dahl, Erling Edvard Grieg, En Introduksjon til Hans Liv og Musikk ISBN 978-82-419-0418-9