The 1993 Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of His Birth

By Harald Herresthal

The observance of the 150th anniversary of the birth of composer Edvard Grieg in 1993 was Norway's largest ever cultural undertaking. A special committee was given the task of organizing and coordinating anniversary activities and events. Nationally, the objective was to make Grieg's music accessible to all age groups and backgrounds. On the international level, Norway set out to rekindle interest in a music great who was one of the world's most played composers during his lifetime.

Grieg had a genius ability to create perfect melodies rooted in the national folk tradition of Norway. 

He was an innovative harmonist and became a model for many European composers. The secret behind Grieg's world fame lay in his ability to create new piano music that could be played by amateurs in homes all over the world. 

Over the course of the 20th century Grieg's music faded from the minds of musicians and the public, and his popularity among the masses was often used against him. Grieg's most popular works were heard daily at spas, in cafes and as the accompaniment to silent films. In some circles he was regarded as nothing more than a composer of entertaining music. A few works nevertheless remained standing as standard works in the international concert repertoire. This was particularly true of the Peer Gynt Suite, the Piano Concerto in A Minor, the violin sonatas and selected songs and piano pieces. 

Against this background one of the most important tasks during the anniversary year was to present the full breadth of his production and show unknown sides of Grieg. 

When the Grieg Committee began its first soundings to find out which countries and institutions were interested in observing the 150th anniversary, they discovered that Grieg's name had a far stronger resonance than expected. "It was an experience to hear the tunes my parents played every day when I was a child," said one of the French concert organizers. His response explains why the anniversary assumed global proportions.

Grieg's piano works were brilliant teaching literature, and had, alongside Czerny's etudes, maintained their obligatory place in piano teaching throughout the entire first half of the 20th century. For many, the Grieg jubilee was a reawakening of old memories and forgotten musical experiences. To their surprise, the older generation had to admit that the music had not lost any of its freshness and ability to touch and gladden the hearts of audiences. For young people, the encounter with Grieg was a strong and intense experience because to them, Grieg's music was a new musical discovery. 

In Norway, a number of Grieg observances aimed at day-care centers and schools were organized, and all of the national music institutions staged various events. Abroad, concerts and conferences were scheduled in association with universities and music colleges. New books and articles brought to light new information about Grieg and his music. Many composers were also commissioned to write music for the anniversary and several national and international record companies decided to release complete recordings of Grieg's works. The release of historic Grieg recordings on CD had an impact on the discussion concerning the interpretation of Grieg. Many television and radio stations throughout the world made generous use of the many recordings made during the anniversary year. 

The Grieg anniversary committee has registered Grieg observances in 39 countries outside the Nordic countries, and in addition to the more than 1,000 Grieg events that took place were countless radio and TV programs. During the Grieg Week in Paris it was even possible to hear Grieg's music played over the loudspeakers at one of the underground stations. There were so many activities and events that at the height of the Grieg celebrations, the suggestion was even made in jest that 1994 should be a Grieg-free year. But neither 1994 nor the following year were Grieg-free. 

Quite to the contrary, new recordings of single and collected works are still being made. Moreover, the teaching project "Grieg in the Schools" was so successful that it has taken on a life of its own. 

Originally, the program was aimed at Norwegian schoolchildren, but as an experiment it was brought to Berlin, where it was called "Grieg in der Schule." In 1996, more than 1,000 children in Berlin took part in the program, which in addition to Grieg's music provides general information about Norway. Other countries have expressed an interest in using this special school project. 

The effect of the Grieg year is perhaps most evident at Grieg's home, "Troldhaugen," which following the construction of a concert hall and new Edvard Grieg Museum, has been equipped to deal with the international influx of visitors. In the course of a single morning during the summer months, as many as 4,000 people from all over the world come to Troldhaugen, brought here by the desire to experience the music of Norway's greatest composer. Concert performances of Grieg's music have accordingly become an important part of Troldhaugen museum's offerings to the public. 

Interest in Edvard Grieg and his music is not only manifested in the heightened interest in his home. 

The rediscovery of Edvard Grieg in the international music arena has prompted a number of groups and individuals to form Grieg societies. This was part of the reason Bergen Municipality, Hordaland County, Friends of Troldhaugen and The Oslo Grieg Society joined forces to found The International Edvard Grieg Society, in order to coordinate and create a worldwide "Grieg network." 

(The address is Troldhaugveien 65, N-5040 Paradis, Norway. Tel. +47 55 91 07 10, fax: +47 55 91 13 95.) 

The existing Grieg societies have different activity and ambition levels. There are now Grieg societies in Oslo, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, London, Boston, New York and Tokyo. Some of them work quietly and are more like private clubs, while others try to be a broad professional forum for Norwegian music. In November 1996, in connection with the publication of Grieg et Paris, a Grieg society will be founded in the French capital. The Oslo Grieg Society staged a successful competition for young composers in 1995 that drew a large number of international participants and is planning new competitions in the years to come. The German Grieg society in Münster (Deutsche Grieg-Gesellschaft) organized its first Edvard Grieg Days in May 1996 with concerts and lectures, with a new conference planned in 1997. 

It was therefore important to establish an international Grieg society in Bergen to coordinate and inspire the formation of new Grieg societies, which have bloomed spontaneously since 1993. 

The first task of The International Grieg Society will be to serve as a central source of information on new research findings, provide information about new recordings, and maintain contact with members and national Grieg societies through regular publications. A number of tasks beckon in the long term. There is a continuous need for written information about Grieg in other languages than Norwegian, and many of the national Grieg societies established will be able to contribute information and do research on the significance of Grieg in their countries. 

The Grieg network's objective will be to spread information about Grieg's music through the written word and music. But it is completely in keeping with the spirit of Grieg for the network not to limit itself to this work. Part of its job will also be to distribute information about Grieg's artistic attitude and perception of art. When he was abroad, Grieg always emphasized that he was an artist from Norway. He used himself and his music to show what Norway stood for in the cultural sphere. In Paris, the French flocked to the Salon to see Fritz Thaulow's winter pictures and Adelsten Norman's paintings of Norwegian fjords and mountains. Through Munch's playbills and Ibsen's plays, the public expanded their knowledge about this unknown, exotic country on the northern fringes of Europe. The qualities and potential strengths of Norway were further reinforced by the exploits of polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen in the Arctic Ocean. These experiences coalesced, evoking positive images of Norway when Grieg's spirited rhythms resounded in concert halls. Norwegian cultural achievements had a significant impact on Norway's reputation abroad. 

But Grieg was no chauvinist. He was completely dependent on impulses from abroad in creating a Norwegian style of music, and he urged Norway to keep up with international trends through regular performances of new works from other countries. 

The Grieg societies now being established abroad should therefore not only promote Grieg's music, but be a network and an instrument for disseminating knowledge about the entire spectrum of Norwegian music. 


Newer books in German, French and English on Edvard Grieg: 

*Bailie, Eleanor. 1994. The pianist's Repertoire. Grieg - A graded practical guide. London: Valhalla Publications. 

*Benestad, Finn og Dag Schjelderup-Ebbe. 1988. Edvard Grieg: The Man and the Artist, trans. Wiliam H. Halverson and Leland B. Sateren. Lincoln. 

*Benestad, Finn og Dag Schjelderup Ebbe. 1993. Der Mensch und Künstler. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel. 

*Benestad og Schjelderup Ebbe: Edvard Griegs Chamber Music. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. 

*Carley, Lionel. 1993. Grieg and Delius: A Cronicle of their friendship in letters. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Inc. 

*Brock, Hella. 1990. Edvard Grieg. Leipzig: Reclam-Verlag. 

*Edvard Grieg 1843-1993. Twenty-nine articles from the International Grieg Symposium in Bergen. 1993. Studia musicologica norvegica. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press. 

*Edvard Grieg à Paris. 1996. éd. Harald Herresthal et Danièle Pistone. Presses Universitaires de Caen. 

*Foster, Beryl. 1990. The Songs of Edvard Grieg. Hampshire, England: Scolar Press. 

*Harald Herresthal og Ladislav Reznicek. 1994. Rhapsodie Norvégienne. Les musiciens norvégiens en France au temps de Grieg. 

*Horton, John. 1974. Edvard Grieg. J.M. Dent Ltd, London. 

*Horton, John. 1989. Edvard Grieg. traduit de l'anglais par Piotr Kaminski. Librairie a Arthème Fayard. 

*Matthew-Walker, Robert. 1993. The recordings of Edvard Grieg. A tradition captured. 

Cornwall, England: DGR Books. 

*Oelmann, Klaus Henning. 1992. Edvard Grieg als Streichquartettkomponist. Essen: Die blaue Eule. 

*Oelmann, Klaus Henning. 1993. Edvard Grieg: Versuch einer Orientierung. Egelsbach: Verlag Hänsel-Hohenhausen. 

*Reisaus, Joachim.1988. Grieg und das Leipziger Konservatorium. Untersuchungen zur Persönlichkeit des norwegischen Komponisten Edvard Grieg unter besonderer Berücksichtigung seiner Leipziger Studienjahre. Dissertation. 

*Ladislav Reznicek.1993. Üeská kultura a Edvard Grieg. Hermes Praha - Biblioscandia Oslo. 

The author Harald Herresthal is a professor at The Norwegian State Academy of Music. 

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