Edvard Grieg – Holberg Suite Op 40

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg originally composed his Holberg Suite, Op 40 for piano in 1884.​ Later that year he adapted the suite for string orchestra to celebrate the 200th birthday of Dano-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg.

Much of Grieg’s music was influenced by his love of Norway’s mountains and Norwegian folk music however in the Holberg Suite he created a suite of five movements based on 18th century French and Italian dance forms.

According to Bjarte Engeset this suite, officially titled Fra Holbergs tid, Op. 40 (direct translation: From Holberg’s Time), “was an exercise in ‘concealing his own personality’. He had worked especially hard to find his own voice; now he needed to adapt to completely different styles—as if donning a Rococo wig!”

The Holberg Suite movements:

  1. Praeludium (Allegro vivace)
  2. Sarabande (Andante)
  3. Gavotte (Allegretto)
  4. Air (Andante religioso)
  5. Rigaudon (Allegro con brio)

Getting to know Edvard Grieg

Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born on Thursday June 15, 1843 on the ‘lively shopping street of Strandgaten” in Bergen – a small, busy Norwegian town.

The fourth of five children born into a ‘bourgeous’ family, Grieg’s education naturally included music. His father, Alexander, had inherited a successful family business trading in dried fish and lobster. Growing up in this environment influenced Grieg’s development as a composer and according to Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek, Grieg claimed “There is both cod and coalfish in my music.”

Edvard Grieg

​Grieg’s mother, educated at the musicconservatory in Hamburg, was a singer and respected pianist. So it is not surprising Grieg showed a strong interest in music, and for the piano as instrument, from a very early age.

The summer of 1885 saw “the most important single event” in Grieg’s life with a visit by his uncle, celebrated violin virtuoso Ole Bull. ​Bull (dubbed the “fairy-tale god” by Edvard) was so impressed hearing Grieg play his own compositions he convinced Grieg’s parents to send him to Leipzig “to become an artist”.

At 15 ​Edvard Grieg was sent to study at Europe’s foremost conservatory in Leipzig. There he attended every orchestra rehearsal at the Gewandhaus concert hall spare time allowed. He is said to have later reminisced: “It was a delight to hear so much splendid music. It refined both my spirit and my musical sensibilities.”​

Despite developing pleurisy while in Leipzig, resulting in a collapsed lung and lifelong damage and ill-health, he graduated with exceptional results in 1862.

Grieg the composer

In 1861 ​Edvard Grieg gave his first concert in Karlshamn, Sweden before moving to Denmark’s capital. In Copenhagen he socialised with well know composers including Gade, his first great idol. During this time he also met the Norwegian composer Rikard Nordraak, whose love of everything Norwegian rubbed off on Grieg.

In 1867, after a three year engagement - and against the wishes of both families - ​Edvard Grieg married his cousin Nina, whom he met during his time in Denmark. The couple moved to Kristiania (Oslo) where Grieg earned a living as a piano teacher and conductor. It was here, in 1868, where his daughter Alexandra was born. In that same year he also composed his Piano Concerto in A minor which placed him firmly on the map as one of the greatest composers of his time.

The loss of his daughter to meningitis at just a year old saw the couple transition to a nomadic life travelling around Europe until Edvard left Nina in 1883.

It was shortly after this separation Grieg composed Fra Holbergs tid, Op. 40.

You can find more detail on ​Edvard Grieg’s later life here:  Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek

​Book your tickets for the STEEL CITY STRINGS performance of ​​Edvard Grieg’s wonderful Holberg Suite Op 40 originally written for piano and later adapted for string orchestra by Grieg himself.​ This beautiful suite is the opening performance for the Steel City Strings Strings with Voices program - an exciting collaboration with con voci

June 23 - Wollongong Art Gallery 7.30pm ​details >

June 24 - Burrawang School of Arts 2pm ​details >

July 1     - The Pavilion Kiama 2pm ​details >