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15-Minute Music Lesson on Grieg and Peer Gynt
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Who was Edvard Grieg?
Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway in 1843. He began playing the piano as a child with his mother as his first teacher. When he was 15 he met an important Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who recognized Edvard’s talent and persuaded his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory, which was in Germany. He studied piano and organ there but felt like it didn’t really grow him as a musician or composer.
At age 17 he had two life-threatening lung diseases, pleurisy and tuberculosis. He would have poor health for the rest of his life. When he was 18 he began traveling in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) as a concert pianist.
He married Nina, a lyric soprano, when he was 24 years old. They had one child who died as an infant.
Greig had begun composing by this point. He wrote pieces such as Violin Sonata No. 1 and his Piano Concerto. Then, he decided to write music for Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt after Ibsen requested it. Music written for a play is called incidental music. This is the music that Edvard Grieg became most well-known for.
Grieg later became Music Director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from 1880 to 1882.
Some composers that Grieg met during his lifetime and who influenced him were Franz Liszt and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. In 1897, Grieg and his wife performed some of his music at a private concert at Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria and her court.
Grieg was able to record some of his piano music on a gramophone in 1903, and we still have those recordings today!
In addition to the music I already mentioned, Grieg also wrote three violin sonatas, a cello sonata, the Holberg Suite, and songs in which he used lyrics written by the poets Heinrich Heine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, and others.
He died of heart failure in 1907.
Story of Peer Gynt
Since Edvard Grieg’s most famous music was written for the play Peer Gynt, let me tell you the story of that play. It’s based on a Norwegian fairy tale. The main character is a man named Peer Gynt who travels from the mountains of Norway to the African desert.
Peer isn’t an honorable hero. Time after time, he makes unwise, immoral, and illegal choices. After attending a wedding and kidnapping the bride, he’s being chased. The next part of the story takes place in his dreams when he has passed out after running into a rock.
He comes across a woman clad in green, who claims to be the daughter of the troll mountain king. Together they ride into the mountain hall, and the troll king gives Peer the opportunity to become a troll if Peer would marry his daughter. He declines, and for the rest of his life, he never faces the truth about himself.
When he wakes he meets Helga who gives him food and regards from her sister, whom Peer likes. Since Peer is now an outlaw, he is living in the mountains. He thinks the lady he likes comes to be with him, but it’s actually the daughter of the troll mountain king in disguise. Confronted by all his past sins and bad choices, he runs away to north Africa where he continues a sinful lifestyle.
Years later, he returns home as an old man and recognizes all that he has squandered in his life: his unsung songs, his unmade works, his unwept tears. And, he meets the troll king, who states that Peer has been a troll, not a man, for most of his life. There is no redemption for Peer and the plays ends tragically.
The play Peer Gynt was first performed in in February 1876 in Christiania (which is now called Oslo and is the capital city of Norway). It was performed with original music composed by Edvard Grieg that includes some of today’s most recognized classical pieces, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and “Morning Mood” which we will now listen to!
Listen to In the Hall of the Mountain King
As you listen and watch the video, notice how the musical piece gets louder and faster as it progresses.
Listen to Morning Mood
At the beginning the woodwind instruments flute and oboe interchange solos.
You’ll see which is playing with this next video:
Printable Pack for the 15-Minute Music Lesson on Grieg and Peer Gynt
In the printable pack, you find the following 9 pages to help you with the 15-Minute Music Lesson on Grieg:
- Edvard Grieg biography notebooking page
- Answers for Edvard Grieg biography notebooking page
- Maps of Europe and Norway
- Label the country of Norway
- Color Scandinavian flags
- Theme and Variations activity page
- Listening map for “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
- Flute and Oboe pictures
- Color the Norwegian lemming
Or, Get a Free 3-page Sample Here:
Books About Peer Gynt for Further Learning
Related Posts of other Composer Studies:
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Aaron Copland
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Johann Strauss Jr.
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Gilbert and Sullivan
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Dvořák and African American Spirituals
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos
- Free 15-Minute Music Lesson on Bach and the Fugue
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