Edvard Grieg

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Grieg was born on Norway's fjord-coast in the same year that Leipzig's storied Konservatorium opened under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn. By the time Ole Bull, the Norse Paganini, persuaded Grieg's parents to send their gifted 15-year old there for instruction, Mendelssohn was already dead 11 years. His successors were solid, German-schooled academicians whom Edvard hated, and against whom he rebelled. Ever after, he made five years in Leipzig sound like a prison sentence. That he learned so much from allegedly hidebound and uncaring teachers validates the soundness of their instruction. Most notably, Grieg absorbed the salient stylistic traits of Mendelssohn and Schumann (who taught there briefly before moving to Dresden). Indeed, his Piano Concerto could be called Schumannesque (likewise in A minor) without invalidating its Scandinavian character or Lisztian flourishes. Despite posthumous scorn for Grieg's large solo oeuvre during much of the twentieth century, his natural habitat was the keyboard. Grieg composed this music in 1868 for himself to play; however, Edmund Neupert played the first public performance in Copenhagen on April 3, 1869.

    A government grant enabled Grieg to visit Italy in 1869, where he showed the work to Liszt at his residence near Rome. The kindly Abbé played it at sight with unconcealed pleasure (brilliantly, too, although for Grieg "rather too quickly" during the opening part). Liszt encouraged him to "go on, and don't let anything scare you," but tastelessly suggested that the second subject of the first movement be played by a trumpet instead of cellos. Grieg didn't restore it to the strings until his revision of 1905-1906.

    The concerto opens with a drum-roll and solo flourish, after which the winds play a simple, unsophisticated main theme that the piano preempts, and embroiders at length, Allegro, molto moderato. The cello subject (più lento -- a little slower) is contrastingly "soulful." Trumpets usher in the development, and later on the reprise. A solo cadenza comes just before the end. In the second movement, the key shifts from A minor to D flat major. This structurally uncomplicated Adagio in 3/8 time begins introspectively with muted strings. The piano rhapsodizes until a dramatically angular version of the main theme shatters the mood.

    Eventually, calm is restored, and a quiet ending leads without pause to the third movement another quick-but-not-too-quick movement in A minor, additionally marked marcato, whose structure combines sonata and rondo. The piano introduces a main theme based on the 2/4 rhythm of a Norwegian folk dance, the halling. The second subject is quirkier and more elaborate but no less folk-like. The solo flute initiates a tranquil episode, after which the main theme returns for extended development. A short solo cadenza precedes Grieg's long-delayed transition from minor to major for yet another dance, this one in 3/4 time at an accelerated tempo. During a final cadenza, Lisztian bravura blows away any lingering traces of Schumann.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro molto moderato
    2. Adagio
    3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646480401
    2016 Warner Classics 557828
    2016 Pentatone / PentaTone Classics PTC 5186566
    2016 Naxos 8578336-37
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4794631
    2015 Onyx Classics ONYX 4144
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMU 907629
    2015 Grand Piano GP 689
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902205
    2015 ABC Classics ABA 4768071
    2015 Decca 002369302
    2015 Sony Classical 88875075772
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    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 Centaur Records CRC 3311
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    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0956
    2013 Naïve AM 210
    2013 Alba ABCD 356
    2013 Cembal d'amour CD 171
    2013 BIS BIS 9044
    2013 ABC Classics 4810117
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