The seven works that constitute Edvard Grieg's Fourth Book of Lyric Pieces, published as Op. 47 in 1888, were composed from 1885-88. By mid-1885, Grieg had reconciled with his wife Nina, and together they built a home outside Bergen at Troldhaugen ("Valley of the Trolls"). This would serve as home to the Griegs for the rest of their days. Once completed, the considerable expense of building this elaborate house would drive Grieg back to his worktable. In these years he shaped the First Peer Gynt Suite from his incidental music of 1874-5, revised his cantata Oleg Trygvason, and completed his Third Violin Sonata for the violinist Adolf Brodsky.
It was at Brodsky's in Leipzig on New Year's Day, 1888 that Grieg enjoyed lunch in the company of fellow composers Johannes Brahms and Peter Tchaikovsky. Also in Leipzig, Grieg met the young English composer Frederick Delius; the two became fast friends, and Delius rejoined Grieg at Troldhaugen for the summer of that year. In May, Grieg traveled to London where he performed his A minor Piano Concerto for the last time. Joyous news arrived in the form of a letter from Grieg's publisher Max Abraham with C.F. Peters; Abraham agreed to assume the remaining debt on Troldhaugen and pay it off, relieving Grieg of the responsibility of having to raise the funds to do so.
It was in this stimulating atmosphere of settling-in, reinvigorating his romance with Nina, cleaning up old business, and acquainting himself with his peers that Grieg composed the Fourth Book of Lyric Pieces.
He saved many of his freshest ideas for this set; immediately established through the bitter melodic tinge of the opening "Valse-Impromptu," almost bi-tonal in its constant tension between the E major melody in the right hand against the E minor tonality in which the piece is rooted. "Albumblad" (Album-leaf) has an ecstatic quality that is reminiscent of somewhat later works of Scriabin. "Melodie" is stated over a grave, minimal, and insistent quarter- and eighth-note figure (in 6/8 time) which is sometimes voiced only in bare fifths for long stretches of bars. In "Halling," a setting of a traditional duple-time Norwegian dance, the bare fifths in the accompaniment return decorated by dissonant passing tones. The melody is likewise peppered with dissonant grace notes and adjacent pitches; at one point Grieg achieves a minor ninth in the melody. "Melancoli," marked Largo, is somber, as indicated by the title, and largely serves to provide thematic contrast between the "Halling" and "Springdans" (Spring or Leaping Dance) which follows. The "Springdans," a triple time Norwegian dance, is similar in approach to the "Halling"; Grieg adds huge leaps in the left hand to the treble register and some tricky triplet figures in the right. The concluding "Elegie" centers around a drooping chromatic melody that is harmonized by thirds in the manner of Massenet's Elegie. Perhaps an ending more respectable than ideal in this context, this piece is nevertheless haunting in its own distinctive way.