Despite the fact that Ludvig Holberg (1684 - 1754) lived most of his life in Denmark and was considered the father of Danish literature, his birthplace was Bergen, Norway, and for the bicentenary of his birth, Norwegians celebrated heartily. Even as a resident of Denmark, Holberg recalled in his works his childhood and celebrated the time that he spent there. Made a baron in 1747, his was an imposing reputation. Educated at the universities of Copenhagen and Oxford, Holberg's writings are regarded as having established Danish as a literary language. Prior to his time, Danish was employed only in ballads and hymns; plays were presented in French or German. Besides more than a dozen successful plays (several of them comedies), he wrote a history of his adopted country and published a collection of philosophical treatises.
Notwithstanding his stronger relationship to Denmark, Norwegians were pleased to acknowledge Holberg, and Grieg, also a Bergen native, was one of those who directed the planning for the event. As early as 1878, he contributed a fee from his publisher to the erecting of a Holberg statue in Bergen. Further, he wrote two works, the first for male voices, a Cantata for the Unveiling of the Holberg Memorial, and a second (of more lasting consequence) entitled From Holberg's Time: Suite in Olden Style. Grieg himself, a more than capable pianist, premiered the piano suite just days after the dedication of the memorial. Its great success led Grieg to score it for string orchestra the following year. Both versions enjoy enduring popularity.
The suite in five sections was intended by Grieg to recall the dance suites from Holberg's lifetime, which corresponded to the period of the Baroque. The Praeludium which opens the work is a section of such simple radiance that it imprints itself unforgettably on the listener's consciousness. The contrasting Sarabande moves soberly, reflectively, and with unfailing elegance. The Gavotte which forms the third section trips beguilingly over the course of its three minutes, yielding to the Andante religioso tempo of the Aria. The final section, a Rigaudon, returns the listener to the buoyant mood of the beginning prelude. Through each of the five sections, the level of invention is matched by a refinement and purity of feeling that marks this as among the most cherishable short works of the late nineteenth century.