In April 1888, Edvard Grieg was contacted by Knut Dale, who requested that the composer aid him in an effort to notate some of the slåtter, or folk dance tunes, that he was known for performing on the hardanger-fiddle. The hardanger-fiddle was regarded as the national instrument of Norway at the time. These folk dance tunes, most of which had been passed along for many generations, were passed to Dale from another fiddler, Torgier Augundsson, who was also known as Myllarguten, or The Miller's Boy. Augundsson often performed at Bull's National Theater in the town of Bergen in 1850. Grieg was not initially eager about the project due to the certain difficulty of transcribing this traditional style of folk music. Yet he decided to arrange for the preservation of these folkdance tunes because he feared that they would be forever lost in later times. The composer contacted the Norwegian violinist Johann Halvorsen in October of 1901 requesting that he spend time with Dale, in order to notate a number of the slåtter. Grieg would then transcribe the folk dance tunes for solo piano. By the end of the year, Halvorsen had completed the transcription of 17 of Dale's best folk dance tunes. Grieg spent almost an entire year working on arranging Halvorsen's work for piano, to produce his Norwegian Dances (1902).
Norwegian Dances was published in its two versions, Halvorsen's for violin and his own for piano, in one volume at Grieg's insistence. The composer also insisted that it be made clear that his transcription for piano was based on Halvorsen's work. Both versions also include information on the extensive background of the folk dance tunes. Although the material for this work was conceived of originally by Grieg, it is nevertheless an important step in his musical development, as well as in the course of the early twentieth century. In fact, in 1906, the work made quite an impression on the young Impressionist musicians of Paris, who referred to it as "the new Grieg."
The first of these folk dance tunes for piano is "Havard Gibeon's Bridal March," which is rhythmically strict throughout. The next of the tunes, "Jon Vestafe's Sprindans," can be described rhythmically as being bouncy. Jon Vestafe, according to legend, was suspected of murder and at his trial he asked for just one wish, to play one slått. He played so amazingly that he was immediately set free. The sixth slåtter, "Myllarguten's Gangar," is very complex rhythmically with confusing patterns of accenting and slurring. The eighth folk dance tune is "Myllarguten's Wedding March," a somber song which was written by Augundsson for a former love interest who left him to marry someone else. Arguably the finest piece of the cycle is the 11th slåtter, "Knut Lurasen's Halling II." It is the most stylistically varied of the entire set of folk dance tunes. The 13th folk dance tune contains the most dissonant passages of the composition, but also has very tender sections. The final slåtter transcription ends the work fittingly in a stately, nationalistic manner.