Remembering Edvard Grieg in Leipzig

Edvard Grieg gained his formal musical education in the Saxon city of Leipzig, but only in recent years has it been possible to visit the peaceful little room, for many years in fallen into disrepair, where Grieg, as the guest of his publishers CF Peters, often came to work. Grieg Society of Scotland committee member, Eva Tyson, tells us how the Grieg-Gedenkstätte – the museum to Grieg’s memory created around the room, was opened by one of our Norwegian members, Henning Warloe.

Grieg Memorial Centre, Leipzig, is opened
Grieg-Gedenk- und Begegnunsstätte (Grieg Memorial Centre, Leipzig) was formally opened in the former premises of CF Peters, Grieg’s chief publishers, in 2005 (image courtesy of Eva Tyson)

We always think of Grieg steeped in the Norwegian landscape with deep roots in Norwegian culture and folklore. We forget the influence that contemporary European music had on his musical development, in particular his stay in Leipzig.

Leipzig conjures up Auerbach’s cellar and Goethe’s Faust, but Grieg’s destination was the Conservatory of Music, founded by Felix Mendelssohn. Today Grieg’s name can be found on the list of notable alumni such as Delius and Janáček, which makes me question Debussy’s description of Grieg’s music as ‘a pink bonbon filled with snow’. In fact some authorities detect Grieg’s influence on some of Debussy’s work.

Edvard Grieg age 19
Edvard Grieg, at the age of 19, graduating from the Leipzig Conservatory (image courtesy of Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek)

Grieg arrived in Leipzig in September 1858 as a young fifteen-year old and did not enjoy the Conservatory. His fellow students joked about his short stature, however they soon realized that short or not, he towered over them in his music studies. His teacher in theory and composition Moritz Hauptman said in his report that Grieg should be ‘counted among the best students in composition’. But although Grieg received a thorough grounding in the traditional elements of composition, his interest in unconventional harmonies was frowned upon by his tutors. All in all he found the tuition tedious, dry and uninteresting.

Hauptmanns anbefaling
Leipzig Conservatory teacher Moritz Hauptmann’s prophetic summary of the young student Grieg’s achievements : ‘he has… earned a very respectable degree and training that promises the best results’ (image courtesy of Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek)

It was the vibrant and exciting musical life in Leipzig that inspired the young Grieg. The Gewandhaus orchestra was a magnet for Europe’s best virtuosi to get a chance to play new works. Opera was another source of inspiration and the first year in Leipzig, Grieg attended every performance of Wagner’s Tannhȁuser. He heard Clara Schumann play her husband’s piano concerto and he also met Tchaikovsky and Brahms. While he was stimulated and energized by romantic composers such as Schumann and Mendelssohn, his teachers lambasted this ‘modern music’.

Grieg completed his studies in Leipzig in 1862, returned to Bergen and then later moved to Copenhagen where he was to meet his future wife Nina. However he kept in touch with his publishers in Talstrasse 10 and visited Leipzig several times and the publishers made a flat available to him ‘above the shop’. It was here that he composed Peer Gynt Suite n1 in 1888.

Grieg-Gedenstätte plaque
Talstrasse 10 : ‘Grieg often stayed here from 1876 until the year of his death, accompanied by his wife, the singer Nina Grieg, as a guest of his publishers. Here, in 1888, was composed his famous Peer Gynt Suite n1’
CF Peters publish Grieg
A typical CF Peters title page from ‘Talstrasse 10’ where Grieg was a guest of company partner Dr Max Abraham and later also Abraham’s nephew Dr Henri Hinrichsen (image: Mons Graupius)
Grieg-Gedenkstätte opening 2005
Henning Warloe (a member of the Grieg Society of Scotland) speaking at the opening ceremony of the Grieg Memorial Centre, Leipzig 2005 (image courtesy of Eva Tyson)

During the Communist regime of Eastern Germany, the house fell into disrepair, but the good news is that the flat is now a Grieg museum. It was opened officially by among others a member of our Society Henning Warloe, a Bergen Local Authority Commissioner. The museum features concerts, where Grieg used to play excerpts from his new compositions to his publishers.

Grieg’s stay in Leipzig was pivotal, it shaped and moulded him into the first Norwegian composer of international standing.

Author : Eva Tyson (Committee Member, The Grieg Society of Scotland)

Aberdeenshire community names garden after Edvard Grieg

Our Honorary Director was delighted to be invited along this month to the opening of a very special community garden in the village of Rathen, Aberdeenshire. Inventively named by the children of the local primary school, the garden celebrates the community’s deep-rooted links with Norway and an exciting family connection with composer Edvard Grieg.

North East Scotland was enjoying one of those bonnie summer days with blue skies, barely a breeze, and birds that canna help but sing, when our Honorary Director arrived at the peaceful village of Rathen – kindly invited there by the staff and children of Rathen Primary School, to attend a grand ‘opening’!

Rathen Primary School
Rathen Primary School

‘Aye, foos it gaun?’ [hvordan går det?] came the cheerie cry as folks came up the brae, assembling not far from the kirkyard where composer Edvard Grieg’s paternal ancestors lie buried. It was a grand morning. But what none of us expected as we wandered by the granite school building, was the beautiful, neatly planted garden which greeted us, and the beautifully choreographed opening ceremony which followed.

A colourful Scottish-Norwegian greeting
The children create a colourful Scottish-Norwegian greeting for their garden guests

Invited to sit round a neat fence and carefully cut patch of grass, we had much to admire – early tatties in neat rows, birds at the bird feeders, borders full of blossoming begonias, and an abundance of bushes and trees providing a natural sheltering hedge.

Waiting for the children at the Opening Ceremony 07 June 2018
Waiting for the children at the Opening Ceremony 07 June 2018.

Settled, or rather, gently squeezed into our appointed places, we waited as an impressively long line of schoolchildren filed by, and sitting row by row, filled the deep green grassy space before us until it became a waving sea of blue jumpers and happy faces.

This was going to be fun!

A hush descended over the gathering as the youngsters delivered their speeches of welcome and thanks. The Grieg Society of Scotland, along with representatives from Aberdeenshire Council, were warmly welcomed, as were the two most important guests of the day – Mr and Mrs Greig, who farmed by the village, and who had kindly gifted the land to the community for the purposes of making this excellent and educational garden.

Mr & Mrs Greig open the garden
Mr & Mrs Greig open the garden.

Mr Jim Greig, whose folks had farmed in the district for generations, had ‘aye thocht’ he was related to Edvard Grieg, and so it was, with this musical and family link in mind, the children had chosen a special and thoughtful name for their fertile plot. Proudly announcing the opening of ‘Grieg’s Healthy Hedge Community Garden’ (a name we feel sure will blossom in many ways!) there came a vote of approval too, as a worm, the cause of great wriggling and hilarity, suddenly made its appearance amidst the children on the grass – a ‘healthy’ sign indeed!

After a tree was planted and a ribbon cut, it was back to the village hall for a ‘fly cuppie’ and a ‘fancy piece’, all rounded off with a song – spoken in Scots, sung in Norwegian – from our Honorary Director who much enjoyed her day in the garden with Grieg!

Mr & Mrs Greig – still farming close by Edvard Grieg’s ancestral home

Skotsk – Norsk
Aye, foos it gaun? – hvordan går det?
Tatties – poteter
Aye thocht – alltid tenkte
Fly cuppie – en hastig kopp te eller kaffe
Fancy piece – et lite kakkestykke

Author: Dr Sally LK Garden