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)