Grieg is by far the finest composer Norway has ever produced, and arguably the most popular of all Scandinavian composers. His music is habitually ranked in the higher echelons of classical hit lists but, to many, he is known only as a one-hit-wonder.
The Piano Concerto became Grieg’s calling card since its composition in 1868, championed by such diverse figures as Franz Liszt and Percy Grainger. Although the piece (particularly the first movement) has become mercilessly parodied, the beauty and simplicity of the melodic line is audible throughout, with wonderful piano writing and balanced orchestration in all three movements.
Almost equally popular are the two suites drawn from his incidental music for Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, and although this music is again overplayed, movements such as Aase’s Death challenge even the most hardened cynic not to respond emotionally. Grieg’s smaller-scale pieces dominate his musical output, and the outstanding Lyric Pieces form an interesting musical description of Grieg’s personality, his intense patriotism and nostalgia. Since his death, Grieg remains a national hero in Norway, and for many, his music offers an ideal introduction to classical music.