On graduating from the Leipzig conservatorium in 1862 he did not immediately return to Norway, settling for three years in Copenhagen and continuing his studies with Niels Gade, Denmark’s foremost composer. Grieg was determined to write distinctive Norwegian music and made a study of Norwegian folk music and dance, incorporating their idioms into his own compositions. While in Denmark he fell in love with his first cousin Nina Hagerup, a soprano who was also living there, and they were secretly engaged. Both sets of parents were opposed to the union, Nina’s father telling her that “he is nothing, has nothing, and writes music no-one will listen to”. Despite this opposition they were married in 1867, and a year later Grieg completed the first draft of the piano concerto, the premiere taking place in 1869. Tragically the success of the work was marred by the death in the same year of the young couple’s only child, who died of meningitis at only one year of age. The concerto was the foundation of Grieg’s growing fame, and as a result of its success in Norway he was awarded a travelling scholarship by the Norwegian government. In 1870 he visited Liszt in Weimar, who to Grieg’s astonishment played through the concerto, complete with orchestral parts, at sight. He went on to suggest improvements to the orchestration which Grieg accepted at the time, but later removed towards the end of his life. In fact he revised the work no less than seven times, making more than three hundred changes in all. It has become one of the most popular and frequently played of all piano concertos and Tchaikovsky has described it beautifully in these words: “What charm of passion in his melodic phrases, what telling vitality in his harmony, what originality and beauty in the turn of his piquant and ingenious modulations and rhythms, in the rest what interest, novelty and independence.”
Enigma Variations, Op.36
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Edward Elgar was an introspective and deeply emotional man, subject to wide mood swings and feelings of inadequacy. He was of humble origins in a world where class and connections were all important, and as a practising Roman Catholic and self-taught composer he must have often felt himself to be an outsider in the late Victorian society in which he grew up. After his failure to establish himself as a violinist in the cut throat world of professional music in London, it must have seemed to him that he was destined to spend his life as a provincial music teacher, with at best a local reputation as a composer. His ambition to study in Leipzig had been thwarted by his family’s financial constraints and he was acutely conscious of his lack of the academic qualifications expected of a serious composer. He did succeed in visiting Leipzig in 1882 when he was 25, and was impressed and inspired by the quality of the music making he heard. While there he also met a young English violin student, Helen Weaver. They fell in love and became engaged. A year later the engagement was broken off. No reason is known for this, but it was probably due to his lack of prospects. There is strong evidence to suggest that Variation 13, marked by Elgar, Romanza ***, which includes a quotation from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, refers to her sailing out of his life on a ship bound for New Zealand. She settled in Wanganui. When he was 29 he began teaching Caroline Roberts, the daughter of a senior British Army officer. They formed a close relationship and three years later married. She was immediately disinherited by her horrified family. She was an exceptionally practical and capable woman, and as his social secretary and business manager, set about promoting her husband’s career - and she had the social connections to do so.