EDVARD GRIEG was a fiercely proud Norwegian who embraced his role as a leader in the movement to foster a national identity for Norwegian music.
“Norwegian folk life, Norwegian sagas, Norwegian history and above all Norwegian nature have had a profound influence on my creative work ever since my youth,” Grieg wrote in 1900 to an admiring music historian from America.
Yet Grieg routinely lost confidence in his Norwegian-inspired music when it was slighted by patronizing foreign critics, usually Germans, who thought of his works as charming but provincial.
In 1874, immersed in a challenging project to provide incidental music for Ibsen’s epic play “Peer Gynt,” Grieg complained to his closest friend, Frants Beyer, a lawyer and amateur pianist, that working on the score was excruciating. In a letter, Grieg called the rousing and melodramatic orchestral and choral episode “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” “something that I literally can’t stand to listen to because it absolutely reeks of cow pies, ultra-Norwegian-ness and trollish self-sufficiency.” A melancholic, moody man and a thoroughly decent colleague to composers he considered greater talents, he was his own toughest critic.