A boy named Edvard Grieg
Happy Notes – Happy Kids
Here is a picture of Edvard Grieg at the age of 11. Does he look like a famous composer? I don’t think so. I think he looks like an ordinary boy whose mother made him comb his hair because he was going to have his picture taken. He is a nice-looking boy, though, isn’t he?
A sneaky trick?
He looks like a boy who always behaved himself, but like most children, he sometimes was a little naughty.
He lived in Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway where it often rains. His school was about a mile from his home. One day when he arrived there, his clothes were so wet that his teacher sent him home to get some dry ones. He got to skip a couple hours of school with his teacher’s permission!
That gave him what he thought was a clever idea. Why not get wet on purpose? So, a few days later he stood under a downspout—a place where water was draining off a roof—and got soaked to the skin. It worked! His teacher sent him home to change clothes. So, he did it again and again.
One day, he came to school soaking wet when it wasn’t even raining, and then he got caught. So what was his punishment? He got what he called “an introduction to the percussion instruments.” What do you think he meant by that? (Hint: drums are one example of percussion instruments.)
An early interest in music
Edvard began to show an interest in music at an early age. There was a piano in his home, and one day when he was about 5 years old, he got curious about what kinds of sounds he could make on it.
He could barely reach up to the keyboard, but he began pressing keys, listening to the sounds they made. Not just one key at a time, but several keys played at the same time. The result is called a chord.
Many years later, he still remembered his thrill as a 5-year-old when by accident he discovered the chord G-B-D-F-A, which is called a “ninth” chord. (Let’s call it “Edvard’s ninth chord.”) Before this lesson is over, we will learn how to play Edvard’s ninth chord on a piano.
His mother was his piano teacher
Edvard’s mother was a professional pianist, and when he was 6 years old, she began giving him piano lessons.
He admits that he didn’t like to practice. He especially hated the scales and finger exercises that piano students are supposed to practice every day. It was much more fun, he thought, to use his practice time just playing around on the piano—making up tunes, finding chords, avoiding the boring stuff.
Luckily, his mother didn’t let him get away with it. She was always nearby when he was supposed to be practicing, and she was listening.
One day, he says, she was in the kitchen fixing dinner while he was practicing, and she suddenly shouted, “Shame on you, Edvard! It’s F sharp, not F!” Edvard didn’t know it then, but his mother’s firm discipline and high expectations helped him become the good pianist and composer he turned out to be.
Edvard’s first composition
Shortly after his 15th birthday, Edvard went on a trip with his father to Larvik, Norway, to visit his aunt. During this trip he composed a short piano piece that he called “Larvik’s Polka.”
A polka is a special kind of dance tune that was invented in a place called Bohemia and became popular all over Europe (including Norway).
“Larvik’s Polka” is Grieg’s earliest composition that still exists. (He once wrote that he had composed some things when he was younger than 15, but he eventually “threw them in the trash, where they belonged.”)
STUFF TO DO
- Find Bergen, Norway, on a map. This was Edvard Grieg’s hometown.
- Find “Edvard’s ninth chord” on a piano.* Here’s how:
- Look for a cluster of three black keys enclosing two white keys. The left white key is G.
- Moving from left to right, the names of the white keys are G A B C D E F G A. (The underlined keys are the ones making up “Edvard’s ninth chord.”)
- Using both hands, play “Edvard’s ninth chord.”
- Why do you think it is called a “ninth” chord? (Hint: count the white keys from the G to the A in Edvard’s ninth chord.) What do you think the chord would be called if it consisted of just the four notes G B D F?
- Find F-sharp on a piano. Here’s how. You already know how to find F, right? F-sharp is the black note to the right of F. Simple, isn’t it?
- Now I bet you can also find G-sharp, A-sharp, C-sharp and D-sharp.
- Find Larvik, Norway, on a map. Note how far it is from Bergen. How do you think Edvard and his father got from Bergen to Larvik?
- Go online and type in “Larvik’s polka youtube.” It will take you to several performances of this piece. You might especially enjoy the one from germans ochando, which shows a group of Spanish school children listening to it together.
*Note: If you don’t have a piano, create a two-octave keyboard out of paper or cardboard. Ask your parents for help if you need it.
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.