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Grieg - Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16



Type of Spiritual Experience


On 11 June 1867, Grieg married his first cousin, Nina Hagerup, a lyric soprano. The next year, their only child, Alexandra, was born.  In the summer of 1868, Grieg wrote his Piano Concerto in A minor while on holiday in Denmark. Alexandra died in 1869 from meningitis.  Edmund Neupert gave the concerto its premiere performance on 3 April 1869 in the Casino Theatre in Copenhagen. Grieg himself was not there.


Grieg Diary of 1866, qtd. in Grieg’s Diaries, Articles and Speeches 25

This much is clear, that if we do not fight with all our might against this genre [‘newer German music’], the outlook for music in our time is very bad. It is almost as false as the vulgar Italian school—yes, perhaps even more dangerous—because it ventures into an area that is of interest to musicians, namely philosophy. But if true art—consisting in pure immediacy and sparkling poetry—is to progress, then philosophy must be abandoned, and the sooner the better in my opinion”.

It is sometimes stated by the academic community that Grieg was a miniaturist, that he never wrote long works. To some extent, this may be true. However, Grieg has proven that he can write long works in his Concerto in A Minor, opus 16. This is the very piece Liszt sight-read, which is incredible considering the complexity and quick movement.

This is one of Grieg’s very few longer works, but his theme development is very strong.

A description of the experience

Artur Rubinstein plays Grieg: Piano concerto in A minor op. 16 (Mono LP, 1961)

1. Allegro molto moderato (0:14)
2. Adagio (13:37)
3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato (19:40)

RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra

(Mono LP, released in 1962)

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, composed by Edvard Grieg in 1868, was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and among the most popular of all piano concerti.

The concerto is in three movements:

  1. Allegro molto moderato (A minor)

    The first movement is noted for the timpani roll in the first bar that leads to a dramatic piano flourish, which leads to the main theme. Then the key changes in C major, for the secondary theme. Later, the secondary theme appears again in the recapitulation, but in A major. The movement finishes with a virtuosic cadenza and a similar flourish as in the beginning. The movement is in the Sonata form.

  2. Adagio (D-flat major)

    The second movement is a lyrical movement in D-flat major, which leads directly into the third movement.

  3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato – Quasi presto – Andante maestoso (A minor → F major → A minor → A major)

    The third movement opens in A minor 2/4 time with an energetic theme (Theme 1), which is followed by a lyrical theme in F major (Theme 2). The movement returns to Theme 1. Following this recapitulation is the 3/4 A major Quasi presto section, which consists of a variation of Theme 1. The movement concludes with the Andante maestoso in A major, which consists of a dramatic rendition of Theme 2 (as opposed to the lyrical fashion with which Theme 2 is introduced).

Performance time of the whole concerto is usually just under 30 minutes.


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