1868: Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor

MONDAY, October 19, 2020 – 10:44 AM

Piano Concerto in A minor, age 24


  • solo piano
  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (in A and B♭), 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in E and E♭, 2 trumpets in C and B♭, 2 trombones, tuba
  • timpani
  • strings
  • He later added 2 horns and changed the tuba to a third trombone


Richter was very proud of this concerto recording, which for this monster virtuoso was technically a rather easy piece – thought not for any of the rest of us. But what is so impressive is that with his notorious power and the ability pound out big chords and passages with more power than only else on the planet he also had such lyrical expressiveness and the ability to play from fff to ppp.

Dinu Lipatti…

He is not well known today by the average listener, but he remains famous among pianists. His life was cut tragically short at age 33. 86% of of the people diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease survive today, so if only he had been born much later he might have survived the illness. Many talented artists have died young. This is one of my preferred recordings. I just wish he had lived long enough to record in stereo.

Rubinstein at age 88 here.

He had macular degeneration, the eye affliction I most fear. It took my father’s vision away in his mid 80s. So Rubinstein here was legally blind, although he still had peripheral vision. He had, in my belief, the best natural piano technique I’ve ever seen, and if you want to learn how to move when you are young, copy what he did at age 90. There are no extra movements, no stupid unnecessary facial expressions. Here he is paired with Andre Previn, another legend.

And Rubinstein from a rare recording made in 1942

He was not quite 60 years old. Here he was at the absolute peak of his technical powers. How they made a recording this good in 1942 I do not understand. This is unbelievable.

The greatest piano concerto ever written?

Rachmaninov thought so and said so many times to other people. I’m not fond of “greatest ever” statements, but certainly this is at the very top of the list for both effective writing and popularity. It has never been anything else but extremely popular.

Four very different recordings…

The first is modern, so the sound is very good and easy to listen to. The second is famous historically, but it was recorded much earlier and the sound is much less pleasant. The third is Rubinstein as a very old man, so there is much to be learned from that. Finally the last is from 1942, when he was still a technical giant. He was breathing fire at the time.

Composed in 1868…

Grieg was at the time 24 years old. It was completed before his birthday.

The final version came right before his death…

He continued to revise it until weeks before he died. At the end he made around 300 small revisions, which means he was still thinking about changes for almost 40 years.

Popular for more than 150 years…

Think about that the next time you hear big hype about something written last month or even in the last year. There has never been a time when this concerto stopped being an audience favorite.

Liszt and Grieg…

At Grieg’s visit to Franz Liszt in Rome in 1870, Liszt played the notes by sight before an audience of musicians and gave very good comments on Grieg’s work which would later influence him. Grieg changed his concerto many times with over 300 differences to the original score. Liszt suggested changing the second theme of the first movement from cello to trumpet. Grieg followed this suggestion at first but later reversed the change.

Link to Schumann…

Grieg’s concerto is often compared to the piano concerto of Robert Schumann: it is in the same key. But Liszt’s 2nd Concerto in A major is also in the same key, though major, so really there are three concertos that have similarities. Most people miss the connection to Liszt.

The timeline…

Schumann composed his concerto in 1841. Liszt composed his first concerto in 1849, the second in 1861. When Grieg wrote his in 1868 it is impossible that he did not know these other works. So the timeline is Schumann to Liszt to Grieg, in that order. However, Liszt used a very different form, more like that of a tone poem with linking sections.

First concerto recorded…

The Grieg Piano Concerto was the first piano concerto ever recorded, in 1909, but only about six minutes of it because of the limited technology of the time. Since then it has been used in movies from the year 1939 right through to the spy thriller, Red Sparrow, in 2018.

4 thoughts on “1868: Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor

  1. It is said Dinu died young… but he played the Concerto marvelously. The piece itself took enough time to compose that it would have been a lot of Dinu’s life.

  2. I’m aware that composers make changes, but three hundred , WOW!!! I didn’t know that this piece took Grieg forty years to complete.

    As I’m now learning about morphing, I found the information about the “Schubert morph” to be very interesting.

  3. I did not know that this was the first piano concerto to have ever been recorded. How special and magical that must have been at the time, even if it was only 6 minutes.

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