Accompanied by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the German-Japanese classical pianist Alice Sara Ott performs Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. Conductor: Thomas Dausgaard.

Accompanied by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the German-Japanese classical pianist Alice Sara Ott performs Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Edward Grieg’s Piano Concerto

Edward Grieg‘s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 is a pivotal figure in Norwegian classical music. Composed in 1868, this concerto is not only one of Grieg’s most famous compositions but also one of the most popular and frequently performed piano concertos in the entire classical repertoire.

Grieg, born in 1843, was deeply influenced by Norwegian folk music, which is evident in this concerto. His style combined national romanticism with the classical traditions of the time, resulting in music that was both innovative and approachable. The Piano Concerto in A minor is a prime example of this blend. It showcases Grieg’s skill in integrating Norwegian folk elements into classical forms, a trait that would make him a leading figure in the national romantic movement.

The concerto’s first performance was in Copenhagen in 1869, with Edmund Neupert as the soloist. Interestingly, Grieg himself was not present at the premiere. It was instantly well-received and heralded as a significant addition to the piano concerto repertoire. Its lyrical melodies, robust orchestration, and the dramatic interplay between the soloist and orchestra captured the imagination of both audiences and musicians alike.

The work is known for its lyrical, sweeping themes, which are both passionate and introspective. The concerto opens with a bold and dramatic flourish from the solo piano, immediately grabbing the listener’s attention. This is followed by a dialogue between the piano and the orchestra, which unfolds over the course of the concerto. The interplay is marked by a rich, romantic sound palette, with the piano often taking a leading, almost storytelling role.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto, while deeply rooted in the romantic tradition, also has a freshness and distinctiveness that set it apart from other concertos of the era. Grieg’s use of Norwegian folk melodies and rhythms adds a unique character to the piece, infusing it with a sense of national pride and identity. This aspect of his music was particularly significant at a time when Norway was seeking to establish a distinct cultural identity separate from that of its neighbors.

Throughout his life, Grieg continued to revise and refine the concerto. These revisions reflected his evolving style and the influence of other composers and musicians he encountered. Despite these changes, the core appeal of the concerto – its emotive power, memorable melodies, and innovative use of Norwegian folk elements – remained unchanged.

Edward Grieg’s Piano Concerto stands as a testament to his ability to fuse nationalistic elements with the broader romantic tradition, creating a work that is both deeply personal and universally appealing. It continues to be celebrated for its emotional depth, technical brilliance, and its unique place in the canon of classical music.


1. Allegro molto moderato

The first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor is a compelling and dynamic piece that sets the tone for the entire concerto. Characterized by its dramatic opening, lyrical melodies, and intricate interplay between the piano and orchestra, this movement is a favorite among both pianists and audiences.

It opens with one of the most famous introductions in the piano concerto repertoire: a thunderous, attention-grabbing timpani roll followed by a powerful, descending flourish from the solo piano. This bold beginning immediately establishes the movement’s energetic and passionate character. The initial piano flourish is a cascading passage that spans the entire range of the instrument, showcasing both the piano’s capabilities and the performer’s skill.

Following this dramatic opening, the orchestra enters with a lyrical theme that sets the stage for the rest of the movement. This theme is quintessentially romantic, characterized by its sweeping melody and rich harmonies. It is at this point that the dialogue between the piano and orchestra truly begins, a hallmark of the concerto form.

Grieg’s mastery of orchestration is evident throughout the movement. He skillfully balances the piano and orchestra, allowing each to shine at different moments. The piano part, while technically demanding, is more than just a display of virtuosity. It is deeply expressive, with passages that range from introspective and delicate to bold and exuberant.

The structure of the movement adheres to the traditional sonata form commonly used in the first movements of concertos during the Romantic era. This form includes an exposition, development, and recapitulation, allowing for a clear presentation, exploration, and restatement of the musical themes. Grieg, however, infuses this classical structure with his unique voice, incorporating Norwegian folk influences and his own romantic sensibilities.

The development section of the movement is particularly notable for its dramatic and emotional depth. Here, Grieg explores and manipulates the musical themes introduced earlier, taking the listener on a journey through various moods and textures. The piano and orchestra engage in a complex interplay, building tension and drama.

As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the initial themes are revisited and restated, but now with a sense of increased urgency and intensity. Grieg’s use of dynamics, orchestral color, and harmonic tension heightens the emotional impact of the music.

The movement concludes with a climactic section that revisits the opening flourish of the piano, bringing the piece full circle. The final bars are a powerful and satisfying resolution, leaving a lasting impression of both the movement’s technical brilliance and its emotional depth.

2. Adagio

The second movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, provides a striking contrast to the energetic and dramatic first movement. This movement, marked as Adagio, is a showcase of lyrical beauty, introspective depth, and delicate interplay between the piano and orchestra. It stands as a testament to Grieg’s ability to create music that is deeply emotional and rich in texture.

The movement opens with a gentle, yet somber melody from the strings, setting a mood that is reflective and serene. This opening theme is characterized by its lush harmonies and tender, flowing lines. It’s a moment that invites the listener into a more introspective space, quite different from the bold dynamics of the first movement.

The piano enters quietly, initially echoing the orchestra’s theme, then gradually introducing its own material. Grieg’s writing for the piano here is notably expressive and nuanced. The piano lines are lyrical and ornamented, often resembling a heartfelt song or an intimate conversation. The soloist’s role in this movement is less about showcasing virtuosity and more about conveying deep emotion and subtlety.

Throughout the movement, Grieg demonstrates his skill in orchestration and his ability to create a rich tapestry of sound. The interplay between the piano and the orchestra is less about contrast and more about collaboration. They weave together, with the orchestra providing a warm, supportive backdrop to the piano’s expressive melodies.

One of the most captivating aspects of this movement is its use of dynamics and texture. Grieg moves seamlessly between moments of profound stillness and gentle swelling of sound, creating a dynamic landscape that is both varied and cohesive. This sense of ebb and flow is a key element in maintaining the movement’s introspective and contemplative nature.

As the movement progresses, there are moments where the piano takes a more prominent role, with passages that are more intricate and demanding. Even in these moments, the emphasis remains on expression rather than technical display. The piano’s lines are adorned with delicate trills and ornamentations, adding to the movement’s overall sense of elegance and grace.

The second movement concludes with a return to the themes introduced at the beginning, but with a sense of resolution and peace. The piano and orchestra gradually wind down, leading to a gentle and reflective ending. This conclusion leaves the listener in a state of calm and introspection, providing a perfect counterbalance to the outer movements of the concerto.

3. Allegro moderato molto e marcato – Quasi presto – Andante maestoso

The finale of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, is a vibrant and spirited finale that brings the concerto to a thrilling close. This movement, marked as Allegro moderato molto e marcato is characterized by its rhythmic energy, folk-inspired melodies, and brilliant interplay between the piano and orchestra, embodying a joyful and triumphant spirit.

The movement opens with an energetic and rhythmic theme introduced by the orchestra. This theme, with its strong accents and driving rhythm, sets the stage for a movement filled with vitality and excitement. The orchestral introduction creates a sense of anticipation, building up to the entry of the piano.

When the piano enters, it takes up the theme with vigor and enthusiasm. The solo part is both technically challenging and musically demanding, requiring the pianist to display not only dexterity and precision but also a sense of rhythmic drive and vitality. Grieg’s writing for the piano in this movement is full of sparkling runs, lively rhythms, and bold, emphatic chords, showcasing the instrument’s capabilities and the performer’s skill.

A key feature of this movement is its use of Norwegian folk music elements. Grieg, a proud Norwegian, often incorporated aspects of his country’s musical heritage into his compositions. In this movement, the rhythms and melodies have a distinct folk dance quality, evoking the traditional halling dance of Norway. This gives the music a distinctive national character and adds to its overall energy and charm.

Throughout the movement, the dialogue between the piano and orchestra is dynamic and engaging. The orchestration is masterful, with Grieg expertly balancing the powerful sound of the full orchestra with the solo piano. The interplay is often playful and lively, with themes tossed back and forth, building momentum and excitement.

As the movement progresses, it moves through various moods and textures. There are moments of lyrical beauty, where the music becomes more introspective and expressive, providing a brief respite from the energetic rhythms. However, the overall forward drive and rhythmic energy are never far away, and the music quickly returns to its spirited character.

The finale of the movement is particularly memorable. Grieg introduces a new, triumphant theme, marked by a shift to a major key, signaling a move toward a grand and joyful conclusion. The piano and orchestra join forces, building to a powerful and exuberant climax. The movement ends with a series of emphatic chords from the piano, matched by the full force of the orchestra, bringing the concerto to a resounding and satisfying close.

Alice Sara Ott

Alice Sara Ott (born in 1988) is a German-Japanese classical pianist. She was born in Munich, Germany, in 1988; her Japanese mother had studied piano in Tokyo, and her father was a German civil engineer. At the age of three, after being taken to a concert, she decided she wanted to become a pianist; as she says, she realized that “music was the language that goes much beyond any words” and that she wanted to communicate and express herself through music. She started piano lessons when she was four, and reached the final stage of the youth competition in Munich at the age of five, playing to a full house in the Hercules Hall.

Alice Sara Ott performs Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Alice Sara Ott performs Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto

From the age of twelve, she studied at the Salzburg Mozarteum with Karl-Heinz Kämmerling while continuing her school education in Munich. Ott has won awards at a number of piano competitions, including first prize at the 2004 Pianello Val Tidone Competition. She has made recordings of Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and Frédéric Chopin’s waltzes for Deutsche Grammophon and is currently performing concert tours in Europe, Japan, and the United States.

She has gained critical acclaim for her performances at major concert halls worldwide and has established herself as one of the most exciting musical talents of today. The Guardian, commenting on her recent performance with the London Symphony Orchestra, said that she “gave the kind of gawp-inducing bravura performance of which legends are made.”

Alice has worked with the world’s leading conductors, including Lorin Maazel, Paavo Järvi, Neeme Järvi, James Gaffigan, Sakari Oramo, Osmo Vänskä, Vasily Petrenko, Myung-Whun Chung, Hannu Lintu and Robin Ticciati.

Ott has won many international competitions since winning the Jugend Musiziert competition in Germany when she was seven years old. In 2002 she was the youngest finalist at the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan where she won the Most Promising Artist award. She won first prize in the 2003 Bach Competition in Köthen, Germany, the 2004 Pianello Val Tidone Competition in Italy, and the 4th EPTA (European Piano Teachers Association) International Competition in 2005.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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