Liszt Plays Grieg


Edvard Grieg was 25 years old when he wrote his masterpiece, the Piano Concerto in A minor. One of the first to see it was Franz Liszt, who not only played it and critiqued it, but afterward offered Grieg advice to last a lifetime.

The occasion came during a gathering of friends one evening in 1865. Grieg had just received the manuscript from the printer and was hoping that Liszt would play

it at a gathering of friends. “Will you play it?” Liszt asked, to which Grieg quickly replied, “No, I can’t. I haven’t practiced it.”

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Liszt took the manuscript, went to the piano, smiled and said to the guests, “All right then, I’ll show you that I can’t either.” He took the first part of the concerto so quickly that it came out a jumble, but after a little tempo coaching from Grieg, he brought out the beauty of the work, playing the most difficult part — the cadenza — best of all. Liszt began to make comments to Grieg and the guests as he played, nodding to the right or left at the parts he particularly liked.

As Liszt approached the end of the finale, Liszt suddenly stopped, stood up, left the piano with big theatrical strides, raised his arms, and walked across the large hall, roaring out the theme. When he got to the place where the first tone is changed in the orchestra from G-Sharp to G, he stretched his arms grandly and shouted, “G, G, not G-Sharp! Magnificent! That is the real Swedish Banko!”

He went back to the piano, repeated an entire section and finished, whereupon he handed Grieg the manuscript and said warmly, “Keep boldly on. I tell you. You have the ability and — don’t let them get you down!”

Edvard Grieg later recalled that Liszt’s final advice about the critics proved very important to him and that it had the air of a sacred pronouncement.

Related Stories