Grieg: Overture “In Autumn”

Im Herbst (In Autumn), is a concert overture written by Edvard Grieg in 1865.

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway in June 1843 and died in September 1907. His mother was his first piano teacher and taught him to play from the age of 6. In the summer of 1858, Grieg met the eminent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, who recognized the 15-year-old boy’s talent and persuaded his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory. Grieg enrolled in the conservatory, concentrating on the piano, and enjoyed the many concerts and recitals given in Leipzig. In 1861 he made his debut as a concert pianist, in Karlshamn, Sweden. In 1862, he finished his studies in Leipzig and held his first concert in his home town, where the programme included Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata.

Grieg composed during the Romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt (which includes Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces. Grieg is renowned as a nationalist composer: his many short pieces for piano — often based on Norwegian folk tunes and dances — led some to call him the “Chopin of the North”.

In the spring of 1903, Grieg made nine 78-rpm gramophone recordings of his piano music in Paris. All of these historic discs have been reissued on both LPs and CDs and, despite their sound quality, show his artistry as a pianist.

On a visit to Copenhagen, Grieg showed his overture In Autumn to Niels Gade, who told Grieg: “This is trash, Grieg; go home and write something better.” After this, Grieg arranged the overture for piano duet and sent it in to a competition at the Swedish Academy, one of the judges being Gade. The overture took first prize and was published in its duet form in Stockholm.

The opening Andante in D major starts with chords played by the orchestra, contrasting with a sunny woodwind theme. The tension slowly builds to a D minor Allegro section in sonata form. The orchestra takes up the main theme in D minor (taken from a song entitled “Autumn Storm”). After the main theme, we hear a secondary theme in F major. The development brings the return of previous themes through a series of restless modulations. After a slower section for horn and strings, the recapitulation brings the return of the main themes. The overture concludes with a triumphant reprise of the opening woodwind theme.