The incidental music (1875) he composed to a production of Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt enjoyed enormous fame thanks to his arrangements of the music into two suites.
Grieg also collaborated with a number of other prominent Norwegian artists of his time, including the writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, with whom Grieg had a close though sometimes quarrelsome friendship. Bjørnson and Grieg planned on writing a national opera, though their project was never completed. Indeed, as he grew older, Grieg realized fewer and fewer large-scale works and instead focused his productivity on songs such as his cycle Haugtussa (“The Mountain Maid”—published 1898) and shorter works like his various Norwegian dances for orchestra or piano, including the Symphonic Dances of 1898. Still, his fame continued to grow and Grieg began touring extensively throughout Western and Central Europe, usually returning home to Western Norway in the summers to compose. His stature as the leading Norwegian musician granted him the opportunity to undertake projects like the music festival he organized in Bergen in 1898. His international fame was such that, besides counting many of the greatest composers of his time as friends, he was also a favorite of figures such as Kaiser Wilhelm II. Among Grieg’s last works were an edition of Norwegian dances, known as slåtter for violin and piano of 1902, and the Four Psalms for male voice choir of 1906. He died in Bergen in 1907.
As important as nationalism was to these artists’ careers, it is admittedly not the exclusive concern of their art. None of them were so one sided as that. Nationalism is simply the lens through which I view their careers in the present work; there are obviously many other valid ways of studying Wagner, Smetana, and Grieg. That said, there should be absolutely no doubt about their intent to make their works national, and so to create a national art music for their respective countries. Some, however, might dispute the extent to which these three composers’ activities could be described as a self-conscious program. And it is in fact reasonable to ask whether Wagner, Smetana, and Grieg can really be considered social activists with a cultural/political project of their own. However, Wagner, Smetana, and Grieg do all count as committed and conscious nationalists, as “nationalist intellectuals” as per the definition in the next chapter.