On 169th Birthday, Grieg Becomes an Unlikely Icon

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Composer Edvard Grieg, the icon of Norwegian music, was born 169 years ago Friday. The native of Bergen dedicated his career to the pursuit of "a national form of music, which could give the Norwegian people an identity," as he once put it.

"Norwegian folk life, Norwegian sagas, Norwegian history and above all Norwegian nature have had a profound influence on my creative work ever since my youth,” the composer told a music historian from America in 1900.

The composer in turn remains a national symbol. On Monday, Norway's parliament approved construction of the Edvard Grieg oil platform in the North Sea. Said to be the first stand-alone platform off the coast of Norway, it is predicted to hold about 183 million barrels of oil when it opens in 2015. The platform will sit in the Edvard Grieg oil field.

Not to be outdone, the Quality Hotel chain announced Wednesday the expansion of the Quality Hotel Edvard Grieg, located near the Bergen airport. According to the Norwegian travel website Boarding.no the hotel will have 373 rooms, 11 new meeting rooms and a sprawling conference center.

One could question such associations with a composer whose home, Troldhaugen, overlooked the picturesque Nordås Lake and inspired many pieces about nature's unspoiled beauty.

Regardless, Grieg has a achieved a prominence in popular culture that arguably outweighs his stature in concert halls, where he is regarded (perhaps unfairly) as a composer of secondary significance. Beyond the numerous appearances in cartoons, commercials and video game soundtracks, there was the prominent use of his In The Hall of the Mountain King in the Oscar-winning film, "The Social Network." And there's a widely seen flash mob video that made the rounds last month (3.4 million views to date):

In honor of Grieg's birthday, tune in to WQXR Friday to hear relative rarities like his Sigurd Jorsalfar Suite, Op. 56; Haugtussa (The Mountain Maid), Op. 67: Blueberry Slope; Kidlings' Dance; and Symphonic Dance, Op. 64/2.

Tell us about your favorite Grieg piece below and watch this recent performance of his Piano Concerto, played by Alice Sara Ott: