Backer-Grøndahl, Agathe


Agathe Backer-Grøndahl (1847–1907), Norway 

Norwegian composer and pianost. Agathe Backer-Grøndahl grew up in Holmestrand in a well-to-do family interested in culture and the arts. Her parents were amateur musicians who arranged for her early piano lessons. When Agathe was 10, the family moved to Christiania, where she received lessons from the composer and pianist Halfdan Kjerulf, who quickly realized that she had a gift for music. Agathe’s parents did not wish their daughter to have a public career, preferring that she marry instead, as was customary at the time. Still, they took Kjerulf’s advice to send Agathe to the music academy of Professor Theodor Kullak in Berlin, where she studied piano and composition from 1865–1868. Agathe returned home for her debut concert in which she played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5, conducted by Edvard Grieg—an enormous success. The following year she made her composer’s debut in a concert that included two very well-received orchestra pieces. She continued her piano studies with Hans von Bülow in Florence and Franz Liszt in Weimar.


Beginning in the early 1870s, Agathe built a fantastic career with a long series of concerts throughout Scandinavia. In 1875 she was elected to the Royal Academy of Music. In the same year she married Olaus Andreas Grøndahl. The couple had three sons, and Agathe divided her time between family obligations, concerts, teaching, and, when she had time, composing. In the mid-1890s, she began to suffer from poor health and nervous problems, and she believed her career as a pianist was over. Her friend Grieg, however, persuaded her to make a comeback in 1890, when she played his piano concerto at the music festival in Bergen. It was an artistic triumph, and she continued to play for loyal audiences in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Agathe Backer-Grøndahl died at age 59 in her home on the island of Ormøya outside the city of Oslo. By the time of her death she had become almost completely deaf.