Agathe Backer Grøndahl was born in Holmestrand in 1847, in a wealthy and art-loving home, as the second youngest of four sisters, all gifted in drawing and music. Between 1865-1867 she became a pupil of Theodor Kullak and studied composition under Richard Wuerst at the Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin, where she lived together with her sister Harriet Backer. She won fame there with her interpretation of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.
In 1868 she debuted with Edvard Grieg, then 26 years old, as conductor of the Philharmonic Society. Later the same year she played at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, becoming a pupil of Franz Liszt in Weimar in 1873. In 1875 she was married to the celebrated singing teacher Herr Grondahl of Christiania, and during the second half of the 1870s she built up an outstanding pianist career with a series of concerts in the Nordic countries, also playing with very great success in London and Paris.
In 1889 and 1890 she gave concerts in London and Birmingham with a wide-ranging program, including Grieg’s piano concerto. After that she was proclaimed one of the century’s greatest piano artists by George Bernard Shaw, who also remarked on the sensitiveness, symmetry and artistic economy of her compositions. At the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, she repeated her success with her brilliant interpretation of Grieg’s piano concerto. Later in the 1890’s she became almost completely deaf. She gave her last concerts in Sweden and Finland in the autumn of 1901. Then she retired to teaching.