Grieg was an unlikely avatar of Norwegian music. He believed that his music was both a representation of the beauty and rural truths of the Norwegian landscape, and the inclusive and cultural Europe. This piece was a piece of incidental music written for Henrik Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt. Grieg extracted 8 movements out of the 33 separate pieces of incidental music to make two four-movement suites: Suite no. 1, Op. 46, and Suite no. 2, Op. 55. The complete incidental music was first published as a piano duet, but after his death in 1907, the suites were orchestrated for a full orchestra and subsequently published.
This composition is divided into 4 movements:
Movement I – Morning Mood
The first movement starts with a beautiful flute solo sets in the main theme, which is then taken over by the oboe. Throughout this movement, the strings play as an accompaniment in a simple tune. The nature theme dominates this movement, and it captures the beginning of the day in Norway’s mountains and forests, depicting the peacefulness and positive vibe in the play and in Peer Gynt’s dreams. The flute and the oboes end the movement with a reprise of the main theme, and the horns and the strings delicately lead-in for the final tonic chord.
Movement II – Aase’s Death
The second movement starts with the strings playing block chords together, which sets the dark tone for the rest of the piece. This movement is about the death of Aase, Peer Gynt’s mother. The movement ends on tonic chords with a pause in between, creating a creepy feel that represents the death on the mountain.
Movement III – Anitra’s Dance
The third movement is a waltz movement depicting a seductive dance that emphasises the grace and beauty of Anitra, the daughter of a chieftain. This fun and playful scherzo movement ends on a tonic chord by the strings, preceded by a short tonic-dominant ending by the basses.
Movement IV – In the Hall of Mountain King
The final movement depicts an unusual dance of gnomes chasing after Peer Gynt. The repeated melody gets more and more aggressive, passing around the whole orchestra. The extensive use of the bass and the high ranges of the upper winds make this a very excitable piece. The use of percussion, notably crash cymbals, also makes “the chase” even more anticipating. This piece finishes with an excitable crash from the cymbals.
- Raised in a musical family and learned to play the piano at age 6. His first piano teacher was his mother, Gesine Judithe Hagerup.
- Grieg hated school because he felt that his teachers were too strict.
- Collected small dolls and one of them, known as his “lucky frog”, was his concert companion. He would rub the doll in his pocket for good luck before performing on stage as a pianist or a conductor.
- Received an honorary degree from Cambridge University in 1894 and he sent a telegram to his friend signing off as “Doctor Grieg”.
- Grieg survived two life-threatening lung diseases, pleurisy and tuberculosis.
NDR ELBPHILHARMONIE ORCHESTER
Conductor: Herbert Blomstedt