When one thinks of the Romantic composers, the names Beethoven, Wagner, Chopin, or Liszt come to mind. Looking even further into the period one sees the names of nationalist composers like Glinka, Tchaikovsky, and Smetana. Unfortunately, there are still many composers of the Romantic era whose music is known, but for some reason there names have grown apart from there music. Edvard Grieg, a Norwegian nationalist composer, is one of these men. Many people would know Grieg’s work “In the Hall of the Mountain King” if they heard it, but would be unable to tell you who had written it or where the work originates from. Despite his lack of fame in today’s world, his music still is a prime example of the Romantic period and tendencies. Two works in particular are “Morning Mood” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, both from his Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, despite their very conflicting styles
Edvard Grieg is thought of in the music field as a symbol of Norway. He was born in Bergen, Norway on June 15th, 1843 the fourth of five children. Music interested Grieg from a young age and at the age of six he began piano lessons with his mother. His mother, Gescine Hagerup, was known as the best piano teacher in Bergen and led him firmly, but lovingly into the music field.
At the age of fifteen in October of 1858, Grieg left to attend the Leipzig Music Conservatory. He did not have an easy time at the conservatory. During his time there, Grieg suffered an attack of pleurisy that caused permanent damage to one of his lungs. He also had problems with the institutional nature of the school. However, despite the hardships he faced, he graduated from Leipzig at Easter in 1862 with high marks.
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After graduation, Grieg moved to Copenhagen to broaden his musical scope. While in Copenhagen he met people that would become life long friends and idols. One of Grieg’s first idols, which he met in Copenhagen, was Niels W. Gade, the first great Scandinavian composer. Another of Grieg’s idols was Rikard Nordaak, a fellow Norwegian, whose enthusiasm for all things Norwegian was transferred to Grieg. One of the most important people he met in Copenhagen was his cousin Nina Hagerup. They were secretly engaged in 1864 and married by 1867.
In the same year that another Norwegian, Henrik Ibsen, wrote Peer Gynt. Peer Gynt is a about a boastful, irresponsible, egoist, Peer, a figure in Norwegian folklore. He leads a life of self indulgence and infidelity, ruining young maidens, escaping trolls and dealing with slaves. Peer becomes a prophet and wanders the desert until he decides to return home. Unfortunately, upon returning home he discovers his true self is gone due to his self indulgent lifestyle.
Grieg came into contact with Henrik Ibsen in 1874. Immediately Ibsen took a liking to Grieg because of their identical views on poetry. Ibsen felt that Grieg had unusual musical and intellectual capacities and asked him to write music to his dramatic poem Peer Gynt. Grieg thought the task would prove to be relatively easy, but it ended up taking two years to complete the composition. In 1888 and 1891 Grieg extracted eight songs from the longer works and comprised Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and No. 2 and re-orchestrated them. The Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 consists of 4 pieces; “Morning Mood”, “Aase’s Death”, “Anitra’s Dance”, and the infamous “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
The first piece “Morning Mood” is played when Peer wakes in the Arabian desert, robbed and deserted by the Anitra. Grieg gives a portrayal of a crisp, sunlit morning, more reminiscent of a lush green landscape than a desert. “Morning Mood” is composed in 6/8 and is written in the major mode. However, to keep the listeners off balance and provide more expression, there are a good number of accidentals throughout the piece. The rhythms in this piece are made up of eighth notes and sixteenth notes usually all tied together to give a smooth flowing legato feeling.
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The piece begins at a piano dynamic level with the flute playing the main melodic line. The flute is then answered by a repetition of the same line from the oboe. This goes on for a few phrases and then finally crescendos to forte where the strings take the main melody. In the next section of the piece the dynamic markings fluctuate greatly as well as the tempo which is continually affected by diminuendos. The dynamics go from piano to forte to piano in one measure. Also, this section is mostly sixteenth notes except for grouped eighth notes in sets of three whose intervals are at least an octave from one note to the next. This adds to the flowing nature by adding contrast to the lines of sixteenth notes. Finally, the music returns to the opening melody and then transitions to the flutes and clarinets using the same question answer technique from the beginning of the piece. However, instead of playing the melody, they are trilling (a technique where the note being played and the note above it in the key are switched back and forth rapidly).
This gives the listener a feel that the end of the piece is soon to come.
The final piece in the Suite, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” goes along with the part of Peer Gynt where Peer has spent a night with the Troll King’s daughter and finds out he can get a sizable dowry if he marries her. After awhile he gives up the idea of becoming one of them. Indignantly, the King then turned the troll-children on him. It is during this that the piece is played.
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” is composed in 4/4 and is in the minor mode. The rhythms Grieg used are relatively simple. Staccato eighth notes and quarter notes make up the majority of the rhythms. There is no use of syncopation or other difficult rhythms. The melody is practically repeated throughout the piece. It uses steps and small leaps to build the energy and motion of the piece. Grieg builds tension in the melody by having the first measure ascend. He alleviates some of the energy by descending in minor thirds immediately after. The melody is then repeated using different instruments. Some of these include the cello and bass, the violins, bassoons, oboes, and clarinets. This continues the acceleration and increase of the energy.
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Dynamics, tempo, articulation and timbre are all elements used by Grieg to build the tension and energy in this piece. It begins at the piano dynamic level. The dynamic level stays at piano when the flutes and clarinets are added. Even though the dynamic is still piano there is a slight build in the sound due to an increase in the number of instruments playing. As more instruments are added the tempo quickens and the dynamics grow in volume. From the beginning to the end of the piece, the timbre changes from soft, melancholy wind sounds to the clash of every instrument playing together at fortissimo. Using these elements, Grieg gives the listener a good feeling of the fear Peer must have been experiencing. The build in tension provides a feeling of uneasiness right until the end of the piece.
Despite the very different approaches, such as the use of a very legato style in “Morning Mood” versus the staccato style of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, both pieces use the dynamics, tempo changes, articulation, and instrumentation to achieve the painting of the scene. The contrast of the beautiful sunrise in the morning to the panic of trying to escape from the lair of the trolls can clearly be distinguished in the two pieces. Even without knowing the story behind the pieces, one can still come up with an accurate picture of what Grieg was trying to portray. Although Edvard Grieg is an unknown composer compared to these two pieces which a majority of people recognize when they hear them, he is still an outstanding purveyor of the Romantic style.