Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite - In the Hall of the Mountain King
Type of Spiritual Experience
Peer Gynt is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. It was first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) on 24 February 1876, with original music composed by Edvard Grieg that includes some of today's most recognized classical pieces. It was published in German translation in 1881, in English in 1892, and in French in 1896.
Peer Gynt is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. It is written in Danish—the common written language of Denmark and Norway in Ibsen's lifetime. The play is loosely based on Per Gynt, a Norwegian fairy tale.
Peer Gynt is an allegory of the spiritual path.
There is an important spiritual theme in Peer Gynt – what distinguishes spiritual man from materialistic beast. And the answer is the ego. A materialistic beast [a troll] is ego led, a spiritual man has crushed his ego and is seeking to ‘know himself’. The troll king for example asks: What is the difference between troll and man?
The answer given by the Old Man of the Mountain is:
"Out there, where sky shines, humans say: 'To thyself be true.' In here, trolls say: 'Be true to yourself and to hell with the world.'"
The hall of the mountain king is the cave of Plato – the shadow world in which the loss with the spiritual has made the world a place of Darkness. Thus to reach the Light one must love and be unselfish and be true to your Higher spirit – know thyself. Egoism has to be crushed.
In the play Peer Gynt takes no heed of the warning and lives an entirely selfish life, hurting a great many people on the way. Back home in Norway, he offers for sale everything from his earlier life but is confronted by the ‘Button-molder’.
And in the Button-molder we see the concept of Purgatory. The Button-molder states that Peer's soul must be melted down with other faulty goods [rebirth] unless he can explain when and where in life he has been "himself". Peer protests. He has been only that, and nothing else. Then he meets the troll king, who states that Peer has been a troll, not a man, the ‘himself’ was his ego, not his Higher spirit.
The Button-molder comes along and says that he has to come up with something if he is not to be melted down. Peer despairs in the end, understanding that his life is forfeit; he is nothing.
[Note that later on the ‘feminine’ is introduced as the source of redemption, in the character of Solveig. Solveig is the ‘feminine’ there to rescue him. He asks her: " Where was I as the one I should have been, whole and true, with the mark of God on my brow?" She answers; "In my faith, in my hope, in my love."]
A description of the experience
Ibsen asked Edvard Grieg to compose the incidental music for the play in 1874. Grieg composed a score that plays approximately ninety minutes. The play and the music were first performed two years later.
Grieg extracted two suites of four pieces each from the incidental music (Opus 46 and Opus 55), which became very popular as concert music. One of the sung parts of the incidental music ended up in these suites (the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King) in the 1st suite with the vocal parts omitted. Originally, the second suite had a fifth number, The Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter, but Grieg withdrew it.
Grieg himself declared that it was easier to make music "out of his own head" than strictly following suggestions made by Ibsen.
The music of these suites, especially Morning Mood starting the first suite, In the Hall of the Mountain King, and the string lament Åse's Death later reappeared in numerous arrangements.