Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite - Solveig's Song
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, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Morning Mood. 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 another 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.
And then we have the introduction of the ‘feminine’ as the source of redemption, in the character of Solveig. 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."
Interestingly, Ibsen was not totally convinced that redemption was always on offer. Behind the corner, the Button-molder, who is sent by God, still waits, with the words: "Peer, we shall meet at the last crossroads, and then we shall see if... I'll say no more."
A description of the experience
The Life and Works of Edvard Grieg: A Lecture Recital April 18, 2011, FAC 214 Leah Kennedy, soprano
One year before his move away from Christiana (now Oslo), Grieg again collaborated with Henrik Ibsen to complete the Peer Gynt Suite, which is now one of his best-known works.
This next song comes from that collection. It is about a girl who sings for her love as he leaves on a journey. She has no knowledge of when, or if, he will return. The song is about waiting, her hope in reuniting, and her belief that if they do not see each other again in this life, at least they will in the next.
Grieg believed in one God, an afterlife, and that man can be divinely directed.
This song is more complex than his previous songs in that the mood changes so often. However, as previously stated, it has everything to do with his interpretation of Ibsen’s poetry.