In the Hall of the Mountain King
"In the Hall of the Mountain King" performed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra
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It was originally part of Opus 23 but was later extracted as the final piece of Peer Gynt, Suite No. 1, Op. 46. Although (or perhaps because) a performance of the full piece runs to slightly less than 3 minutes, its easily recognizable theme has helped it attain iconic status in popular culture, where it has been arranged by many artists.
The piece is played as the title character Peer Gynt, in a dream-like fantasy, enters "the royal hall of the Old Man of the Dovre (the Mountain King)". The scene's introduction continues: "There is a great crowd of troll courtiers, gnomes and goblins. The Old Man sits on his throne, with crown and sceptre, surrounded by his children and relatives. Peer Gynt stands before him. There is a tremendous uproar in the hall." The lines sung are the first lines in the scene.
Grieg himself wrote, "For the Hall of the Mountain King I have written something that so reeks of cowpats, ultra-Norwegianism, and 'to-thyself-be-enough-ness' that I can't bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt." The theme of "to thyself be... enough" – avoiding the commitment implicit in the phrase "To thine own self be true" and just doing enough – is central to Peer Gynt's satire, and the phrase is discussed by Peer and the mountain king in the scene which follows the piece.
The simple theme begins slowly and quietly in the lowest registers of the orchestra, played first by the cellos, double basses, and bassoons. After being stated, the main theme is then very slightly modified with a few different ascending notes, but transposed up a perfect fifth (to the key of F-sharp major, the dominant key, but with flattened sixth) and played on different instruments.
The two groups of instruments then move in and out of different octaves until they eventually "collide" with each other at the same pitch. The tempo gradually speeds up to a prestissimo finale, and the music itself becomes increasingly loud and frenetic.
Lyrics of the song in Peer Gynt
- Ibsen, Henrik (1985) [First published 1876]. Peer Gynt. Peter Watts (trans.). Penguin. p. 67.
- Watts, Peter (1985). "Introduction". In Ibsen, Henrik; Watts, Peter (trans.). Peer Gynt. Penguin. p. 17.
- Santon, Tim. "Ibsen's Peer Gynt". Stella Books: Featured Books.