Grieg's music in popular culture

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The music of the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg has been used extensively in media, music education, and popular music.

Music education[edit]

For the 150th anniversary of his birth, Norway organized a huge celebration, "Grieg in the Schools", which included programs for children from pre-school to secondary school in 1993. The programs were repeated in 1996 in Germany, and called "Grieg in der Schule", in which over a thousand students participated. There were Grieg observances in 39 countries, from Mexico to Moscow.[1]

Further celebrations of Grieg and his music were held in 2007, the 100th anniversary of his death. Bosnia and Herzegovina held a large-scale celebration, featuring Peer Gynt and the Piano Concerto a public concert for children and adults.[2][3] The July 2007 Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference featured Grieg's works.[4]

The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Nebraska presented a chamber music concert that featured one of Grieg's string quartets.[5] Annual conferences are held for continuing education of music teachers and music therapists in the United States.[6]

The New York Times reviewed one of many concerts for young people with Grieg's music, made popular for today's audiences.[7] The reviewer noted, "Kurt Masur has put youth high on his agenda at the New York Philharmonic, and he was conspicuously present at the orchestra's first Young People's Concert at Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday afternoon.... Children and parents came in fair numbers."[7] However, "the enormous grip of popular culture under which such elements are subsumed and it looks like Mr. Masur and the Philharmonic will have the fight of their lives."[7] Masur the teacher-conductor "wisely called for the Grieg themes about to be heard. His delivery was warm, not without humor and occasionally muddled by struggles with the language." He even "stopped in mid-performance to admire Irene Breslaw's viola solo [in Peer Gynt] and to point out its connection to the American hoedown tradition."[7] In conclusion, The Times asserted that "the melodies, already identified by instrument, emerged from the larger mass and did their work. There is a directness in Grieg's music that travels well across cultural divides."[7]

The Bergen University College, and later, the University of Bergen both named their tertiary music departments "Griegakademiet", in honor of Grieg.[8]


See also: Paganism

Grieg is alleged to have created the neopagan neologism Ásatrú in his 1870 opera Olaf Tryggvasson.[9]

References to Grieg's music in popular culture[edit]

Peer Gynt[edit]

Main article: Peer Gynt (Grieg)

In 1960 Duke Ellington recorded a jazz interpretation of "Peer Gynt" in his Swinging Suites by Edward E. and Edward G. album. A struggle ensued in Norway between the Grieg Foundation and its supporters, who found the recordings offensive to Norwegian culture, and Norwegian supporters of Ellington. Ellington's versions were withdrawn from distribution in the country until 1967, when Grieg's copyrights expired.[10]

"In the Hall of the Mountain King"[edit]


British rock band The Who recorded another performance of "Hall of the Mountain King" in 1967. This version went unreleased until 1995, when it appeared as a bonus track on a CD reissue of The Who Sell Out.[11][12][13] Tucson Weekly has called this cover a "Who-freakout arrangement"[14] One reviewer calls The Who's version the "weirdest of these" covers on the CD, and claims it is "a rendition of the corresponding extract from Grieg's Peer Gynt suite ... [yet] it hardly sounds like Grieg here, anyway..." Another claims that "the main function of the composition is to evoke thoughts of (naturally) King Crimson and (unnaturally) Pink Floyd, because in parts it sounds exactly like 'Interstellar Overdrive'."[15]

Film and TV[edit]

D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) used the song to build up to the Union attack on Atlanta. The song had by that time already been used in film scores, whether for Ibsen's play or other works; yet the popularity of Griffith's film helped to establish it in American popular imagination.[16][17]

"In the Hall of the Mountain King" plays a major plot point in Fritz Lang's early sound film M. Peter Lorre's character of child killer Hans Beckert whistles the tune whenever he is overcome with the urge to commit murder. However, Lorre himself could not whistle – it is actually Lang who is heard.[18] The film was one of the first to use a leitmotif, associating "In the Hall of the Mountain King" with the Lorre character. Later in the film, the mere sound of the song lets the audience know that he is nearby, off-screen. This association of a musical theme with a particular character or situation, a technique borrowed from opera, is now a film staple.[16][19]

The theme is used in the video game Manic Miner. It was also used in the 2001 film Rat Race.[16]

"Morning" was used in the film Soylent Green as the music selected by Edward G. Robinson's character to listen to as he lay dying.

The main melody of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" appears as part of the theme song to the TV show Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

On television, the tune is often heard when The Smurfs are in danger.

It is also used as the theme music on advertisements for Alton Towers.

Safety Demonstration in the CRH[edit]

In the safety demonstration animation that states the illegality of smoking in the CRH (China Railway High-Speed) the "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 is applied as the background music to accompany a smoker's behaviors before attempting smoking and while smoking, followed by the emergency brake of the train and finally the crying smoker under arrest by 2 policemen.

Piano Sonata[edit]

The motion picture The First Legion used Grieg's Piano Sonata in E minor as a way to introduce a Jesuit priest's prayer. The priest, Father Fulton, plays the sonata as a way of connecting himself to the other Jesuits, when "forced to revise their standards of belief after experiencing first a makeshift and later a 'real' miracle."[20]

"Brothers, Sing On!"[edit]

The folk song "Brothers, Sing On!" ( EG 170 - in the original Norwegian "Sangerhilsen") was written by Grieg with lyrics by Sigv. Skavlan, with English language lyrics by Herbert Dalmas and/or Howard McKinney.[21][22] The Mohawk-Hudson Male Chorus Association (MHMCA) presented a massed concert, with 90 male singers, at the historic Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on May 3, 2008, entitled "Brothers, Sing On!", with the titular song, which was also adopted as the organization's theme song in 1974.[23] They had previously performed the same song in the same venue in 2002.[24]

The University of Northern Iowa has gone so far as to name its web site and to start every concert with this song:

What if all men, everywhere in the world, could get together and sing? If there was just one song that could be sung, in a true spirit of peace and brotherhood, "Brothers, Sing On!" by Edvard Grieg would be it. "Brothers, Sing On!" is the timeless gem in many men’s choral repertoire. It has been called the ‘international anthem’ of men’s choral singing. For nearly 50 years, "Brothers, Sing On!" has been the mainstay of our Glee Club’s repertoire. We have sung it from the top of Mount Vesuvius; a glacier in the Tyrolean Alps; the ancient castles and underground slate mines of Wales; the deck of a ship on the tossing Irish Sea; the Coliseum in Rome, and a great many places in between. We salute the many excellent men’s choirs throughout the world, especially the collegiate men’s glee clubs, those ‘wandering troubadours’ whom we hope will inspire future generations of singers.

— the Brothers, Sing On! web site, [21]

Other pieces[edit]

The musical Song of Norway, based very loosely on Grieg's life and using his music, was created in 1944 by Robert Wright and George Forrest and a film version was released in 1970. The 1957 made-for-TV movie musical The Pied Piper of Hamelin uses Grieg's music almost exclusively, with "In the Hall of the Mountain King" being the melody that the Piper (Van Johnson) plays to rid the town of rats.

Eric Morecambe famously played "all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order" in a sketch on the 1971 Morecambe and Wise Christmas special that featured Andre Previn.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MNC Web Site, Edvard Grieg Remembered
  2. ^ Grieg07 - English - Home
  3. ^ Norveska Official web site for Bosnia-Herzegovina
  4. ^ Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference web site
  5. ^ Quartet will 'string' at the Sheldon, by Ted Taylor, Daily Nebraskan, November 14, 1997 , found at Dail Nebraskan web site
  6. ^ Grieg Music web site
  7. ^ a b c d e Classical Music in Review , by Bernard Holland, October 1, 1991, found at NY Times official web site
  8. ^ "Griegakademiets historie". Griegakademiet (in Norwegian). Retrieved 26 July 2010. 
  9. ^ A Brief Overview of the Heathen Revival web page
  10. ^ Cooke, Mervyn and David Horn (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Jazz
  11. ^ The Who dot Net web site
  12. ^ 200th Anniversary celebration of Grieg
  13. ^ NNdB web site
  14. ^ Tucson Weekly
  15. ^ Only Solitaire
  16. ^ a b c Powrie, Phil and Robynn Jeananne Stilwell (2006) Changing Tunes: The Use of Pre-existing Music in Film
  17. ^ Barbara Saltzman, "Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' Reborn on Lumivision Disc," Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1991. Found at LA Times archives. Accessed May 23, 2011.
  18. ^ Falkenberg, Paul (2004). "Classroom Tapes — M". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  19. ^ Costantini, Gustavo. "Leitmotif revisited". Filmsound. Retrieved 2006-05-10. 
  20. ^ Lutz Koepnick, The Dark Mirror: German Cinema between Hitler and Hollywood, Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism, 32, found at U.C. Press web site.
  21. ^ a b University of Northern Iowa Varsity Men’s Glee Club (Brothers Sing On!) official web site. Accessed May 5, 2008.
  22. ^ Choralnet ideas web site. Accessed May 5, 2008.
  23. ^ "In 1974 'Brothers, Sing On!,' by Edvard Grieg, was adopted as the organization's theme song." See Conductor's Club web site. Accessed May 5, 2008.
  24. ^ BH Singing web site. Accessed May 5, 2008.