Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: "The Prophet has come!" Grieg and the world of "Peer Gynt"


In this "Oriental Night" concert from Berlin's Waldbühne (July 31, 2006), Norwegian mezzo-soprano Ingebjorg Kosmo joins Neeme Järvi (no, that's not Mel Brooks!) and the Berlin Philharmonic for the "Arabian Dance" from Grieg's Second Peer Gynt Suite. The mezzo solo often omitted in suite performances of the dance is restored here, but not the choral part, which announces, "The Prophet has come!" (Scroll down for English translation.)

by Ken

Last night we sampled the world of Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano -- 66 miniatures in all, in ten books that span the composer's creative career. We heard the whole of Book V, and also orchestral versions of five of those six pieces. Tonight we move on to the music that, along with the A minor Piano Concerto, is Grieg's best known and most played, the eight movements he extracted to form two suites from the considerable quantity of incidental music he composed for Ibsen's wild and woolly and uniquely exhilarating play Peer Gynt.

It's music that has been so completely absorbed into the international musical psyche -- I'd be surprised if "Morning Mood" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King," at least," weren't immediately recognized -- that we may tend to forget it first had to be composed. In tomorrow's post we're going to look at this music in context, as part of the unhappy but strangely inspired "collaboration" between Ibsen and Grieg. (You'll see why I feel obliged to use quotes around "collaboration." Neither "partner" had great enthusiasm for the other's work). For tonight we're just going to enjoy these eight indelible miniatures. With, um, just one little complication --

In assembling the suites, Grieg made sure that they could be performed by just an orchestra, even though several of these movements originally had vocal parts. An obvious example is the "Arabian Dance" in Suite No. 2, in which the mezzo solo is sometimes restored from the original, as in the video clip above, and sometimes the choral part is as well, as in the vocal performance below; and obviously "Solveig's Song," also in Suite No. 2, which we hear below sung in English by, of all people, Eileen Farrell! In addition, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" in Suite No. 1 has a choral part, which we'll hear tomorrow -- it alters the character of this oh-so-familiar music quite a lot.

Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46

i. Morning Mood
ii. Ase's Death
iii. Anitra's Dance
iv. In the Hall of the Mountain King

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded 1961

Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded May 20-21, 1957

Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55

i. The Abduction of the Bride (Ingrid's Lament)
ii. Arabian Dance
The Prophet has come!
Sound the flute and the drum!
The Prophet, the Lord, the All-Wise One,
to us has he come, riding over the sandy sea.
The Prophet, the Lord, the Infallible,
to us he has come, sailing over the sandy sea.
Sound the flute and the drum!
The Prophet has come!
ANITRA [mezzo-soprano solo]
His charger is white as the milk
that flows in the rivers of Paradise.
Bend every knee! Bow every head!
His eyes are stars benignly gleaming;
no child of earth would dare to meet
the flashing rays those stars shine forth.
Across the desert he came,
with gold and pearls on his breast.
Wherever he rode came the light;
as he passed, darkness fell.
Behind him came drought and simoom.
He, the Lordly One, came --
across the desert he came --
in the form of a mortal man.
The Kaaba, the Kaaba stands empty,
he himself has proclaimed it.
The Prophet has come! etc.
iii. Peer's Homeward Journey (Stormy Evening at Sea)
iv. Solveig's Song

FOR ORCHESTRA ONLY: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Ole Kristian Ruud, cond. BIS/Musical Heritage Society, recorded November 2005

WITH THE VOCAL PARTS in ii and iv -- a composite performance:
i. Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded 1961.
ii.[in Norwegian]-iii. Sylvia McNair, soprano (in ii); Ernst-Senff Chorus (in ii), Berlin Philharmonic, Jeffrey Tate, cond. EMI, recorded March 1990.
iv.[in English] Eileen Farrell, soprano; Boston Pops Orchestra, Arthur Fiedler, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded May 20-21, 1957


We try to get a feel for the drama of Peer Gynt as imagined by Grieg, and we hear his ever-popular Piano Concerto.


The current list is here.

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