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Peer Gynt


Saturday | May 11, 2019 | 7:30 PM
Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 2:00 PM
Monday | May 13, 2019 | 7:30 PM
Arlene Schnitzer Hall

1037 SW Broadway
Portland OR 97205

Peer Gynt

The redemptive journey of Peer Gynt, from his humble peasant village to the troll-infested mountains of Norway, is depicted through the eyes of Peer himself in bold, animated photos and art projected on screens above the orchestra. Classical Series Concert

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
• Jane Archibald, soprano
Alexander Polzin, visualization

Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture
• Britten: Les illuminations
• * Grieg: Peer Gynt

Edvard Grieg

Complete Incidental Music to Peer Gynt, Op. 23

Work composed: 1875
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: First complete Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (all doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, snare drum, tam tam, triangle, xylophone, piano, organ, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 102 minutes

The extraordinary popularity of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites has given listeners a passing familiarity with some of Grieg’s music for Henrik Ibsen’s play, but Grieg’s complete incidental music is not often heard. Today, Grieg’s music has completely overshadowed Ibsen’s masterpiece. Originally four hours long and written in verse, Peer Gynt’s dense and surreal plot features a repellent Faust-like protagonist hell-bent in pursuit of his own desires.

In 1874, Ibsen wrote Grieg to ask if he would be interested in writing incidental music for a forthcoming adaptation of Peer Gynt for the stage. Grieg agreed, but Ibsen’s request became a bigger project than either man imagined. Ibsen’s original version, originally conceived as a quasi-epic poem, was not intended for theatrical production; adapting Peer Gynt into a suitable stage play became problematic. Ibsen sent Grieg a detailed letter explaining how he planned to make Peer Gyntperformable. “How much music and for which scenes you will compose it I naturally leave entirely to you; in this a composer obviously must have a completely free hand,” Ibsen wrote.

Grieg took 18 months to write 26 movements for Peer Gynt. He worked slowly, weighed down by the inherent difficulties of the task. In his letters, Grieg expressed frustration with the work: “It is a terribly difficult play for which to write music … [Peer Gynt] hangs over me like a nightmare.” While the subject matter of Peer Gynt was challenging enough, Grieg was also referring to the inadequate resources of the theater orchestra, which necessitated artistic compromises.

Peer Gynt’s premiere on February 24, 1876 in Christiania (now Oslo) garnered praise for both play and music; one review characterized the music as expressing “bold originality.” Although Grieg wrote to congratulate Ibsen, he himself remained dissatisfied, particularly with the orchestrations. For subsequent productions in 1888 and 1892, Grieg revised his score and also published both Peer Gynt suites.

Grieg’s graceful, expressive style does not reflect Ibsen’s vision of Peer Gynt. Instead of a brute whose unmitigated selfishness was intended to portray the worst excesses of society, Grieg’s Gynt is more of an adventurer. Grieg’s portrayal of the female characters also tempers the Nordic horror of Ibsen’s play. Gynt’s mother Åse’s death music is heartbreakingly beautiful, but not dismal. Anitra, a Bedouin girl Gynt kidnaps, performs her famous dance, a lilting tune in the tempo of a waltz. Both of Solveig’s songs are gently sweet, in keeping with her faithful nature. Throughout, Grieg’s music, including In the Hall of the Mountain King, which Grieg confessed in a letter he hated because “it absolutely reeks of cow pies, exaggerated Norwegian nationalism, and trollish self-sufficiency!” is highly effective as drama: evocative, richly descriptive but not overly bleak.

Earlier Event: May 10
Later Event: May 11
Big Night