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Many a TV advertisement (or, dare we say it, telephone on-hold service) has used the opening movement, Morning from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No.1 to create a musical mood. The fourth movement depicting life In the Hall of the Mountain King, meanwhile, will forever be remembered by thousands as the Alton Towers theme tune. Grieg, however, had very different ideas at the forefront of his mind when he composed this glorious music.
He had been asked by the playwright Henrik Ibsen to set to music his quintessentially Scandinavian play Peer Gynt. The composer responded by creating a collection of tableaux, some of which were later formed into two separate suites. He didn’t have much faith in them, feeling under pressure from Ibsen to come up with the melodies as quickly as possible, but they were received with huge enthusiasm by the Norwegian audiences of his day.
Given that the two suites are the composer’s own distillation of the best melodies from the play, it’s not surprising that they quickly became more popular than the complete score for Peer Gynt. Indeed, that very score wasn’t even published in Grieg’s own lifetime, finally becoming available in 1908, the year after the composer’s death.
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Paavo Järvi (conductor). Virgin Classics: 5457222.