Mercoledi Musicale

Much of the last few days have been taken up with writing the online programme notes for the PEI Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concert. Dina Gilbert, a conductor very much on her way up in the music world, will be leading a programme which includes the first of the two Suites that Edvard Grieg arranged of the incidental music for Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. In all probability Grieg realized that Ibsen’s five hour epic verse drama would not become standard repertoire and he took eight of the twenty-nine pieces for the Suites. They are amongst the most often played and recorded of his works.

The death of Åse – Arthur Rankham – 1936

While researching the notes I’ve listened to several recordings of the Suites as well as a very fine disc of the complete incidental music. No matter the recording the one piece that reached me on so many levels is the brief 45 bars of music for strings where Grieg captures the sadness, anguish and resignation of the death of Peer’s mother Åse’s. And repeated listenings have convinced me that he captures the universal emotions at the death of any of our loved ones.

Peer returns to his mother’s cabin – because of his rash act of abducting Ingrid on her wedding night Åse has been left with only the bed Peer slept in as a child. Peer recalls a game that they played when his father left – the bed was a sleigh and their horse Grane took them to Soria-Moria, a castle east of the sun and west of the moon. This time Peer becomes the coachman and takes Åse on her final ride. Grieg’s haunting music matches the language of the last passage of the scene (a bit of a long read) perfectly.

Peer
There’s the castle rising before us;
the drive will be over soon.

Åse
I will lie back and close my eyes then,
and trust me to you, my boy!

Peer
Come up with you, Grane, my trotter!
In the castle the throng is great;
they bustle and swarm to the gateway.
Peer Gynt and his mother are here!
What say you, Master Saint Peter?
Shall mother not enter in?
You may search a long time, I tell you,
ere you find such an honest old soul.
Myself I don’t want to speak of;
I can turn at the castle gate.
If you’ll treat me, I’ll take it kindly;
if not, I’ll go off just as pleased.
I have made up as many flim-flams
as the devil at the pulpit-desk,
and called my old mother a hen, too,
because she would cackle and crow.
But her you shall honour and reverence,
and make her at home indeed;
there comes not a soul to beat her
from the parishes nowadays. —
Ho-ho; here comes God the Father!
Saint Peter! you’re in for it now!
[In a deep voice.]
“Have done with these jack-in-office airs, sir;
Mother Åse shall enter free!”
[Laughs loudly, and turns towards his mother.]
Ay, didn’t I know what would happen?
Now they dance to another tune!
[Uneasily.]
Why, what makes your eyes so glassy?
Mother! Have you gone out of your wits —?
[Goes to the head of the bed.]
You mustn’t lie there and stare so —!
Speak, mother; it’s I, your boy!
[Feels her forehead and hands cautiously and says softly:]
Ay, ay! — You can rest yourself, Grane;
for even now the journey’s done.
[Closes her eyes, and bends over her.]
For all of your days I thank you,
for beatings and lullabies! —
But see, you must thank me back, now —
[Presses his cheek against her mouth]
There; that was the driver’s fare.

Peer Gynt: Act II Scene 4
Henrik Ibsen
translated by William and Charles Archer

On this day in 1918: British women over the age of 30 who meet minimum property qualifications, get the right to vote when Representation of the People Act 1918 is passed by Parliament.