In the hall of the mountain king - Literature and music

Here is one of the most loved songs by rockers/metalheads in the world, perhaps one of the first riffs in the history of music, loved across the board by generations of musicians from different backgrounds. But to talk about it we must first turn to literature. 


Ibsen wrote the poem "Peer Gynt" in 1867, recounting the adventures of the homonymous character, a troublemaker, giving rivers of sorrow to his mother, who seduces girls and unleashes brawls with fellow villagers, up to even bothering the King of the Troll of the mountain, ending up being thrown out of his kingdom in a bad way and starting from there other adventures until the redemption of his soul (in five acts); in 1876 it was staged for the first time with the musical accompaniment made by his friend Grieg. 

The composer then thought it was best to obtain 2 suites which, needless to say, will be his greatest success. Among these, we remember the concluding "Song of Solveig" which - a small gossip for the most powerful members of the group - will be used by Kamelot for the classic "Forever" ("Karma"), "Il Mattino" because we often found it an as nice alarm clock, "The dance of Anita", one of the top ring tones of the first Alcatel mobile phone (blessed adolescence, when you appreciated the "weight" of things) ... and then there is "In the hall of the mountain king", a piece itself rather simple, characterized by a dark and barely hinted beginning, with the same theme repeated at an ever-higher volume and an ever faster pace until it culminates in an orgy well representing the not exactly polite expulsion of the protagonist from the kingdom of the Trolls.


As mentioned at the beginning, many groups and artists have paid their tribute to this short but incisive composition. Leaving aside Disney who made a song for Pete in his animated reworking of "The Three Musketeers" (actually full of tributes to classical music), the first group that comes to my mind is The Who, who at the end of the 60s produced an electric version of the piece, rather simple, flat and boring to be honest, but meaningful to understand how much the song was rooted in modern musical culture (you can listen to it in the deluxe edition of "The Who Sells Out"). Ritchie Blackmore with his Rainbow, in particular those of the very short interregnum of Doogie White: in the beautiful album we find in fact "Hall of the Mountain King" which recalls the composition both in the title and in the instrumental part. 

In the Heavy Metal universe is impossible not to mention Savatage who use "Hall of the Mountain King" to give the title to one of the most famous and successful songs and albums of their gold discography; in truth, however, the title track has nothing to do with the composition, which is taken up in the splendid instrumental "Prelude to Madness" (what a wonderful guitarist Criss Oliva was! Give it a go and click on the player to hear the song); the same arrangement will be taken up by Savatage's "orchestral rib", the Trans Siberian Orchestra, on the album "Night Castle" (titled "The Mountain"). Curious the case of Helloween who, in the album "Waĺls of Jericho", use the main theme of the piece as an interlude within the amusing "Gorgar"; Kai Hansen himself will then use Grieg's song to introduce "Future World" in concerts with Gamma Ray as well. I conclude this long, and hopefully not too verbose examination, citing the last known domicile of the piece, or its "punk" transposition (more or less) by The Offspring for their latest work "Let The Bad Time Roll". 

All these words reiterate once again how the classics, and of literature and music, can influence different generations and different styles, without ever ceasing to say what they have to say. 

- The Who "The Who Sells Out" (1967) 
- Helloween "Walls of Jericho" (1985) 
- Savatage "Hall of the Mountain King" (1987) 
- Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow "Strangers in us All" (1995) 
- Trans Siberian Orchestra "Night Castle" (2009) 
- The Offspring "Let the Bad Time Roll" (2021)
Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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