Program Title: Edvard Grieg, Morning Mood, Opus 23….Also, part of the Peer Gynt Suites No. 1, Opus 46.
When I was still working as a teacher, one of my favourite parts of the job was reading aloud to my students. One of my favourite chapter books to read aloud was “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White. There was one scene, in particular, that I always enjoyed sharing with my students. It was the scene where Charlotte, the Spider, had just completed making her egg sac. Her friend, the innocent, child-like pig named Wilbur sees the egg sac and asks Charlotte what it is. Charlotte replies that it is her “magnum opus”. When Wilbur responds with befuddlement at her grandiose choice of words, Charlotte re-frames her reply by saying the egg sac is her “best work”……..magnum, meaning magnificent and opus, meaning work or product. This example of how we can be confused or intimidated by flowery language is important as we begin our own look at the world of Classical Music because it is a world filled with many terms and phrases that may seem confusing at first, but in the end, are actually easy to understand. Hopefully, this series of posts will help re-introduce us all to music that we know and have enjoyed before. In addition, I hope that we all….me, as well as you….will all learn to navigate our way through this world competently and with greater confidence because we understand the terminology better. Classical music need not be a mysterious thing. It is Art of the highest order and can fill your heart if you let it. So, let’s take our first steps…..together. Here we go.
Let’s begin with the title of our very first composition. Today’s piece of music has a formal and an informal name. The informal name is simply, Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg. The formal name is Morning Mood, Opus 23. In Classical Music, just as with Charlotte and her egg sac, the word, opus, has a very simple meaning. In Classical Music, the term opus is used to keep track of what number composition a particular work is. In the case of Morning Mood, the fact that it is labelled as Opus 23 means that it was Grieg’s 23rd published piece of music. Simple as that. This piece of music was, also, included as part of a suite of music in a play called Peer Gynt, which, when spoken of as part of the Suite, as opposed to a stand-alone piece of music, is referred to as Opus 46. So, as this post unfolds, I will be talking about Morning Mood, Opus 23.…….Grieg’s 23rd piece of published music.
Edvard Grieg was born in Norway and is generally considered to be Norway’s greatest composer. There are statues erected in his honour, as well as schools and theatres named after him, too. Grieg came along in the late 1800s and is credited with being one of the composers who helped modernize the themes upon which Classical music compositions were written. Prior to this, much of the totality of the works created by composers was done so with religious or nationalistic themes in mind. If you know anything about Mozart and/or the Academy Award-winning movie about his life, Amadeus, then you will be aware that creating whole operas praising God was the height of fashion in civilized social circles. Well, Grieg was one of those who believed that Music, as well as Art and Literature, could all grow beyond the limitations of society’s expectations and tolerances.
Because of his philosophy on the Arts, Grieg aligned himself with other forward-thinkers. One of those people turned out to be Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is highly regarded in literary circles and is considered to be one of those who accepted the mantle of responsibility for creating thought-provoking plays as passed down by William Shakespeare. Ibsen, along with Hans Christian Andersen, is regarded as Norway’s pre-eminent writer. And so it was that Ibsen wrote an epic-style poem called Peer Gynt that was turned into a five-act play. Peer Gynt is a play told entirely in verse. It has come to symbolize the fabric of Norwegian culture in much the same way that a play like Anne of Green Gables has become part of Canada’s cultural identity. To help turn his poem into a play, Ibsen approached his friend, Edvard Grieg, and asked him to contribute some incidental music to accompany his story. ***Peer Gynt is a drama, not a musical. So, the incidental music Grieg created was intended to act as background music, as opposed to being music that the actors would sing during their scenes.
Grieg created many pieces of music for Peer Gynt but the one that has stood the test of time has been a short, three-minute piece called Morning Mood. In Peer Gynt, Morning Mood is played during a transition scene in which the main character wakes up in the morning to find that he has been abandoned by his friends and is now alone in the desert. The music that accompanies this scene was designed for flutes and oboes and, as such, it sounds light and airy when played. This airiness of sound gave a sense of unity to a scene in which a sun was rising from beyond the horizon: rays of light stretching ever upward toward the sky. Sounds, colours and emotions all going up, up, up on the stage, as well as in our hearts and minds.
I can guarantee you that all of you have heard this piece of music before. From the opening notes, you will be instantly taken back to some television show or movie that has had a transition scene in which night turns into a new day…..all the while accompanied by this little tune known as Morning Mood. So please, do yourself a favour and click on the link for this song. It will lift your spirits, just as it did over a century ago, for the audiences who watched Peer Gynt performed in Norway and, in time, all over the world. In fact, Peer Gynt was the single-most performed dramatic play in the world in 2006…..as the theatre world celebrated the centenary of Ibsen’s death. I am not sure if this post will end up being my magnum opus but, if it helps, even a little bit, to de-mystify some aspects of the world of Classical Music and helps everyone to realize just how popular and prevalent this music is in our everyday world then, I will be happy. For now, here is a song you all know, Morning Mood, Opus 23 by Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the composition, Morning Mood, Opus 23 by Edvard Grieg can be found here.
The link to a museum dedicated to the life of composer Edvard Grieg can be found here.
The link to a museum dedicated to the life of playwright Henrik Ibsen can be found here.
The link to radio station Classical 103.1, right here in my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, can be found here.
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