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Henrik Klausen as Peer (1876)
|Written by||Henrik Ibsen|
|Date premiered||24 February 1876|
|Genre||Romantic dramatic poem converted into a Play|
Henrik Klausen as Peer (1876)
|Written by||Henrik Ibsen|
|Date premiered||24 February 1876|
|Genre||Romantic dramatic poem converted into a Play|
Peer Gynt (/ /; Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈpeːr ˈɡʏnt]) is a five-act play in verse by the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen. Written in the Bokmål form of Norwegian, it is one of the most widely performed Norwegian plays.
Ibsen believed Per Gynt, the Norwegian fairy tale on which the play is loosely based, to be rooted in fact, and several of the characters are modelled after Ibsen's own family, notably his parents Knud Ibsen and Marichen Altenburg. He was also generally inspired by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen's collection of Norwegian fairy tales, published in 1845 (Huldre-Eventyr og Folkesagn).
According to Klaus Van Den Berg, the "cinematic script blends poetry with social satire and realistic scenes with surreal ones". Peer Gynt has also been described as the story of a life based on procrastination and avoidance. A first edition of 1,250 copies was published on 14 November 1867 in Copenhagen. Although the first edition swiftly sold out, a reprint of two thousand copies, which followed after only fourteen days, didn't sell out until seven years later.
While Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson admired the play's "satire on Norwegian egotism, narrowness, and self-sufficiency" and described it as "magnificent", Hans Christian Andersen, Georg Brandes and Clemens Petersen all joined the widespread hostility, Petersen writing that the play was not poetry. Enraged by Petersen's criticisms in particular, Ibsen defended his work by arguing that it "is poetry; and if it isn't, it will become such. The conception of poetry in our country, in Norway, shall shape itself according to this book." Despite this defense of his poetic achievement in Peer Gynt, the play was his last to employ verse; from The League of Youth (1869) onwards, Ibsen was to write drama only in prose.
Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt in deliberate disregard of the limitations that the conventional stagecraft of the 19th century imposed on drama. Its forty scenes move uninhibitedly in time and space and between consciousness and the unconscious, blending folkloric fantasy and unsentimental realism.
Raymond Williams compares Peer Gynt with August Strindberg's early drama Lucky Peter's Journey (1882) and argues that both explore a new kind of dramatic action that was beyond the capacities of the theatre of the day; both created "a sequence of images in language and visual composition" that "became technically possible only in film." Peer Gynt was first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) on 24 February 1876, with original music composed by Edvard Grieg that includes some of today's most recognized classical pieces, In the Hall of the Mountain King and Morning Mood. It was published in German translation in 1881, in English in 1892, and in French in 1896.
Peer Gynt is the son of the once highly regarded Jon Gynt. Jon Gynt spent all his money on feasting and living lavishly, and had to go from his farm as a wandering salesman, leaving his wife and son behind in debt. Åse, the mother, wished to raise her son to restore the lost fortune of his father, but Peer is soon to be considered useless. He is a poet and a braggart, not unlike the youngest son from Norwegian fairy tales, the "Ash Lad", with whom he shares some characteristics.
As the play opens, Peer gives an account of a reindeer hunt that went awry, a famous theatrical scene generally known as "the Buckride". His mother scorns him for his vivid imagination, and taunts him because he spoiled his chances with Ingrid, the daughter of the richest farmer. Peer leaves for Ingrid's wedding, scheduled for the following day, because he may still get a chance with the bride. His mother follows quickly to stop him from shaming himself completely.
At the wedding, the other guests taunt and laugh at Peer, especially the local blacksmith, Aslak, who holds a grudge after an earlier brawl. In the same wedding, Peer meets a family of Haugean newcomers from another valley. He instantly notices the elder daughter, Solveig, and asks her to dance. She refuses because her father would disapprove, and because Peer's reputation has preceded him. She leaves, and Peer starts drinking. When he hears the bride has locked herself in, he seizes the opportunity, runs away with her, and spends the night with her in the mountains.
Peer is banished for kidnapping Ingrid. As he wanders the mountains, his mother, Åse, and Solveig's father search for him. Peer meets three amorous dairymaids who are waiting to be courted by trolls (a folklore motif from Gudbrandsdalen). He becomes highly intoxicated with them and spends the next day alone suffering from a hangover. He runs head-first into a rock and swoons, and the rest of the second act probably takes place in Peer's dreams. He comes across a woman clad in green, who claims to be the daughter of the troll mountain king. Together they ride into the mountain hall, and the troll king gives Peer the opportunity to become a troll if Peer would marry his daughter. Peer agrees to a number of conditions, but declines in the end. He is then confronted with the fact that the green-clad woman is with child. Peer denies this; he claims not to have touched her, but the wise troll king replies that he begat the child in his head. Crucial for the plot and understanding of the play is the question asked by the troll king: What is the difference between troll and man?
The answer given by the Old Man of the Mountain is: "Out there, where sky shines, humans say: 'To thyself be true.' In here, trolls say: 'Be true to yourself and to hell with the world.'" Egoism is a typical trait of the trolls in this play. From then on, Peer uses this as his motto, always proclaiming that he is himself, whatever that is. He then meets one of the most interesting characters, the Bøyg — a creature who has no real description. Asked the question "Who are you?" The Bøyg answers, "Myself". In time, Peer also takes the Bøyg's important saying as a motto: "Go around". The rest of his life, he "beats around the bush" instead of facing himself or the truth.
Upon awaking, Peer is confronted by Helga, Solveig's sister, who gives him food and regards from her sister. Peer gives the girl a silver button for Solveig to keep and asks that she not forget him.
As an outlaw, Peer struggles to build his own cottage in the hills. Solveig turns up and insists on living with him. She has made her choice, she says, and there will be no return for her. Peer is delighted and welcomes her, but as she enters the cabin, an elderly-appearing woman in green garments appears with a limping boy at her side. This is the green-clad woman from the mountain hall, and her half-human brat is the child begotten by Peer from his mind during his stay there. She has cursed Peer by forcing him to remember her and all his previous sins, when facing Solveig. Peer hears a ghostly voice saying, "Go roundabout, Peer", and decides to leave. He tells Solveig he has something heavy to fetch. He returns in time for his mother's death, and then sets off overseas.
Peer is away for many years, taking part in various occupations and playing various roles including that of a businessman engaged in enterprises on the coast of Morocco. Here, he explains his view of life, and we learn that he is a businessman taking part in unethical transactions, including sending heathen images to China and trading slaves. In his defence, he points out that he has also sent missionaries to China, and he treated his slaves well. His companions rob him, after he decides to support the Turkish in suppressing a Greek revolt, and leave him alone on the shore. Then he finds some stolen bedouin gear, and, in these clothes, he is hailed as a prophet by a local tribe. He tries to seduce Anitra, the chieftain's daughter, but she steals his money and rings, gets away, and leaves him. Then he decides to become a historian and travels to Egypt. He wanders through the desert, passing the Colossi of Memnon and the Sphinx. As he addresses the Sphinx, believing her to be the Bøyg, he encounters the keeper of the local madhouse, himself insane, who regards Peer as the bringer of supreme wisdom. Peer comes to the madhouse and understands that all of the patients live in their own worlds, being themselves to such a degree that no one cares for anyone else. In his youth, Peer had dreamt of becoming an emperor. In this place, he is finally hailed as one — the emperor of the "self". Peer despairs and calls for the "Keeper of all fools", i.e., God.
Finally, on his way home as an old man, he is shipwrecked. Among those on board, he meets the Strange Passenger, who wants to make use of Peer's corpse to find out where dreams have their origin. This passenger scares Peer out of his wits. Peer lands on shore bereft of all of his possessions, a pitiful and grumpy old man. Back home in Norway, Peer Gynt attends a peasant funeral and an auction, where he offers for sale everything from his earlier life. The auction takes place at the very farm where the wedding once was held. Peer stumbles along and is confronted with all that he did not do, his unsung songs, his unmade works, his unwept tears, and his questions that were never asked. His mother comes back and claims that her deathbed went awry; he did not lead her to heaven with his ramblings. Peer escapes and is confronted with the Button-molder, who maintains that Peer's soul must be melted down with other faulty goods unless he can explain when and where in life he has been "himself". Peer protests. He has been only that, and nothing else. Then he meets the troll king, who states that he has been a troll, not a man, most of his life. The Button-molder comes along and says that he has to come up with something if he is not to be melted down. Peer looks for a priest to whom to confess his sins, and a character named the Lean One (who is the Devil), turns up. The Lean One believes Peer cannot be counted a real sinner who can be sent to Hell; he has committed no grave sin. Peer despairs in the end, understanding that his life is forfeit; he is nothing. But at the same moment, Solveig starts to sing — the cabin Peer built is close at hand, but he dares not enter. The Bøyg in Peer tells him "around". The Button-molder shows up and demands a list of sins, but Peer has none to give, unless Solveig can vouch for him. Then Peer breaks through to Solveig, asking her for his sins. But she answers: "You have not sinned at all, my dearest boy." Peer does not understand — he believes himself lost. Then he asks her: "Where has Peer Gynt been since we last met? Where was I as the one I should have been, whole and true, with the mark of God on my brow?" She answers; "In my faith, in my hope, in my love." Peer screams, calls his mother, and hides himself in her lap. Solveig sings her lullaby for him, and we might presume he dies in this last scene of the play, although there are neither stage directions nor dialogue to indicate that he actually does.
Behind the corner, the Button-molder, who is sent by God, still waits, with the words: "Peer, we shall meet at the last crossroads, and then we shall see if... I'll say no more."
Klaus Van Den Berg argues that Peer Gynt
On 5 January 1867 Ibsen wrote to Frederik Hegel, his publisher, with his plan for the play: it would be "a long dramatic poem, having as its principal a part-legendary, part-fictional character from Norwegian folklore during recent times. It will bear no resemblance to Brand, and will contain no direct polemics or anything of that kind."
He began to write Peer Gynt on 14 January, employing a far greater variety of metres in its rhymed verse than he had used in his previous verse plays Brand (written 1865) or Love's Comedy (written 1862). The first two acts were completed in Rome and the third in Casamicciola on the north of the island of Ischia.
During this time, Ibsen told Vilhelm Bergsøe that "I don't think the play's for acting" when they discussed the possibility of staging the play's image of a casting-ladle "big enough to re-cast human beings in." Ibsen sent the three acts to his publisher on 8 August, with a letter that explains that "Peer Gynt was a real person who lived in Gudbrandsdal, probably around the end of the last century or the beginning of this. His name is still famous among the people up there, but not much more is known about his life than what is to be found in Asbjørnsen's Norwegian Folktales (in the section entitled 'Stories from the Mountain')." In those stories, "Per Gynt" rescues the three dairy-maids from the trolls and shoots the Bøyg, who was originally a gigantic worm-shaped troll-being. Per was known to tell tall tales of his own achievements, a trait Peer in the play inherited. The "buck-ride" story, which Peer tells his mother in the play's first scene, is also from this source, but, as Åse points out, it was originally Gudbrand Glesne from Vågå who did the tour with the reindeer stag and finally shot it.
Following an earthquake on Ischia on 14 August, Ibsen left for Sorrento, where he completed the final two acts; he finished the play on 14 October. It was published in a first edition of 1,250 copies a month later in Copenhagen.
Ibsen's previous play, Brand, preached the philosophy of “All or nothing.” Relentless, cruel, resolute, overriding in will, Brand went through everything that stood in his way toward gaining an ideal. Peer Gynt is a compensating balance, a complementary color to Brand. In contrast to Brand, with his iron will, Peer is will-less, insufficient, and irresolute. Peer "goes around" all issues facing him.
Brand had a phenomenal literary success, and people became curious to know what Ibsen's next play would be. The dramatist, about this time, was relieved of financial worry by two money grants, one from the Norwegian government and the other from the Scientific Society of Trondhjem. This enabled him to give to his work an unfettered mind. He went with his family to Frascati, where, in the Palazzo rooms, he looked many feet down upon the Mediterranean, and pondered his new drama. He preserved a profound silence about the content of the play, and begged his publisher, Hegel, to create as much mystery about it as possible.
The portrayal of the Gynt family is known to be based on Henrik Ibsen's own family and childhood memories; in a letter to Georg Brandes, Ibsen wrote that his own family and childhood had served "as some kind of model" for the Gynt family. In a letter to Peter Hansen, Ibsen confirmed that the character Åse, Peer Gynt's mother, was based on his own mother, Marichen Altenburg. The character Jon Gynt is considered to be based on Ibsen's father Knud Ibsen, who was a rich merchant before he went bankrupt. Even the name of the Gynt family's ancestor, the prosperous Rasmus Gynt, is borrowed from the Ibsen's family's earliest known ancestor. Thus, the character Peer Gynt could be interpreted as being an ironic representation of Henrik Ibsen himself. There are striking similarities to Ibsen's own life; Ibsen himself spent 27 years living abroad and was never able to face his hometown again.
Ibsen asked Edvard Grieg to compose incidental music for the play. Grieg composed a score that plays approximately ninety minutes. Grieg extracted two suites of four pieces each from the incidental music (Opus 46 and Opus 55), which became very popular as concert music. Two of the sung parts of the incidental music ended up in these suites (the famous In the Hall of the Mountain King in the 1st suite with the vocal parts omitted, and the last part of the 2nd suite, Solveig's Song, the solo part now played by violin rather than sung, though the vocal version is sometimes substituted). Originally, the second suite had a fifth number, The Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter, but Grieg withdrew it. Grieg himself declared that it was easier to make music "out of his own head" than strictly following suggestions made by Ibsen. For instance, Ibsen wanted music that would characterize the "international" friends in the fourth act, by melding the said national anthems (Norwegian, Swedish, German, French and English). Reportedly, Grieg was not in the right mood for this task.
The music of these suites, especially Morning Mood starting the first suite, In the Hall of the Mountain King, and the string lament Åse's Death later reappeared in numerous arrangements, soundtracks, etc.
Other Norwegian composers that have written theatrical music for Peer Gynt include Harald Sæverud (1947), Arne Nordheim (1969), Ketil Hvoslef (1993) and Jon Mostad (1993–4). Gunnar Sønstevold (1966) wrote music for a ballet version of Peer Gynt.
In 1906 scenes from the play were given by the Progressive Stage Society of New York. The first US production of Peer Gynt opened at the Chicago Grand Opera House on October 24, 1906, and starred the noted actor Richard Mansfield, in one of his very last roles before his untimely death. In 1923, Joseph Schildkraut played the role on Broadway, in a Theatre Guild production, featuring Selena Royle, Helen Westley, Dudley Digges, and, before he entered films, Edward G. Robinson. In 1944, at the Old Vic, Ralph Richardson played the role, surrounded by some of the greatest British actors of the time in supporting or bit roles, among them Sybil Thorndike as Åse, and Laurence Olivier as the Button Molder. In 1951, John Garfield fulfilled his wish to star in a Broadway production, featuring Mildred Dunnock as Åse. Sadly, this production was not a success, and is said by some to have contributed to Garfield's death at age 39.
On film, years before he became a superstar, the seventeen-year-old Charlton Heston starred as Peer in a silent, student-made, low-budget film version of the play produced in 1941. Peer Gynt, however, has never been given a full-blown treatment as a sound film in English on the motion picture screen, although there have been several television productions, and a sound film was produced in German in 1934.
In 1957, Ingmar Bergman produced a five-hour stage version of Peer Gynt, at Sweden's Malmö City Theatre, with Max von Sydow as Peer Gynt. Bergman produced the play again, 34 years later, in 1991, at Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre, this time with Börje Ahlstedt in the title role. Bergman chose not to use Grieg's music, nor the more modern Harald Sæverud composition, but rather traditional Norwegian folk music, and little of that either.
In 1993, Christopher Plummer starred in his own concert version of the play, with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Hartford, Connecticut. This was a new performing version and a collaboration of Plummer and Hartford Symphony Orchestra Music Director Michael Lankester. Plummer had long dreamed of starring in a fully staged production of the play, but had been unable to. The 1993 production was not a fully staged version, but rather a drastically condensed concert version, narrated by Plummer, who also played the title role, and accompanied by Edvard Grieg's complete incidental music for the play. This version included a choir and vocal parts for soprano and mezzo-soprano. Plummer performed the concert version again in 1995 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Lankester conducting. The 1995 production was broadcast on Canadian radio. It has never been presented on television. It has also never been released on compact disc. In the 1990s Plummer and Lankester also collaborated on and performed similarly staged concert versions of A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare (with music by Mendelssohn) and Ivan the Terrible (an arrangement of a Prokofiev film score with script for narrator). Among the three aforementioned Plummer/Lankester collaborations, all received live concert presentations and live radio broadcasts, but only Ivan the Terrible was released on CD.
In 2000, the Royal National Theatre staged a version based on the 1990 translation of the play by Frank McGuinness. The production featured three actors playing Peer, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as the young Peer, Patrick O'Kane as Peer in his adventures in Africa, and Joseph Marcell as the old Peer. Not only was the use of three actors playing one character unusual in itself, but the actors were part of a "color-blind" cast: Ejiofor and Marcell are Black, and O'Kane is White.
In 2001 at the BBC Proms, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers, conducted by Manfred Honeck, performed the complete incidental music in Norwegian with an English narration read by Simon Callow.
In 2006, Robert Wilson staged a co-production revival with both the National Theater of Bergen and the Norwegian Theatre of Oslo, Norway. Ann-Christin Rommen directed the actors in Norwegian (with English subtitles). This production mixed both Wilson's minimalist (yet constantly moving) stage designs with technological effects to bring out the play's expansive potential. Furthermore they utilized state-of-the-art microphones, sound systems, and recorded acoustic and electronic music to bring clarity to the complex and shifting action and dialogue. From April 11 through the 16th, they performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House.
In 2006, as part of the Norwegian Ibsen anniversary festival, Peer Gynt was set at the foot of the Great Sphinx of Giza near Cairo, Egypt (an important location in the original play). The director was Bentein Baardson. The performance was the centre of some controversy, with some critics seeing it as a display of colonialist attitudes.
In January 2008 the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis debuted a new translation of Peer Gynt by the poet Robert Bly. Bly learned Norwegian from his grandparents while growing up in rural Minnesota, and later during several years of travel in Norway. This production stages Ibsen's text rather abstractly, tying it loosely into a modern birthday party for a 50-year old man. It also significantly cuts the length of the play. (An earlier production of the full-length play at the Guthrie required the audience to return a second night to see the second half of the play.)
In 2009, Dundee Rep with the National Theatre of Scotland toured a production. This interpretation, with much of the dialogue in modern Scots, received mixed reviews. The cast included Gerry Mulgrew as the older Peer. Directed by Dominic Hill.
In November 2010 Southampton Philharmonic Choir and the New London Sinfonia performed the complete incidental music using a new English translation commissioned from Beryl Foster. In the performance, the musical elements were linked by an English narrative read by actor Samuel West.
The 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival presented a new version of Peer Gynt by Arthur Riordan, directed by Lynne Parker with music by Tarab.
In November 2013, Basingstoke Choral Society (directed by David Gibson, who also directs Southampton Philharmonic Choir) reprised the earlier performance by their colleagues in Southampton.
At Vinstra in Gudbrandsdalen, Henrik Ibsen and Peer Gynt have been celebrated with an annual festival since 1928. The festival is one of Norway’s main events, and is recognized by the Norwegian Government as a leading institution of presenting culture in nature.
The main event in the festival is the staging of Peer Gynt next to Lake Gålå. The play is staged in the same surroundings in which Ibsen claims he found inspiration for the character Peer Gynt, and is regarded by many as the definitive version. The play is performed with professional actors from the national theater institutions, and nearly 100 amateur actors. Edvard Grieg's original Peer Gynt music is performed by a professional orchestra. The event is one of the most popular theater productions in Norway, attracting more than 17,000 people every summer.
Peer Gynt Sculpture Park (Peer Gynt-parken) is a sculpture park located in Oslo, Norway. Created in honour of Henrik Ibsen, it is a monumental presentation of Peer Gynt, scene by scene. It was established in 2006 by Selvaag, the company behind the housing development in the area. Most of the sculptures in this park are the result of an international sculpture competition.
In the 1930s German composer Werner Egk wrote an opera based on the story.
In 1948, the composer Harald Sæverud made a new score for the nynorsk-production at "the Norwegian Theatre" (Det Norske Teatret) in Oslo. Sæverud's music is considered[by whom?] anti-romantic, humorous, and rough. Sæverud incorporated the national music of each of the friends in the fourth act, as per Ibsen's request.
In 1951, North Carolinian playwright Paul Green published an American version of the Norwegian play. This is the version in which actor John Garfield starred on Broadway. This version is also the American Version, and features subtle plot differences from Ibsen's original work, including the omittance of the shipwreck scene near the end, and the Buttonmolder character playing a moderately larger role.
In 1969, Broadway impresario Jacques Levy (who had previously directed the first version of Oh! Calcutta!) commissioned The Byrds' Roger McGuinn to write the music for a pop (or country-rock) version of Peer Gynt, to be titled Gene Tryp. The play was apparently never completed, although McGuinn is currently (as of 2006) preparing a version for release. Several songs from the abortive show appeared on the Byrds' albums of 1970 and 1971.
In 1998, playwright Romulus Linney directed his adaptation of the play, entitled Gint, at the Theatre for the New City in New York. This adaptation moved the play's action to 20th-century Appalachia and California.
In 2008, Theater in the Open in Newburyport, Massachusetts, produced a production of Peer Gynt adapted and directed by Paul Wann and the company. Scott Smith, whose great, great grandfather (Ole Bull) was one of the inspirations for the character, was cast as Gynt.
In 2009, a DVD was released of Hans Spoerli's ballet adaptation of the play, which Spoerli choreographed. This version uses mostly the Grieg music, but adds selections by other composers. Spoken excerpts from the play, in Norwegian, are also included.
In Israel, poet Dafna Eilat (he:דפנה אילת) composed a poem in Hebrew called "Solveig", which she also set to music, its theme derived from the play and emphasizing the named character's boundless faithful love. It was performed by Hava Alberstein (see ).
In 2011, the Polarity Ensemble Theater in Chicago adapted the play, where Peer’s mythic journey is envisioned as that of America itself, " a 150-year whirlwind tour of the American psyche."
On an episode of "Inside the Actor's Studio", Elton John spontaneously composed a song based on a passage from "Peer Gynt".
In spring 2013, Dr. Cary Mazer, a theatre professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, produced a stage version of his Jewish-inspired adaptation, Pinchas Vontz. The script was produced as a staged reading, with direction by Philadelphia theatre artist Ed Sobel.
There have been a number of film adaptations including:
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