Friday, 6 November 2015

Nordic Noir In The Hall of the Mountain King

An animated interpretation of Edvard Grieg's music In The Hall of the Mountain King. I suppose in these highly charged and discordant times, it could be an allegory for this, a metaphor for that, a cautionary tale or a message with a moral, but the sweeping music and simple fairytale of Norwegain Trolls and a young mans adventure that it tells, for me this is the Original Nordic Noir.

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) enjoyed telling the Folk stories of Norway in his music. Grieg was a leading composer of the Romantic era and brought the music and folk legends of Norway to an international audience. In The Hall Of The Mountain King is from a bigger piece of music, the Peer Gynt Suite, which tells the story of a boy called Peer Gynt who falls in love with a girl that he is not allowed to marry. Very upset he runs away to the mountains but he gets caught by trolls who take him to their king. He tries to escape in the middle of the night but the trolls hear him and chase him through the mountain corridors. Finally Peer escapes.....

The Story Behind Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) wrote his five-act allegorical drama Peer Gynt in 1867 while living in Italy. It tells the story of the downfall and subsequent redemption of a Norwegian peasant anti-hero. Unlike Ibsen’s previous dramas, it was written in verse and wasn’t originally intended for stage performance.  Ibsen wrote many plays which have been performed around the world, including A Doll's House -significant for its critical attitude toward 19th-century marriage traditions, Hedda - a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre and world drama and An Enemy of the People - written in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which at that time was considered scandalous. Ghosts had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality.

However, in 1874, Ibsen changed his mind and wrote to his friend and compatriot Edvard Grieg to ask if he would compose the music for a production of the play. Flattered to have received the invitation, Grieg agreed at once, but doubt soon set in.
Much as he admired the drama as a literary work, Grieg found composing for it a difficult task.
“Peer Gynt progresses slowly,” he wrote to a friend in August 1874, “and there is no possibility of having it finished by autumn. It is a terribly unmanageable subject.”
As work continued, Grieg began to be drawn into the drama and, as his wife noted, “the more he saturated his mind with the powerful poem, the more clearly he saw that he was the right man for a work of such witchery and so permeated with the Norwegian spirit”.
The music was completed in the autumn of 1875, and the play’s lavishly staged premiere took place on February 24, 1876 in the Mollergaden Theatre, Christiania (now Oslo), with the orchestra conducted by Grieg himself. (source)

What is Nordic Noir?

Whilst many of the legends and lore of the North and of Norway do have a fairly dark and bleak aspect to them, this can be seen to arise as a consequence of the environment and its weathers, as well as the cultural developments that earlier led Norwegian people to become Vikings and voyagers.
The subsequent emergence Nordic Noir as an artistic theme and cultural influence has its origins in these earlier times and has been more recently refreshed by the cultural critiscism of Norwegian writers such as Ibsen, the music of Grieg, and artists such as Edvard Munch and Theodor Kittelsen.
Ibsen wrote many plays carrying an indepth criticicism of the culture f his times, including A Doll's House -significant for its critique of 19th-century marriage traditions, Hedda - a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre and world drama and An Enemy of the People - written in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality and was considered scandalous.
Edvard Munch (1863– 944) another Noirish Norwegian, was a painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century, you have probably seen his painting the 'Scream'... 
Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914) illustrates the Noir aspect in its Natural and supernatural combined - famous for his nature paintings, as well as for his illustrations of fairy tales and legends, especially of trolls. (more here) 
John Bauer ( 1882-1918) was a Swedish painter and illustrator best known for his illustrations of Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls).

Water Sprite - Theodor Kittelsen

More recently, Nordic Noir has developed as a type of Scandinavian crime fiction and television drama that typically features dark storylines and bleak urban settings, renowned for its simple prose, dramatic plots, and social criticism. Swedish and Norwegian writers have transformed the murder mystery into a vehicle to critique contemporary Europe. The novels of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo are primarily page-turners, but display a social conscience which was non-existent in the genre 20 years ago. Mankell, who created murder detective Kurt Wallander, describes his goal as ‘making your books be about something – and have something pertinent to say about the societies we live in’. (source)

“In this place things can come out of nowhere,” says hotel receptionist/furtive temptress Elena, “Monsters. You can’t see them until they have you in their teeth.” She’s not joking – Fortitude (which won out over Grim Existence and Secrets Aboundberg when the naming committee was in town) is a subzero former mining town where polar bears outnumber people three to one, and there’s a legal requirement to carry a rifle lest one of them decides to make you its tender little afternoon snack.(source)

Jordskott adds a supernatural Norse element to the dark crime formula previously laid out by Wallander, The Killing and The Bridge. A chilly draught, the faint sound of a crying child and a mounting sense of dread as  child goes missing and a gifted but conflicted cop becomes obsessed with finding her. The cop is Eva Thörnblad and the child is her daughter Josefine, missing for seven years when we join the show. From here on, Jordskott draws heavily on the deep, dark tradition of Norse mythology.  Like all changelings, its true character isn’t detectable at first. But, as the weeks go by and the forest setting becomes a character in its own right, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary murder-mystery weekend. The results are chilling. Ancient myths persist because of their universality and their ability to tap into our primal fears and desires. And Nordic noir creates a modern mythology where heroic loners with terrible social skills do battle with depraved abusers, incompetent policing and a corrupt establishment...

And then theres River, Abi Morgan brings Nordic noir to London in this new crime drama with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. Here we meet and are swept along by Stellan's portrayal of the erratic detective John River in the throes of a psychotic breakdown, he wanders around talking to thin air and 'manifests' or as we might say, ghosts. The main 'manifest' of the series is River's former but now incorporeal detective partner Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson,...

And of course TrollHunter, a 2010 Norwegian dark fantasy film, made in the form of a found footage mockumentary. Trollhunter contains many references toNorwegian culture and folktales in particular. Among those are the belief that there are different species of trolls, for example the woodland and mountain trolls, which as in the film can be further categorised into subspecies. The most well-known is probably the Mountain King which is mentioned in the play Peer Gynt and its music by Edvard Grieg. The Norwegian name for Mountain King, Dovregubbe, is a compound word and the first part is the same word used in the mountain range Dovrefjell, which is also where the characters meet the final troll.

The recent literary and televisual development of Nordic and now also Brit Noir, brings us full circle to writers like Ibsen and composers such as Grieg, being both forefathers of Nordic Noir and descendants of its earlier existential Nordic outlook on life. With a mixture of straight forward style, humanist criticism of contemporary society and a sometimes heavy dash of the supernatural, Nordic Noir exploring the often dark, romantic complexities of life - the North has it!

Edvard Grieg 1843 - 1907.

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