About this work
After the sweeping success of the first concert suite drawn from Ibsen's Peer Gynt it is not at all surprising that both the public and Edvard Grieg's publisher cried out for a second installment. While Grieg had already selected four of the finest numbers from the score's total of twenty-two, he had little trouble drawing up a second very effective concert suite. the Peer Gynt Suite No.2, Op.55, which appeared in 1891, has never achieved the popular success of its predecessor, but its four pieces are marked by the same freshness and vitality that earned the first Suite its special place in the repertory.
Ibsen's five-act drama concerns a young Norwegian ruffian named Peer Gynt, who dreams of becoming emperor of the world. His sundry adventures--abducting a bride-to-be during her wedding, abandoning her for another woman, being tormented by gnomes, posturing as a prophet among the Arabs, eloping with and being subsequently double-crossed by an Arab princess, and finally returning to Norway--are the stuff of high drama and adventure, and are rough and isolated in a way that is peculiarly Nordic. Grieg captures this tone perfectly.
"Ingrid's Lament" originally accompanied Peer Gynt's abduction of the maiden, Ingrid, on her wedding day. There is an operatic flair to this four minute work that listeners familiar with only the pastoral scenes of the first Suite would find surprising. A violent opening outburst gives way to mournful string writing; the winds join in for the repetition of this fine lyric idea. After a passionate climax, replete with throbbing timpani and trumpets, the opening outburst is repeated twice, only to sink back, each time, into quiet mourning.
Grieg follows this bleak portrait with a lively "Arabian Dance," which captures something of the superficial characteristics of near-Eastern music; colorful use is made of tambourine and piccolo. A middle strain is more flowing, with some melodic imitation between the violins and cellos and a happy woodwind tune. The "Arabian dance," while not either as famous or as charming as "Anitra's dance" from the first Suite, is probably the most well-known number from the second Suite.
In Ibsen's play, after his adventures in Africa and with the Arabs, Gynt makes his way back to Norway; "Peer Gynt's Homecoming" is a powerful depiction of this dramatic scene. The tension builds over a sustained dominant pedal, while occasional swells of hopeful passion do their best to offset the ominous gestures of the horns and bassoons. This piece makes its way directly into the final number, an orchestral arrangement of the song sung by Solvejg, Peer Gynt's patient and devoted wife, upon his final tragic return and death. "Solvejg's cradle song" is among the finest and subtlest works of late nineteenth-century song that one can find, and the orchestral version does it full justice. The essence of the North positively oozes from the unaccompanied opening melody. After the harp starts its gentle rhythm, Solvejg (represented here by violins) sings her song--a brief, happy reminisce.