In April 1967, a then little-known San Francisco group, Big Brother & the Holding Company, appeared on their local public television station, KQED. This was a few months before their legendary performance at the Monterey Pop Festival—which would make Joplin a star—and the release of their first album, which came out later in the year. Their live set for the KQED cameras is now appreciated for its documentation of Joplin pre-fame, but the highlight of the footage doesn’t involve her at all. It’s her band’s untamed interpretation of a nearly 100-year-old piece of music that made for unusually great TV. Still does!
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” was written by Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. It was commissioned for Peer Gynt, an 1876 play concerning the vagabond life of the title character. The Grieg piece is played during a fantasy sequence in which Grynt sneaks into the castle of the Mountain King.
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra sets the scene:
The music begins with the tiptoeing theme in B minor, played slowly by the cellos and bassoons, indicating Peer Gynt’s careful footsteps as he creeps into the castle. A second statement of the theme, played at another pitch and on different instruments, represents the king’s trolls, who eventually give chase to Peer. The tempo gradually escalates, and the music gets faster and faster and louder and louder. A series of crashing cymbals and thunderous timpani rolls silence all the other instruments, as the mountain tumbles to the ground and destroys the trolls who have been chasing after the fleeing Peer.
Even non-classical music fans will probably recognize the piece.
Much more after the jump…