In the Hall of the Mountain King: Grieg’s Mischievous Masterpiece

Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King

Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King is an inspired bit of classical music.

It was composed for the 1867 play Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen and it’s actually just some incidental music Grieg (1843-1907) didn’t think very highly of.

Yet the short piece has since become hyper popular in advertising and, more generally, as an excellent piece of dramatic music. Let’s explore it here then, eh?

Tiptoeing Our Way Around the History of In the Hall of the Mountain King

Listen to that! Bloody epic. Just the build-up, the gradual sense of raging mania and mischievousness as it broods away.

In Norwegian, the title is I Dovregubbens hall, or “In the Dovre man’s hall”.

The music was used in the sixth scene of Act II in Peer Gynt. Ibsen’s (1828-1906) play is famed across Norway and is a fairy tale about the arrogant eponymous character who abducts a bride from her wedding but then abandons her to travel the world.

Grieg intended the music as an interlude. Yet there are choral versions around. And the berserk choral section of the pieces goes as follows.

Slagt ham! Kristenmands søn har dåret,
Dovregubbens veneste mø!
Slagt ham!
Slagt ham!
Må jeg skjære ham i fingeren?
Må jeg rive ham i håret?
Hu, hej, lad mig bide ham i låret!
Skal han lages til sod og sø?
Skal han steges på spid eller brunes i gryde?
Isvand i blodet!

And that translates into English like this.

Slay him! The Christian man’s son has seduced,
the fairest maid of the Mountain King!
Slay him! Slay him!
May I hack him on the fingers?
May I tug him by the hair?
Hu, hey, let me bite him in the haunches!
Shall he be boiled into broth and bree to me,
Shall he roast on a spit or be browned in a stewpan?
Ice to your blood, friends!

The play is a satire on Norwegian culture and nationalistic pomposity in general, which is how Edvard Grieg wrote this piece of music.

As in, it’s supposed to lampoon compositions filled with national fervour (like a national anthem). The fact the piece was so well received irked Grieg considerably and he came to hate the piece. He wrote of it this.

“For the Hall of the Mountain King, I have written something that so reeks of cowpats, ultra-Norwegianism, and ‘to-thyself-be-enough-ness’ that I can’t bear to hear it, though I hope that the irony will make itself felt.”

That’s not uncommon for creatives. You can create something you grow to despise, yet enthusiasts come to love it.

Although it’s quite difficult to fathom how anyone would hate this work.

As with many other compositions (such as Pachelbel’s Canon in d), the piece has been rearranged by many composers over the years. The rendition you hear can often be quite a bit different from Grieg’s original.

Although it’s always worth watching a full orchestra at work with this one.

Not too shabby, eh? Cobwebs should’ve been added to the orchestra, though.

In the Hall of the Mountain King’s Use Across Modern Pop Culture

Anyone from the UK hearing that will immediately think of a certain theme park in Stoke-on-Trent. One of the things about classical is the music is in the public domain, so these works can be used to just sell stuff.

The music has also been used in the likes of Trollhunters the animated series.

It also appeared in ZX Spectrum platformer Manic Miner back in 1983. Thanks to commenter mattsta for flagging this one up! Have a listen.

As mattsta puts it, the track:

“Drilled a poorly rendered version into your brain”

Indeed. We think it’s a mighty fine rendition.

And it also turns up in satirist Steve Cutt’s animated short film Man (see also his rat race depiction in Happiness).

Again, In the Hall of the Mountain King lends itself rather efficiently to anything with a sense of growing, improbable mania.

Kind of like Professional Moron, really, which is why we’re celebrating it here on the blog this merry Saturday.


  1. Very interesting, I didn’t know this history. Seems it’s not unusual for an artist to come to hate their most popular work. I always remember Alec Guinness and Star Wars, though he didn’t have to do with its creation beyond acting in it, but the fact that he’s most closely associated with that over his acting in whatever else, as Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia or Charles I in Cromwell etc. might have annoyed him a bit. I’m sure there are better examples I can’t think of.

    I’ve been listening to a little more classical again, getting a special appreciation for Shostakovich now. His work is all the more impressive considering how he was compelled by the Soviet government (and earlier by Stalin himself, who enjoyed killing artists he didn’t favor anymore) yet he kept at least some freedom in his music, maybe as much as he could.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Guinness bloody hated Star Wars. I think Harrison Ford resents it a lot as well.

      I did a post last year on Shostakovich and the myth he had war shrapnel lodged in his brain, helping him to compose. Probably not true. But he was fascinating, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the more curious arrangements of ‘Hall of the Mountain King’ was by interpolation into Rick Wakeman’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ – a few bars of the main motif pop up during the lengthy orchestral repeat of the main ‘Journey’ chord progression near the end. Kind of funny where Norwegian music turns up, I suppose someone will use the riff from ‘Take On Me’ next. It’s nearly as old as Grieg’s stuff, these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rick Wakeman and his mighty cape is capable of anything. I’d like to see Wakeman do a Take On Me rendition.

      Yes is an odd one for me, as Jon Anderson is from Accrington in Lancashire. Near where I grew up. Full of strong Northerner accents, yet he has that vocal range. I’m sure the kids didn’t treat him differently at school.


  3. what no mention of the ZX Spectrum classic…Manic Miner, that drilled a poorly rendered version into your brain. Check out YouTube to hear the living circle of hell.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of those songs I knew the melody of long before I knew its name. It’s a good one, alright. It features heavily in Fritz Lang’s M (albeit whistled), which is one of my favorite films of all time.

    Liked by 1 person

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