Robert Dean

Panel 6E: Performance, Dance and Theatricality
Session 6 – July 3, 15:30 – 17:30

The Transcodification of Grieg’s ‘Mountain King’ Meme

In The Selfish Gene Dawkins proposed that the spread of cultural phenomena follows a comparable process to genetic reproduction. The term Dawkins uses to describe these cultural ‘genes’ is ‘memes’. One of the examples he gives are melodies. Dawkins alignment of the transient with the scientific provides a materially informed method for interrogating questions pertaining to the permanence of music and its cultural transmission.

The following paper will map the memetic lineage of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ and interrogate the various meanings and composite readings it has accrued since its composition. The piece began life as part of a collaboration between Grieg and the playwright Henrik Ibsen who invited the composer to write the incidental music for his play Peer Gynt. Ibsen provided Greig with a set of specific instructions detailing the type, tone and function of the music in various scenes Nonetheless, following the play’s premier Ibsen criticised Greig’s music as it ‘sugared the pill so that the public could swallow it’ thereby rendering the difficult themes of the play more comprehensible, engaging, and emotionally immediate. However, over the century that followed ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ became an increasingly popular and well known piece of music, surpassing both Ibsen’s play and indeed the suite of music Greig composed for it. In addition to inspiring numerous interpretations by artists ranging from Duke Ellington to The Who, it has also featured in various films, computer games and on-line animations.

This paper will explore the cultural transfer of this piece of music across these media forms and consider the associations and readings it has has maintained from its original context. It will also consider the broader implications of recycling musical material through re-mediation.


Dr. Robert Dean is a Lecturer in College of Arts. He has published work that explores and identifies the parallels between nineteenth century theatrical practice and contemporary dramatic conventions. This includes the representation of archetypal characters, the role of musical accompaniment, and the function of sound effects. His research into musical dramaturgy and the history of sound production has resulted in publications that reconsider the role of sonic material in the works of Ibsen, Chekhov, Boucicault, and Shaw. Other publications focusing on popular culture include a consideration of ethics and catechism in the horror series ‘The Walking Dead’, a close analysis of Chris Morris’s radio comedy ‘Blue Jam’, and an exploration of how representations of Batman have developed within gaming culture.