Grieg: The Chopin of the North

"I am sure my music has the taste of codfish in it," or so wrote Norway's greatest composer, Edvard Grieg, born in Bergen in 1843, the son of a salt-fish merchant. Like Ole Bull, Grieg became the towering figure of Norwegian Romanticism.

Shipped off to the Music Conservatory in Leipzig from 1858 to 1862, Grieg fell under the heavy influence of German Romanticism but returned to Oslo (then called Christiania) with a determination to create national music for his homeland.

Back home he fell heavily under the influence of his country's folk music and "fjord melodies."

When Grieg met the great Norwegian writer Bjørnstjern Bjørnson, the author realized that he'd found the writer to compose music for his poems. Their most ambitious project was a national opera based on the history of the Norwegian king Olav Trygvason.

Meeting Henrik Ibsen for the first time in 1866, not in Norway but in Rome, Grieg agreed to compose the music for Ibsen's dramatic poem Peer Gynt. In 1868, he finished Piano Concerto in A Minor, his first great masterpiece. In 1888 and 1893, Grieg published Peer Gynt Suite I and II, which remain popular orchestral pieces to this day. Bjørnson was furious that Grieg had teamed with Ibsen, and the work on their national opera never came to fruition.

During the Nazi occupation, Saeverud wrote a trio of "war-symphonies" and one called "Ballad of Revolt," in honor of the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis. After the war, he composed music for Henrik Ibsen's dramatic poem, Peer Gynt. Twelve concert pieces extracted from this work are among the most frequently played orchestral works today.

In 1874, Grieg returned to Bergen, where he created such world-fabled compositions as Ballad in G Minor, the Norwegian Dances for Piano, the Mountain Thrall, and The Holberg Suite. He'd married Nina Hagerup, the Norwegian soprano, and together they moved into Troldhaugen, their coastal home that today is one of the major sightseeing attractions of Bergen.

It was at Troldhaugen that Grieg created such works as Piano Sonata for Violin and Piano in C Minor, the Haugtussa Songs, and the Norwegian Peasant Dances. His last work was Four Psalms, based on a series of Norwegian religious melodies.

In spite of poor health and the loss of one lung, Grieg maintained a grueling schedule of appearances on the Continent. But he always came back to Troldhaugen for the summer. Eventually, on September 4, 1907, as he prepared to leave for yet another concert, this time in Leeds, England, he collapsed at the Hotel Norge in Bergen and was hospitalized, where he died.

Ole Bull: Romantic Musician & Patriot

One of the most colorful characters in the history of western Norway was Ole Bull (1810-70), the founder of Norway's national theater and a virtuoso violinist. Leading one of the most remarkable lives of the 19th century, he was not only a celebrated composer, but also a fervent Utopian socialist and an international ambassador of Norwegian culture on his frequent international concerts. He became friends with Liszt, Schumann, Longfellow, Ibsen, and Hans Christian Andersen, among other celebrated men of the day. Bull, who was noted for both his personal sense of theatrics and his ardent sense of Norwegian nationalism, had a profound influence on Grieg and his music. Bull's best-known musical composition is Saeterjentens Sondag for violin and piano.

Born in Bergen, Ole Bull was immediately recognized as a child prodigy. Amazingly, he joined the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra when he was only 8 years old. One of the great violin virtuosos of all time, a sort of Victorian Mantovani, he won fans in such diverse places as the United States, Cuba, Moscow, and Cairo. He almost single-handedly rekindled an interest in Norwegian folk music both in Norway and abroad. In time, the people of Norway began to regard him as a national symbol.

After his first wife, a French woman, died, Ole Bull married Sara Thorp, of Madison, Wisconsin, and together they built a summer villa at Lysøen in 1872. The strikingly handsome musician let his hyperactive imagination run wild as he created an architectural fantasy he called "Little Alhambra," with its Russian onion dome, pierced-wood Moorish arches, arabesque columns, and elegant trelliswork. It was in Lysøen that he died in 1880. The last of the great Norwegian Romanticists, he was given one of the most-attended funerals in Norway.

Visitors today wander across his "fairy tale" 70-hectare (173-acre) property, with its romantic paths studded with gazebos and white shell sand. In the natural native pine forest, Ole Bull added exotic trees and bushes from all over the world that would grow in Bergen's chilly clime.

You can also visit a statue and fountain dedicated to this virtuoso performer on Ole Bulls Plass in the heart of Bergen.

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