Norwegian Music

Norwegian music, term for music on the territory of Norway.

Like music in the other Scandinavian countries, Norwegian music is already documented by finds of instruments from the Middle and Late Bronze Age, from which lurs are known, which were probably blown on cultic occasions.

The literary sources of the Middle Ages such as the Edda, Sagas and the Skaldendeals paint a more comprehensive picture of Norwegian musical life. In addition to the harp, fiddle, lyre and horns, the folk instruments langleik (fingerboard zither) and especially the Hardangerfele (Hardanger fiddle) are from this period), which has a lot in common with the folk sounds of the southern region of pre-aggregorian shepherd melodies in Switzerland in its primeval melos and lyrically. The literary sources also testify to the high reputation of music and especially singing, which among other things. was also masterfully ruled by individual kings. With the Christianization around 1000 AD, Gregorian chant was introduced by foreign monksEntry into Norwegian church music. Due to the destruction of a large part of the liturgical manuscripts during the Reformation, however, there are only sparse references to them such as the “Olavsekvenzen”. The Hymn to St. Magnus, written on the Orkney Islands (now Scottish, then Norwegian), dates back to the 12th century and provides early evidence of vocal polyphony.

Musical life under Danish rule

Since the 14th century, during the more than 400 years of Danish rule (until 1814), folk music in particular flourished. fulfilled important cultic functions. Church music initially lived from Gregorian chant and was only gradually replaced by Lutheran chants after the Reformation (1537). The first officially valid Protestant hymn books did not appear until the 19th century and were published in 1835 by Ole Andreas Lindeman (* 1769, † 1857) and in 1877 by his son Ludvig Mathias (* 1812, † 1887), who also wrote important organ works. In addition to organists and cantors, the main bearers of musical life were the highly respected (mostly Danish and German) town musicians appointed by the Danish king and the Latin schools, in which the choir singing was particularly cultivated. In addition, military music, which has been practiced since the Middle Ages, established itself as an independent genre, which has since produced an impressive repertoire of brass music and a lively brass orchestra scene supported by professionals and amateurs. In the 18th century, numerous (bourgeois) music societies established a lively concert life, which in cities such as Christiania (now Oslo), Trondheim and Bergen brought forth a heyday of amateur musicians (»Harmonies« in Bergen, from 1765).

Evidence of a local musical life during these four centuries of foreign rule, including Influences of the Franco-Flemish school (Franco-Flemish music) as well as the European baroque and the (early) classical music are assimilated. B. the sonatas by Georg von Bertouch (* 1668, † 1743) and Johan Henrik Freithoff (* 1713, † 1767) as well as the works and the first Danish-Norwegian music theory by Johan Daniel Berlin (* 1714, † 1787).

Golden age

According to Allcitycodes, a national Norwegian music did not develop until the 19th century in the context of the political independence strivings, which its musical expression a. found in patriotic songs. In 1825 Waldemar Thrane (* 1790, † 1828) created “Fjeldeventyret” (“Das Gebirgsmärchen”), the first Norwegian opera that was as inspired by folk music as the works of the violin virtuoso O. Bull. At the same time, L. M. Lindeman created a comprehensive collection of folk songs for the first time. Although in the 19th century Norwegian music life was still strongly influenced by foreign musicians (including from Germany and Italy), J. Svendsen’s orchestral music, Halfdan Kjerulf’s (* 1815, † 1868) performed songs and male choir works as well Rikard Nordraak’s (* 1842, † 1866) national anthem, created in 1864, made important contributions to Norway’s cultural identity. They present themselves as a synthesis of (German) Romanticism and Norwegian folk music, just like the songs and piano music of the pianist Agathe Backer-Grøndahl (* 1847, † 1906).

The central composer personality of the 19th century was E. Grieg, who became world famous for his incidental music for H. Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”. Like C. Sinding with his songs and piano works, he is considered to be an important representative of Norway’s “Golden Age”. In addition to them, Johan Peter Selmer (* 1844, † 1910) created program music inspired by H. Berlioz, G. Schjelderup operas in the tradition of R. Wagner and Ole Olsen (* 1850, † 1927) wind orchestra works with Norwegian flavor.


A formative figure at the beginning of the 20th century was Johan Halvorsen (* 1864, † 1935), who wrote symphonies and stage music in the late romantic style, among others. from 1899 headed the newly opened Oslo National Theater for three decades. In addition, there are influences of French impressionism and neoclassicism e.g. B. in the work of Pauline Hall (* 1890, † 1946), Harald Sæverud (* 1897, † 1992) and Geirr Tveitt (* 1908, † 1981). In the 1920s and 1930s, following the dissolution of the Norwegian-Swedish Union (1905), the national movement also experienced a new upswing in music and, with its return to Old Norse literature and history, shaped, among other things. the work of David Monrad Johansen (* 1888, † 1974). Like Ludvig Irgens Jensen (* 1894, † 1969), he is one of the central Norwegian composers of the 20th century. In addition, Arild Edvin Sandvold (* 1895, † 1984) pioneered modern Norwegian church music in a synthesis of baroque and romantic style elements, while Eivind Groven (* 1901, † 1977) as a folk music researcher did pioneering work (»Norsk folkemusikk«, seven volumes) and created folklorically inspired symphonies and music for the Hardanger fiddle.

The second half of the 20th century saw a conscious turning away from these sounds and instead a return to a simple, liturgically bound tonal language in church music (e.g. in Knut Nystedt, * 1915, † 2014) as well as the diverse debate featured with the contemporary European movements in art music. So developed F. Valen a free-tonal (atonal music) polyphonic (polyphony style), sat Finn Mortensen (* 1922, † 1983) as well as the coming of Neoclassicism – estimated and above all for his chamber music – Egil Hovland (* 1924, † 2013) with serialism (serial music) and Arne Nordheim (* 1931, † 2010) explores aleatoric music and experiments with electronic music. In addition, the use of quarter and micro tones (Bjørn Fongaard, * 1919, † 1980), interference tones (Finn Arnestadt, * 1915, † 1994) and language composition gained in importance.

In the 1970s, neo-romantic movements emerged (Alfred Janson, * 1937, † 2019; Ragnar Søderlind, * 1945), in which the means of the avant-garde were combined with the expressiveness of late romanticism. The use of different styles (neo-romanticism, serialism, minimal music, jazz) with the aim of integration became typical of the 1980s. The Italian A. Bibalo, who lives in Norway, attracted attention as an opera composer.

The younger generation of composers such as Lasse Thoresen (* 1949) are returning to the roots of Norwegian folk music, which they fuse with contemporary stylistic devices. In contrast, the operas by Henrik Hellstenius (* 1963) experiment with musical sounds. One of the most successful stage composers of the 21st century is Gisle Kverndokk (* 1967), who not only works with operas, but above all with musicals such as “Sofies Welt” (1998, based on J. Gaarder), “Vincent van Gogh” (2001) and “Martin L. – the Luther Musical” (2008) attracted attention.

Jazz, pop, rock and folk music

In addition to art music, jazz has a long tradition in Norway that goes back to the 1860s and not only lived from guest performances by famous artists such as L. Armstrong, but also produced its own jazz greats such as the band leader Helge Sunde (* 1965). Renowned jazz festivals have taken place every year since 1961 and artists such as Karin Krog (* 1937), Terje Rypdal (* 1947), J. Garbarek, the trumpeter Nils-Petter Molvær (* 1960) and Solveig Slettahjell have taken place on the international scene (* 1971) claims. At the same time there is a diverse pop, rock and country music scene with bands like Madrugada, Röyksopp or Satyricon and singers like Heidi Hauge (* 1967), Sondre Lerche (* 1982) and Wencke Myhre (* 1947) draws attention. Finally, Norwegian musical life is enriched by numerous professional and amateur wind orchestras and a multitude of festivals (e.g. Nattjazz Festival in Bergen) and by an active folk music movement that has enjoyed growing interest and artists since the mid-20th century as the Sami singer Mari Boine (* 1956) produced.

Musical life

Norway’s musical centers are Oslo and Bergen. In Oslo (after a short-lived attempt in 1918-21) the country’s first permanent opera theater was opened in 1958, which was expanded in 2008 by the new house for opera and ballet (Den Norske Opera & Ballet). The Oslo Filharmoniske Orkester has existed since 1919 and advanced to one of the leading orchestras in the world from 1979–2002 under the direction of M. Jansons. Other renowned and traditional symphony orchestras are located in Bergen (founded in 1765), Trondheim and Stavanger, where since 1990, with conductors like F. Brüggen, a focus on early music has been has evolved. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra as well as the Cikada Ensemble and the Oslo Sinfonietta enjoy international recognition as interpreters of contemporary music, while the Norsk Barokkorkester and the Pro Musica Antiqua (both Oslo) emerge as advocates of historical performance practice.

Conservatories are located in Oslo (founded in 1883) and in Bergen (Grieg Academy, founded in 1905) – which also has important music collections and its own ballet ensemble, and which organizes international music and theater festivals every year – as well as in Trondheim, Stavanger, Kristiansand and Tromsø. In addition, music lessons at the city level form a central pillar of cultural education, which is also supported by a nationwide network of music associations.

Soloists of international standing are or were the sopranos I. Bjoner, K. Flagstad, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (* 1959), Solveig Kringlebotn (* 1963) and Hege Gustava Tjønn (* 1965), the baritones Thorvald Lammers (* 1841, † 1922) Knut Skram (* 1937) and the bass Frøde Olsen (* 1952); the violinist Arve Tellefsen (* 1936), the cellist Truls Mørk (* 1961), the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (* 1970) and the trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen (* 1962).

Norwegian Music