Bewitching Bergen

30 November 2020

It’s that time of year again. The nights are getting longer, so we could all do with taking a leaf out of Scandinavia’s book, by embracing winter. While the Danes have hygge, we’re going to get koselig by getting to know Norway’s second largest city a little better. Surrounded by seven hills and seven fjords it’s no wonder beautiful Bergen is said to have inspired Disney’s enchanting Frozen. The design of the city of Arendelle emulates Bryggen, the old merchant quarter of the city which has become a haven for artists and craftspeople. The award-winning Norwegian all-female choir Cantus provided the opening music to Frozen and also influenced the costume design with their traditional bunads.

Ole Bull was Norway’s first musical superstar. The violinist was on a level with Niccolò Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing according to Robert Schumann. Born on 5 February 1810 in Bergen, Bull began playing the violin at age five, influenced by both the French trained violists of the Bergen Harmonic Society and traditional Norwegian fiddle players. In 1819 he made his debut as a soloist and spent the rest of his life travelling through Europe and the United States, performing and composing. His beautiful summer residence, built on Lysøen Island in 1873, is open to the public every summer. With its turrets, onion domes and decorations both on the exterior and inside the high ceiling of the music hall (carved from Norwegian pine) the villa is a truly inspiring place.

Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen on 15 June 1843. From the age of six he received piano lessons from his mother, who had studied music at Hamburg. At 15 he was sent to the Leipzig Conservatory, much to the delight of his mentor, Ole Bull. After continuing his studies in Copenhagen, Grieg returned to Norway an accomplished performer and composer in 1866. Following his marriage to Nina Hagerup the following year, and the birth of their baby daughter, Alexandra, he composed his first and most enduring masterpiece, the Piano Concerto in A minor, in a flurry of inspiration. During the 1870s Grieg collaborated with several Norwegian writers including Henrik Ibsen, resulting in the much-acclaimed Peer Gynt Suites including In the Hall of the Mountain King.

In 1885 Grieg and Nina moved to Troldhaugen in Paradis, south of Bergen. By that time, Grieg had established a pattern of composing during the spring and summer and undertaking extended performance tours around Europe during the autumn and winter. The Grieg Museum includes their charming swiss-style wooden villa, a modern exhibition centre, a 200-seat concert hall, and perhaps the most compelling feature of them all, a tiny, lake-side composer’s hut.

Bergen takes justifiable pride in its performing arts, especially during the Bergen International Festival. The principal venue for the festival is the striking Grieghallen, home to Bergen National Opera and Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. It is one of the world’s oldest orchestras, having celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2015. Concerts also take place at evocative open-air venues such as the Harald Sæverud Museum or atop Mt Fløyen. The mountain is one of Norway’s most visited attractions, offering an unbeatable view of the city. It may be a while until we’re able to visit Bergen ourselves, so for the time being why not make yourself a hot chocolate, listen to some of Grieg’s magical compositions and get koselig!