Alf Hurum centennial tour heading to Honolulu

Northwest Edvard Grieg Society celebrates a Norwegian-American composer

Photo: Northwest Edvard Grieg Society
Steven Luksan and Laura Loge frequently perform together throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here, they recorded art songs for a special virtual program during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

Steven Luksan
Northwest Edvard Grieg Society

In February 1924, the Norwegian composer Alf Hurum (1882-1972) traveled halfway around the world on a trip that would forever change his life. On the 100th anniversary of Hurum’s journey from Norway to Hawaii, the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society (NWEGS) will explore the music and legacy of this artist whose work has faded into obscurity.

Who was Hurum? He was among the first Norwegian composers to absorb the modern techniques of composers like Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky and was a celebrated musician in Norway in the 1910s and 1920s. He had a cosmopolitan outlook on life and music, having studied in Oslo, Berlin, Paris, and St. Petersburg and having married an American woman during his student years in Berlin. But in 1924, in the midst of his busy career as a composer, Hurum decided to take a year-long sabbatical in his wife’s hometown of Honolulu.

This sabbatical turned into a three-year residency on Oahu, during which Hurum took on many new responsibilities. He became conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (now known as the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra), and he taught piano lessons at the Punahou School. After three years in the tropics, Hurum was not content to return to his old life in Norway, and he spent the next several years traveling the world to study with great masters of another art form: painting.

He studied with a Japanese artist in Paris, painting on silk in the traditional style and creating his own pigments and dyes. After further studies in Peking and Tokyo, Hurum settled permanently on Oahu in 1934, never to return to Norway. He became an important figure in the cultural milieu of Honolulu, where he frequently displayed paintings and won prizes for his artwork. Far removed from the cultural life of his hometown of Oslo and the creative outlets of his earlier life, Hurum stopped composing music.

Photo: Ernest Rude / Wikipedia
Norwegian-American composer and artist Alf Hurum (1882-1872), pictured here about 1915.

His life took another unexpected turn on Dec. 7, 1941. In the chaos following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hurum, who had studied in Berlin and Tokyo and had significant cultural ties to both Japan and Germany, was accused of taking photographs and creating drawings of military infrastructure, of supporting Japanese and Nazi war efforts, and of being anti-Semitic and anti-Chinese. Hurum categorically denied all wrongdoing. Within weeks of the attack, both he and his wife were arrested and interned alongside Japanese civilians. With no real evidence, the FBI deemed Hurum to be a threat to U.S. national security. Enduring many months of internment, the Hurums were finally released after the Norwegian ambassador intervened, and they eventually returned to normal life in Honolulu.

While he was detained as a “threat” to the United States, Hurum’s music continued to be performed and praised in Norway. The Oslo Philharmonic celebrated his 60th birthday with a concert in 1942, for example, and Kristin Flagstad performed his songs on recital programs while touring the world. However, with his creative efforts focused on painting in a city half a world away, the memory of Hurum’s music and his career as a composer faded away with time. The majority of his music, composed in Europe between 1905 and 1924, became a forgotten relic of a distant time and place as his life continued in post-war Hawaii.

This year, on the 100th anniversary of Hurum’s arrival in Hawaii, the NWGS revives his forgotten music with a series of concerts in the Seattle area and in his adopted hometown of Honolulu. Hurum’s music is uniquely beautiful in the history of Norwegian classical music. His compositions absorb the influences of composers like Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky to create his own signature blend of romanticism, impressionism, and primitivism.

His music sometimes evokes the legends of Old Norse culture as he paints with sound, using beautifully blurred harmonies akin to how painters like Claude Monet or Vincent Van Gogh filled their canvases with thick layers of paint. In other pieces, Hurum’s fascination with East Asian visual arts became the basis for music, with pentatonic harmonies coloring pieces with titles like “Watercolors” and “Pastels.”

In March 2024, the Hawaii State Library and the Lutheran Church of Honolulu will host the NWEGS as Hurum’s music returns to Oahu, the island this Norwegian artist called home for 40 years. During these concerts, images of Hurum’s paintings will be displayed while his works for piano, soprano, violin, string quartet, and men’s chorus are performed, allowing audiences to experience Hurum’s vast range of output as an artist.

In April and May, audiences can experience Hurum’s music and artwork in a gallery setting at two art museums in the Seattle area and in the unique concert setting of botanical conservatories, surrounded by the tropical plants that Hurum used as models for his still-life paintings.

Travel to Honolulu with the Northwest Edvard Grieg Society

If you are interested in joining us on our trip to Hawaii, please contact our travel specialist: Adam Skaardal,

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.