Greetings from Troldhaugen
Curator of Troldhaugen
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in spring 2020, exactly 135 years had passed since Nina and Edvard Grieg moved into the newly constructed villa at Troldhaugen. At last, Nina and Edvard had a home of their own after being renters for the first 18 years of their life together.
“No opus has filled me with greater enthusiasm than this one,” Edvard wrote to a Danish friend.
Life at Troldhaugen
The Griegs frequently welcomed both Norwegian and foreign guests to their home. Many of these guests were performing artists, so there was a lot of music-making at Troldhaugen.
The last foreign guest to visit Troldhaugen was the 25-year-old pianist and composer Percy Grainger. He was scheduled to perform Grieg’s A Minor Concerto with Grieg at the podium at a music festival in Leeds, England, in October 1907, and he wanted a final chance to go through the score with the composer. Unfortunately, Grieg did not live to perform with Grainger. Mortally ill, he was hospitalized on Sept. 3, 1907, and died the next day.
Troldhaugen becomes a museum
As the years passed, it became too costly and burdensome for Nina to bear the responsibility of caring for Troldhaugen. She sold it to Grieg’s cousin Joachim Grieg, who presented it as a gift to the Fana municipality, which turned it into a museum in 1928. Ever since, Troldhaugen has been an attractive tourist site for music lovers from all over the world. Since 1953, when the Bergen Music Festival began, Troldhaugen has often been used as a concert venue.
In 1985, a 200-seat concert hall (called Troldsalen) was built to expand opportunities for musical performances. Nowadays, in normal times, audiences can hear Grieg’s music performed every day during the summer months.
The pandemic strikes
Plans for the summer of 2020 at Troldhaugen were firmly in place. The season was to open on May 1, with daily lunch-hour concerts featuring a different pianist each week for 20 weeks. All the pianists were under contract, each playing their personal selections of Grieg’s music, making comments about the music from the stage. Many of them would also be appearing in evening concerts. All told, in a normal year, as many as 500 concerts are offered at Troldhaugen. In September, we were also scheduled to host a Grieg piano competition, with 30 finalists and an international jury.
Suddenly everything came to a halt. The first case of COVID-19 in Norway was reported at the end of February 2020, and on March 12, the government, led by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, declared that the pandemic would lead to restrictions “with the severest and most far-reaching challenge we have faced in Norway in peacetime.” All educational institutions were closed, as well as sports arenas, concert halls and museums. Troldhaugen suddenly had to plan for a season without knowing whether or when we would be able to reopen.
At the beginning of April, we made the difficult decision to postpone the piano competition. We also canceled plans for our summer season—a devastating decision for those of our pianists who are freelancers and who therefore would have no income.
A partial reopening
Early in June, the constraints were lifted to the extent that we could plan for a simple celebration of Grieg’s birthday on June 15. In collaboration with a group called Friends of Troldhaugen, we invited a small group to gather for a program in Troldsalen, where we now had permission to receive up to 100 visitors. After the concert, we celebrated the birthday with ice cream out on the terrace in beautiful summer weather. Those in attendance were excited to finally be able to attend a live concert again.
During the first weeks of summer 2020 we were permitted to have lunch-hour concerts only on weekends. Our pianists understood the constraints, however, and willingly came to Troldhaugen to play just a few concerts. Early in July, we got permission to offer weekday concerts, but we had to stay closed on Mondays and were not allowed to have evening concerts. Thankfully, the lunch-hour concerts drew a large and enthusiastic audience.
The first months of 2021 have seen several waves of the pandemic, both in Norway and elsewhere. In Norway, we have been lucky, with clear political leadership of the crisis. Both the per capita infection rate and the death toll here have been lower than in many other countries. Nonetheless, we know that the pandemic will not be over until a much larger portion of our population has been vaccinated. For that reason, we have decided to postpone the Grieg piano competition until 2022.
Plans for 2021
The 2021 concert season opened on Grieg’s birthday, June 15, and we plan to offer lunch-hour concerts until the end of August. The evening concerts are also being resumed. We still do not know how the season will progress, but we hope and believe that our local audiences will not fail us.
Nina and Edvard Grieg loved to have guests and sometimes felt lonely at Troldhaugen if things became too quiet. The same is true for us: we have missed the tourists and the large crowds, the jumble of voices in many languages, the thrill of hearing visitors tell us about their lifelong love of Grieg’s music. We look forward to the day when once again we can freely invite guests from all over the world to experience the magic of walking into Grieg’s home, listening to Grieg’s music, and feeling the atmosphere of this place where the master himself once made music with musical friends from near and far.
English translation by Bill Halverson
This article originally appeared in the June 18, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.