Notable Norwegians: Marta Sandal

Photo: Bergen Public Library / Flickr Marta Sandal.

Photo: Bergen Public Library / Flickr
Marta Sandal.

David Moe

Marta Sandal was born in 1878 in Oslo, Norway. At the age of twelve, she sang in a chorus of 500 children in Oslo and was chosen to sing a solo. King Oscar II, King of Sweden and Norway at the time, was in the audience and was impressed by her voice. He invited her to the palace to sing for him, and as a result she was placed in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Oslo, where she studied for five years. The King then sent her to Berlin and Paris, and while in Berlin she sang in the grand opera in Dresden.

In April 1902, at the age of 24, she met the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and sang for him. Grieg later wrote to a friend, “I jumped to my feet and shouted that I hadn’t heard anything like it since Nina (his wife) was young. Nina herself had tears in her eyes.” Edvard Grieg and Marta Sandal went on to perform several concerts together, with Grieg playing the piano. On October 17, 1906, they performed a concert in Oslo attended by the new royal family, as Norway had gained its independence in 1905.

Marta went to America and Grieg wrote a letter of introduction for her to the people of America, penned in English, the only known letter of introduction he had ever written. On April 21, 1907, she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City, presenting the songs of Edvard Grieg, called the Grieg Monument Concert. It was there she performed “Solveig’s Song,” from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, and it became known in America as Marta Sandal’s song.

On June 29, 1914, she married Gudmund Rortvedt in Havre, Montana. He was a farmer born in Erfjord, Norway. They had four daughters: one died in infancy, Serene became a singer, Silvia became president of an electronics firm, and Marta Jr. became a teacher. Marta lived most of her married years in retirement from singing, but she did sing over the radio, as she was anxious for her growing daughters to hear her as a concert artist. She died of cancer on March 2, 1930, in Forest City, Iowa.

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 29, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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