Top 10 for Syttende Mai

A selection of greatest hits for Norwegian Constitution Day


Photo: Colourbox
Syttende Mai is day for brass bands and singing, so this year, why not sing along to your heart’s content?

The Norwegian American

By now, it’s no secret that I love music. While virtually all of my Syttende Mai gigs for this year have been canceled, that doesn’t mean I have any intention of not singing my heart out—and I invite you to join in on some of my favorite songs!

While it’s not easy to compile a list of only 10 best songs for the 17th of May, I’ve given it my best, based on years of celebrations with the Norwegian community in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and in Norway.

While many of you already know these songs, I thought it would be fun to share a little bit about their history. And if you’re not familiar with them, you can find recordings of them all by searching for the titles on YouTube.

With that, our entire team at The Norwegian American wishes you all a very joyously musical Syttende Mai!

1) “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (Yes, we love this land)

The text to Norway’s national anthem was written by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832 – 1910) and set to music by Rikard Nordraak (1842 – 66). From the mid-1860s to the early 1900s, it eventually became the most well-known patriotic song in Norway and has long been considered to be the national anthem on a de facto basis.

2) “Norge i rødt, hvitt og blått” (Norway in red, white, and blue)

This beloved patriotic song was written in 1941 during the Nazi occupation of Norway, with a text by Finn Bø, Bias Bernhoft, and Arild Feldborg. The musical composition for Norway’s beloved patriotic song by Lars Erik-Larsson was originally called “Obligationsmarschen,” an occasional piece composed for the Swedish state.

3) “Det går et festtog gjennom landet” (There’s a parade of celebration going through the land)

In 2013, Grethe Myhre Skottene (born 1948) won the Norwegian parliament’s competition to write the text for a new march for the 200th anniversary celebration of the Norwegian Constitution. Carl-Andreas Næss (born 1969) wrote the melody, and we haven’t been able to stop singing it ever since!

4) “Mellom bakkar og berg” (Between hills and mountains)

This famous depiction of the beauty of the Norwegian landscape and the strength of the Norwegian national character is also called “Nordmannen” (The Norwegian). The poem was written by Ivar Aasen (1813 – 1896), the father of nynorsk, the New Norwegian language.

5) “Fagert er landet” (Beautiful is the land)

The hymn that celebrates the beauty of Norway and joy of creation was also written in nynorsk by the Lutheran clergyman Anders Hovden (1860 – 1943) from the province of Møre og Romsdal in western Norway.

6) “Kongesangen” (The King’s song)

“Kongesangen” is Norway’s royal anthem, sung to the same melody as “God Save the Queen.” This is no coincidence, since it took its inspiration from the British royal national anthem. Notably, the famous Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland (1808 – 1845) wrote his own version of it in 1841.

7) “Nidelven” (The River Nid)

This beautiful, nostalgic waltz is not a Syttende Mai song per se, but it is so popular with Norwegian Americans that is sung all over North America on the 17th of May, as they dream of the old country. The story of the Old Town Bridge in Trondheim, it was written by the Norwegian singer and composer Kristian Oskar Hoddø (1916 – 1943). Hoddø was a member of the resistance movement against the Nazis and was executed in Trondheim on Nov. 17, 1943.

8) “La oss leve for hverandre” (Let us live for one another)

Another Norwegian-American favorite, this song is a celebration of life and friendship, so appropriate for Syttende Mai. This beloved hit song came to Norway via Sweden, where it was first known as “Man ska leva för varandra,” its melody and lyrics by Bengt Sundström (1938 – 1994). The Norwegian text by Fredrik Friis (1923 – 2008) is so good that you might believe it is a Norwegian song!

9) “Alle fugler små de er” (All the birds so small)

This cheerful folk melody from Germany is one of Norway’s most popular songs to greet the spring and a favorite with children on Syttende Mai. Johan Nicolaisen (1847 – 1929) translated the German text by August Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798 – 1874). The Swedes adapted their version from the Norwegians, and they often quote Nicolaisen as the author.

10) “Hils fra meg derhjemme” (Greetings from me to those back home)

No Norwegian-American celebration would be complete without this song, commonly referred to as the “Scandinavian-American anthem.” It came to us via Denmark: Elith Worsing (1892 – 1923) composed the melody, and Ludvig Brandstrup (1892 – 1949) wrote the text in 1922. It became popular at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. With time, it made its way across the Atlantic with sailors and immigrants. And again, it was Fredrik Friis who adapted the lyrics into Norwegian. It’s a beautiful springtime song, full of nostalgia and love, perfect for Syttende Mai!

This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.