Exploring Edvard Grieg in Bergen
A composer’s living legacy
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
It has been said that Edvard Grieg is Bergen’s greatest export, and as a lifelong devotee to his music and enthusiastic Bergen fan, I have to say that I agree. As president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, I have made many trips to Bergen, always searching for new ways to discover more about Grieg and his music.
The minute you arrive in Norway’s second city, you can’t help but notice that it is the hometown of Edvard Grieg. Already at the airport, you can buy yourself a special Grieg coffee mug at Starbucks. And if you are arriving by train, you are only a short walk from the composer’s statue standing prominently between Ole Bulls plass and Festplassen. Bergen is indisputably Grieg’s city.
Bergen’s most famous son
Edvard Hagerup Grieg was born in Bergen in 1843, the son of a successful merchant, Alexander Grieg, and his wife, Gesine, one of the city’s most highly regarded piano teachers. It was a fortunate family constellation for the future composer. His father’s wealth was able to guarantee a good education for him, and his mother’s career allowed her to actively nurture his musicality.
At the tender age of 15, the musical wunderkind was sent to study in Germany at the prestigious Leipzig Conservatory. Although he suffered illness at an early age, he excelled in his studies. In Copenhagen, he married his cousin and the love of his life, soprano Nina Hagerup. His career took off early on, and at age 24, he had already composed his famous piano concerto, Opus 16.
Stay with the Grieg family
If you are traveling to Bergen to discover and enjoy Grieg, the Opus XVI Edvard Grieg Heritage Hotel (www.opusxvi.no) is definitely the place to stay. Like the piano concerto for which it is named, it is a masterpiece. Run by the Grieg family, it offers a slice of Grieg history from the minute you enter.
The hotel lobby is decorated with family heirlooms, including the cello of Grieg’s older brother, John Grieg. Hotel owner and manger Alexander Grieg, John Grieg’s great-great grandson, will be there to greet you, and he is always available to talk about his family’s history with his guests. In the lower mezzanine, there is a timeline exhibit of the most important events in Edvard Grieg’s life, curated by the renowned Grieg scholar Erling Dahl Jr. If you would like to delve more deeply into the composer’s life, you will find Dahl’s book on Grieg in your room. And you will do all of this in great comfort: the Opus XVI is a luxury hotel in every sense of the word, offering full amenities and world-class cuisine.
Throughout the year, the hotel offers intimate chamber concerts, featuring some of Bergen’s best performers. But time permitting; a trip to Edvard Grieg’s home in Troldhaugen, about 20 minutes outside of the city, is a must. Built in 1885, Grieg and his wife Nina lived there for 22 years. The villa has been lovingly restored, and a museum and concert hall were later added for lectures and concerts, so that visitors can fully immerse themselves into the world and music of Edvard Grieg.
Getting to Troldhaugen
The most convenient way to get to Troldhaugen is to take the tour bus that departs outside the Bergen Tourist Center at the famous fish market. The bus departs each morning at 10 a.m., May to October. A local guide will escort you every step of the way and provide in-depth information about Grieg and Bergen. The tour package includes roundtrip transportation, a tour of the Grieg villa, and a lunchtime concert in the Troldsal concert hall. You will also get the chance to explore the grounds, including the composer’s hut overlooking the fjord, and there is time to check out the well-stocked gift shop and museum exhibit.
From October to January, it is still possible to visit Troldhaugen before it closes for a winter break. You can hop on the Bergen Light Rail, Bybanen, right in the center of the city. The stop for Troldhaugen is Hop, and from there it is about a 20 to 30-minute walk (be advised that it is somewhat hilly).
If the weather is uncooperative or you are short on time or energy, you can get off the Bybanen one station later at Nesttun. A taxi station is close by, and drivers will be prepared to take you up to Grieg’s home. Remember that if you have purchased a Bergen Card for tourist discounts, it will be valid for the public transport costs, and you will receive a 50% discount at the museum at Troldhaugen. If you come out on a Sunday from June to September, there are also evening concerts to enjoy (but be sure to check the schedule first at www.griegmuseum.no/en or inquire at the tourist center).
A composer for all seasons
Every time I visit Bergen, I always find my way to Troldhaugen. For me it feels like coming home, and I am never bored or disappointed. No matter the time of the year, the surroundings are so peaceful—and so stunning with the view out over the fjord—that I am always filled with a sense of repose and renewal. I have enjoyed walking down to the gravesite of Edvard and Nina Grieg, breathing in the fresh air, as I take in the landscape from different perspectives. And of course, I am always sure to have my camera in hand.
If you go on your own, it is nice not to be rushed when you visit the gift shop, which always has something new and unique, and there is a café, where you enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch. Nothing will prevent you from attending one of concerts during the times of year they are offered, with single tickets available at the museum store.
If you are lucky, you may arrive in Bergen when there are special Grieg events going on at Troldhaugen. In the summer of 2018, all of Norway was able to enjoy the festivities around the 175th birthday of the composer, when his entire repertory was performed over the course of a long weekend and broadcast out to the entire country and rest of the world by NRK.
All throughout the year, however, you will find musical offerings featuring the music of Edvard Grieg in and around the city. Bergen is home to the Grieg Academy, where world-class musicians receive their training, and the famous Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Europe’s oldest symphony orchestra, performs at the state-of-the-art concert venue at Grieghallen.
Another highlight is the Bergen International Festival in June, with 250 events in 15 days, where the music of Edvard Grieg is performed by some of the world’s best performers. And there are other concerts to enjoy in smaller venues, including the beautiful churches of Bergen. If you are planning to visit Bergen to explore the world and music of Edvard Grieg, check www.visitbergen.com to find out what’s on—you are sure to not be disappointed.
- “Happy 175th birthday, Edvard Grieg!” The Norwegian American, June 15, 2018: www.norwegianamerican.com/ featured/happy-175th-birthday-edvard-grieg.
- “Stay inside a Grieg family masterpiece,” The Norwegian American, Jan. 21, 2019: www.norwegianamerican.com/travel/stay-inside-a-grieg-family-masterpiece.
Lori Ann Reinhall, Editor-in-chief of The Nowegian 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.
This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.