Traveling with Edvard Grieg

A composer’s account books offer insights into a time gone by

Grieg's travels

Photo: Public domain
Grieg often had to travel over the mountains by horse and carriage.


Bjørn Øgaard
Vice-chairman, Oslo Grieg Society

Grieg did not live in Norway all year round. The villa “Troldhaugen”, built as a summer home, was cold and drafty in the winter, and almost every autumn, he would leave, most often going, via Kristiania (Oslo), to Denmark or Germany, spending the winter on the continent to hear new music and to present his own new works. In spring, he would return via Kristiania and move back into Troldhaugen in May or June. Kristiania was, therefore, a major junction for Grieg’s journeys and an important concert arena, where many of his compositions received their first performances.

The Grieg Collection in Bergen has 15 of Grieg’s account books from the years 1880 to 1902, and one from September 1872 to September 1873, in which all his expenses are entered in the minutest detail, including steamer and train tickets, meal and hotel bills from the innumerable journeys he made at home and abroad. Grieg was not a good sailor and preferred to travel by horse and carriage or by train, especially in the autumn, and a number of the coaching inns where he stayed on his journeys still remain as memories from a forgotten time. 

The account books also show that he used the new, shorter train routes that gradually opened in Norway, through Sweden to Copenhagen and the Continent. Grieg was a keen advocate of building the Bergen Railway, but that only opened in 1909, two years after his death. However, the Voss line, opened in 1883, was one reason for his building Troldhaugen at Hop. 

There were several possible routes between Bergen and Kristiania. From 1868, the coastal steamer went all year round, but Grieg only used it in spring. In autumn, he preferred to travel over the mountains, although that took five days, as opposed to three by sea, and involved a boat to Lærdal or Hardanger, then horse and carriage over the mountain to the lake steamer and the railway eastward.

According to his account books, Grieg took the coastal route from Kristiania to Bergen 10 times. His first recorded journey was on May 23, 1873, by steamer for concerts in Arendal, Kristiansand and Stavanger, and from Stavanger by steamer to Bergen. His final recorded trip along the coast was in May 1902 from Kristiania, via the Jær railway to Stavanger, and then steamer to Bergen. 

From Bergen, Grieg preferred to take the steamer to Lærdal, from where he could go by horse and cart or sleigh over Filefjell, along the Bergen Royal Road, completed in 1793. (It is virtually the route of the present-day E16, around 219 miles). Along the route, coaching inns lay like pearls on a string, and at various times, Grieg stayed overnight or dined at all of them: Husum, Hegg, Maristuen, Nystuen, Skogstad, Grindaheim, Øylo, Løken, Fossheim, Fagerlund, Frydenlund, Tonåsen, Sveen, Tomlevolden. In his account books, he even noted the names of the various coachmen. 

From 1848, the steamer went via Rand­sfjord, Norway’s fourth longest lake, taking five hours from Odnes. In 1868, the Randsfjord railway opened, the boat connecting with the train to Drammen and then to Kristiania. In January 1889, Grieg went from Bergen via Lærdal, by sleigh to Hegg, and from there, to Gulsvik, over Krøderen Lake, by rail to Vikersund and, via Drammen, to the Grand Hotel in Kristiania. He wrote to the composer Frederick Delius on Feb. 4, “We went by sleigh over the mountain in a dreadful, but magnificent snowstorm and reached Kristiania after six days!” The Haukeli road was never as popular as the main road over Filefjell. A road on this route was opened in 1889 and is more or less equivalent to the present-day E134, some 293 miles. However, Grieg did use it in 1899 to attend the opening of the National Theater on Sept. 1.

Almost all Grieg’s journeys to Europe went via Denmark. There is no evidence in the account books of his having taken the boat between Copenhagen and Kristiania, or vice versa; the journeys were always by train, in all, 31 times between 1880 and 1902.  The Kongsvinger railway opened in 1862 and connected to the Swedish railway network in 1871. In 1879, the railway from Fredriks­hald (Halden) to Mellerud, and Øksnered to Gothenburg was opened.  However, from Gothenburg, it was not possible to go on to Copenhagen until 1888, so it was only in September 1888 that Grieg recorded his first journey from Copenhagen via Helsingborg, Gothenburg and Fredrikshald to Kristiania

It was expensive to travel in Grieg’s time, and not many had the privilege; it is not easy to compare the level of expense to the value of money today. At the beginning of the 1900s, people in service had a yearly wage of 300 kroner, and members of the working class earned around 3 kroner per day. With average inflation of 3.8%, that equates to around 7,000 kroner in 2018, or about $800. In April 1900, Grieg paid 89 kroner ($700 today) for train tickets for two from Copenhagen to Kristiania, and 70 kroner ( $550) for the steamer along the coast to Bergen. 

The journey between Bergen and Kristiania via Filefjell in 1902 was twice as expensive as along the coast and took 24 hours longer. In today’s money, it cost almost 11,000 kroner, or about $1,250. In 1899, Grieg recorded expenses of 12,981 kroner for the whole year, or over 900,000 kroner in 2018 values. In 2016, the average gross income in Norway was 560,000 kroner, approximately $64,000 in today’s money.

Grieg’s account books, however, record nothing of his income, but it was commensurate with his expenditure. From 1874, he had a state artist’s stipend, and, from 1889, he received an annual compensation of 4,000 marks from his publisher, Peters in Leipzig, increased to 6,000 in 1901. For his last album of Lyric Pieces, op.71 (1901), he received 7,000 marks—over $51,000 today—and his concerts also brought in a large amount of income. However, he often had medical and hotel expenses to pay.

After 1902, Grieg continued to travel the same routes. In 1906, he set out on a tour to Prague and London, coming back to Troldhaugen via Kristiania in June. His farewell tour was in the winter and spring of 1907, when he traveled from Kristiania via Copenhagen for concerts in Munich, Berlin, and Kiel, and back via Kristiania to Bergen. His next journey should have been to the Leeds Festival in October 1907. The plan was to leave on Sept. 3 to Lærdal, over the mountains via Kristiania to Copenhagen and the Continent, continuing by boat over the English Channel, but his strength was already waning, and he was hospitalized. He died at the Municipal Hospital in Bergen on Sept. 4. Edvard Grieg was on his final journey.

The original article was first published in the journal St. Hallvard, No.1/2018, published by Oslo Byes Vel (The Oslo Heritage Society) and has been used and translated by permission of the author. The full English translation is by Beryl Foster, Chairman of the Grieg Society of Great Britain, and was published in the society’s Grieg Journal, Vol. 12: 2019.

This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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