When you visit Norway, your senses will be filled with the beauty and power of nature. You’ll also gain a clear understanding about how the land and sea nourishes every plant, animal, and human being in the country. From the Sami’s to romantic Grieg, and forward to today’s cutting edge sounds, nature informs all.
Norway’s national instrument is the Hardanger fiddle. It’s similar to a violin, but it has either eight or nine strings as opposed to the violin’s four strings. It’s also made of thinner wood. Norwegians invented a goat horn called a Bukkehorn and a chorded zither—a Harpeleik. As with most cultures, early Norwegians have been making music since their feet hit the trails, and they still are.
The Sounds of Indigenous Sami
Photo: By Emma Edwall. Public Domain. Wikimedia.org.
You may know the Sami by the name “Laplanders.” (This was never a name they called themselves, and it is going out of use.) Yoik is a native Sami musical expression that sounds somewhere between singing and Native American powwow music.
Within the folds of its sounds are many meanings, including identity, social interaction, cultural values, and the worth of each individual. This a cappella music, it is believed, was brought to the Sami by Arctic fairies and elves.
If you want to hear it, Ánde Somby is a good place to start. He is not only a traditional Yoik artist, he is an associate law professor at the University of Tromsø, specializing in Indigenous Rights Law. A favorite album of his is “Yoiking with the Winged Ones,” and the song “Spirit of the Mountain” is a particular highlight. Listen, and you’ll notice the similarities between this music and indigenous music from every pocket of the world.
Edvard Grieg, Norway’s Most Famous Composer
Photo: By Eilif Peterssen – National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Public Domain. Wikimedia.org.
Bergen is a beautiful town and, when there, visit Grieg’s home. It truly feels like a place of pilgrimage. Edvard Hagerup Grieg was Norway’s preeminent composer. One of the most famous of the European romantics, he is a staple in any classical music collection. Using Norwegian folk music and folk tales, his powerful melodies shaped Norway’s sense of identity in a way that brought it to the world.
As Bergen’s most well-loved citizen, you’ll see statues of him throughout town. The city’s largest concert hall is named for him as is its advanced music academy and professional choir. His biography is available in 97 languages and his Wikipedia page receives millions of views. Most famous for his piano compositions, his “Piano Concerto in A Minor”, “Piano Concerto in E Minor,” and “Peer Gynt Suite,” are instantly recognizable.
Just a few miles out of town, and into the hills, is his home Troldhaugen. With outstanding views of the countryside and city, he lived here with his wife for 22 years. Grieg’s little garden hut still stands, and it was there he composed. Today, Troldhaugen is a living museum. This enchanting home has an exhibition center, concert hall, shop, and café. Daily concerts are held during the summer. Grieg’s home is a must-experience when in Norway.
Norway’s New Music
Norway’s music scene today is alive, well, and unique. Young Sami artists are infusing one of Europe’s most ancient song traditions with new life. This combination of old and new, including modern yoik from Northern Norway, has created a giant gathering of internationally acclaimed musicians. Norway’s music regularly appears on top of the charts, with breakthrough artists in jazz and blues.
There are large blues festivals in Oslo, and the country music scene includes traditional Norwegian folk music. Electronic, dance, hip hop and rap, jazz, folk, rock, and goth metal music clubs… Norway has it all, and stamps the sound with its particular Nordic character and culture.