Sunday, 28 March 2010


The thing about having a top composer as one of your national heroes is that it can all become a bit much. I mean, I wouldn’t really mind buying a Mozart ball in Salzburg if it tasted nice, and I suppose having a Venetian gondolier warbling his tonsils around a piece of Puccini adds to the atmosphere, even if it does cause a canal-top prang, but I still hae ma doots. Here in Norway I can buy a birthday card that belts out ‘Peer Gynt’ the moment I open it, I can buy a troll with Grieg’s face, and I can wear a T-shirt with the great man’s picture on it and have his luxuriant hair sprawling across my chest. So while I was desperate to go visit his house, I was a bit nervous too.

I need not have been, as this photograph reminds me.

The curious science of conjuring up the creative spirit is often remarked upon but seldom specified. For those accustomed to seeking inspiration, whether within the arts, sciences or somewhere else, they cherish certain props, thoughts, phrases, or places that enhance the imagination as they disappear to work at The Desk, The Studio, The Lab or whatever. I can't quite put my finger on why I find Grieg's desk so moving and inspiring. Despite the march of Feminism, as an expat wife and mother, convention can assume that one’s creativity would find all the expression it requires at The Sink, The Cooker and The Washing Machine. So now that I HAVE my own desk once again, I keep this shot above it in the hope of coming up with some kind of brilliant master-stroke (don’t hold your breath).

The Muse is a slippery being, as likely to strike while philosophising in some heavenly landscape as while taking out the rubbish. The trick seems to be that if one EVER has an idea, a light-bulb moment, a new thought, it is vital to find the means of recording it before it is lost forever. We can only guess at how we might all have changed the world if only we’d had a pencil to hand.

By the time Grieg had become successful, he had managed to ensure that any suggestions the Muse might make would stand a good chance of being kept. For a guy whose specific aim it was to produce the music that would encompass the spirit of his nation, there can be no better place than the one in today’s photograph. Here at this desk, in his hytte at the bottom of his garden, Edvard Grieg would sit and work. His upright piano stood against the wall next to his desk. Onto the piano stool he heaped a stash of Beethoven scores in the hope that Ludvig’s spirit might radiate brilliant sweeps of genius up Edvard’s short spine, but more practically, so that his diminutive figure could reach the keyboard correctly.

Edvard and his wife Nina had a house built for themselves just outside Bergen, and while they often spent the winters in warmer parts of Europe, they returned each spring and stayed here at Troldhaugen. He found the house too noisy to work in, and so, in typical Norwegian fashion, he resorted to the tranquillity of his hytte. The poor man was plagued by ill-health....rheumatism, gastritis, nervous disorders, anaemia, gout, asthma and recurring bronchitis in his one remaining lung. In keeping with the romanticism of his music, it could be said that he suffered for his art, but, in fact, he suffered anyway. He was known for being notoriously outspoken, if not deliberately provocative. But he was also kind, patient with children, and he gave many charity concerts for the unemployed and victims of leprosy. He once said, ‘I love Norway precisely because it is so poor.’

Norway, however, had taken several decades to appreciate him. He had struggled for years and eventually found success in Copenhagen. But amongst musicians, he was ‘the business’. Rachmaninov declared he knew of no piano concerto more beautiful than Grieg’s, Liszt attended his concerts for years, Wagner and Richard Strauss invited him to their houses, and Dvorak, Bruckner, Brahms and Tchaikovsky all showered him with praise. Eventually, he achieved rock star status, and was celebrated by kings and emperors. None of this went to his head. He returned each year to his home and his hytte, laden with honours, all of which he dismissed as ‘humbug, court stuff and bits of metal.’

The tourist industry which has built up around Grieg is inevitable, and I have ended up thinking it is only right there should be one. The music is just too blinking good. Despite illness, rejection and, at times, lack of funds, he pulled it off. He sat at this desk, looking out onto the fjord, at peace with the landscape before him, and continued to pour his heart into his music. He was said to be able to make listeners ‘hear the fall of dew’. Nobody can argue with that.


  1. Beautifully written (and informative too, for a troglodyte such as myself.) Popped on over here on a whim--what a nice introduction to your blog.

  2. excited you joined us. And thanks for your kind very encouraging.

  3. ok .. you won't want to hear this - so first - a health warning to all vegetarians ... DO NOT READ! In another life and time 1974 - 1976 I was one of the last Scottish Fur buyers to work for the Hudson Bay Company in N. Canada and witnessed first hand the end of an era. Even then I knew that I was privileged to live and work amongst the Cree, Chippewyan, Dogrib and many other First Nation's peoples of those northern regions. My over-riding memory though is of the the most amazing meats I've ever been lucky enough to eat ... smoked Moose roast! Absolutely without doubt - and I mention this only in these discrete circles - excelling the taste and texture of the finest Aberdeen Angus fillet! There, now I've said it! I also still own and have in my possession a pair of hand made smoked moose skin mukluks which I wore for the three winters. They might be long faced but the Elk/Moose tastes damned dine! Put that in your skillet sometime Gordon Ramsay!!