Music of Norway

Music of Norway
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dance music forms also exist. Prior to the 18th century, there is scant written record of what kind of music was played in Norway, but there is a large aural tradition. In 1380, Norway had come under Danish rule, and thus had no royal house or nobility of its own; as a result, for 450 years, Norway did not participate as much in the musical development which occurred in royal (or "cultured") circles throughout the rest of Europe. Religious and traditional (folk) music were dominant throughout this era in rural areas, though again scant records exist to document their nature. In the last half of the 20th century, Norway, like many other countries in the world, underwent a roots revival that saw indigenous music being revived.


Traditional (Folk) music

Folk music in Norway falls into 2 main categories based in the ethnic populations from which they spring: North Germanic and Sami.

Traditional Sami music is centered around a particular vocal style called joik. Originally, joik referred to only one of several Sami singing styles, but in English the word is often used to refer to all types of traditional Sami singing. Its sound is comparable to the traditional chanting of some American Aboriginal cultures.

Traditional North Germanic Norwegian vocal music includes (kvad), ballads and short, often improvised songs (stev), among the most common types of traditional music. Work songs, hymns, tralling vocals and old printed ballad stories, skillingsviser, have also been popular.

Norway shares a Nordic dance music tradition with its neighbouring countries of Sweden and Denmark, where the most typical instrument is the fiddle. In Norway, the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele), the most distinctive instrument in Norwegian folk music, is used along with other fiddles like the standard violin and Setesdals-fele. The hardingfele was part of kappleik musical contests from the late 19th century. The Hardanger fiddle tradition is rich and powerful. By traditional, orally conveyed instruction was one of the most important aspects of a Hardanger fiddle player’s accomplishment.[1]

Traditional dances are normally referred to as bygdedans (village or regional dance) and include halling, pols, springleik, rull, gangar and springar. These dances, sometimes called "courting dances" were often connected to the important events of rural (farming) life: weddings, funerals and cyclical feasts like Christmas.

In the second half of the 19th century, some fiddlers, especially those from Voss and Telemark, significantly Lars Fykerud (who eventually moved to Stoughton, Wisconsin in the United States and then returned to Telemark late in life), began introducing more expressive ways of playing, turning the traditional slått music to concert music for the urban classes.

At the same time, new dances and tunes were imported from Europe, including the fandango, reinlender, waltz, polka and mazurka. Recent scholarship suggests that a number of these forms may have originally been brought to Norway by Romani (known in Norwegian by the pejorative term, "tater"), among them the fiddler Karl Fant. These forms are now known as runddans (round dances) or gammeldans (old dances).

Perhaps the most popular and controversial of modern Hardanger fiddle artists is Annbjørg Lien, who released her first album, Annbjørg in 1989. The album featured Helge Førde and Frode Fjellheim and was both praised for its innovative fusion work and expressive style, and criticized for its watering-down of traditional sounds and a lack of regional tradition.

Other Norwegian traditional instruments include:

Classical music

The first classical composers from Norway are documented from the beginning of the 18th century, when they composed dance and chamber music, including cantatas. In 1814, Sweden entered into a union with Norway, and the Swedish royal family spent time in Norway's capital, Christiania, Norway (Oslo). At their royal court, music flourished.

National Romanticism

National romanticism, a movement that was prevalent throughout Europe, touched Norway as well, and began to affect classical musicians and classical music in the country. The violinist Ole Bull (1810–1880) was the first major Norwegian musician. He became world-famous starting in about 1834, and was known as the Nordic Paganini.

From about 1831, traditional Norwegian music began to influence the classical scene, especially through Ole Bull, who befriended the famous traditional Hardanger fiddle player Myllarguten and through the friendship gained better understanding of traditional music. Bull himself started playing the Hardanger fiddle, and was the first to present folk tunes to the public in urban areas. He also saw to that Myllarguten played with him in concert, presenting a rural traditional musician to an urban audience for the very first time, in February, 1849, at the very height of Norwegian romantic nationalism. This later inspired Edvard Grieg to look for folk musical sources. But urban audiences were slow to gain an appreciation and understanding of traditional (rural) music.

Foreign musicians began settling in Norway in large numbers in the 1840s, bringing with them musical knowledge from the rest of Europe. Following the French Revolution of 1848, Norway saw the development of a strong national consciousness, as well as economic growth which occurred the development of music. In comparison to most other countries of this period, female Norwegian musicians were widely accepted, and were even published and given stipends by the state.

With Norwegian nationalism burgeoning, the musical scene throughout the country entered the Golden Age of Norwegian Music, led by Halfdan Kjerulf and organist and collector Ludvig Mathias Lindeman. The Golden Age's most prominent composers included Johan Svendsen and Edvard Grieg. Bull's efforts directly inspired Grieg to look for folk musical sources. These composers, inspired by Lindeman's collections and Ole Bull's Hardanger fiddling, incorporated Norwegian folk elements into their compositions.

At the end of the 19th century, the collection of folk tunes continued unabated, and composers like Christian Sinding and Johan Halvorsen were well-known. Following the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905, Norwegian nationalism continued to grow in popularity and innovation, led especially by David Monrad Johansen, Geirr Tveitt, Bjarne Brustad, Ludvig Irgens Jensen, Harald Sæverud, Klaus Egge and Eivind Groven. These composers focused on using folk music in their compositions, a trend which continued well into World War II, though a process of internationalization began in the 1930s. In between the wars, only a few composers, like Pauline Hall and Fartein Valen, were significantly influenced by foreign styles.

Post World War II

After World War II, Norwegian music began moving in a new direction, away from the Nordic and Germanic ideals of the past, and towards a more international, especially American, British and French, style. New composers of this period included Johan Kvandal, Knut Nystedt, Edvard Hagerup Bull and Egil Hovland. Of especial importance was French neo-classicism, Paul Hindemith and Béla Bartók. During this period, serial music appeared in Norway, led by Finn Mortensen. Later, avant garde composers like Arne Nordheim took advantage of technological developments, using a variety of electronic effects and bizarre instrumentation.

Much of the Norwegian public did not appreciate the new direction these avant-garde composers were moving in, which helped to fuel a conservative backlash. Some composers, like Kåre Kolberg, reacted by writing simple music, while others, such as Alfred Janson and Ragnar Søderlind, revived romanticism. Some music from this era attempted to address social and political concerns, such as Janson's dedication of a violin concerto to Chilean president Salvador Allende.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, Norwegian classical music had become very diverse, incorporating elements from throughout the country's documented musical history, as well as modern jazz, pop and rock. Composers of the last part of the 20th century include Olav Anton Thommessen, Per Christian Jacobsen, Magne Hegdal, Åse Hedstrøm, Asbjørn Schaatun, Tor Halmrast, Glenn Erik Haugland, Nils Henrik Asheim, Cecille Ore and Ketil Hvoslef. Popular and classical attention to folk music has also continued through the work of composers like Lasse Thoresen.

Norway currently supports several orchestras of various sizes. There are two "national orchestras," namely the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, and also orchestras in Trondheim, Stavanger, Kristiansand, and Tromsø.

Popular and contemporary music

As in other countries, Norway has developed its own forms of popular, contemporary music. Since 2000, Norwegian popular music has generally been appearing on the international scene, initially through breakthroughs by Norwegian jazz and black metal artists, then followed by electronica and pop artists.


One of Norway's top blues guitarist is Knut Reiersrud. He has also taken inspiration from traditional Norwegian music forms, including tuning a Stratocaster guitar like the Norwegian langeleik, calling it a Hallingcaster(a word play on the Norwegian term for the hat kick used in the athletic dance usually performed by men, the halling). Reiersrud has made some interesting recordings with Norwegian organist Iver Kleive. Bjørn Berge is another well known blues guitarist. He is well known for his so called "delta-funk" music, heavily inspired by 12 string delta blues and modern funk and rock bands[citation needed]. R&B stars include Noora Elweya Qadry, Winta and Mira Craig.


One of Norway's most popular, best-selling and award-winning country music groups is the Hellbillies who write and sing their songs in traditional dialect from Hallingdal. Their genre is country music influenced by traditional folk music elements. Norway has also produced Country musicians like Heidi Hauge and Bjøro Håland. Other artists that sing about common life and culture of Norway include Salhuskvintetten and Vinskvetten. Alf Bretteville-Jensen is a popular singer/songwriter whose intense, somewhat noir-flavored music incorporates elements of country, folk, and rock, using instruments such as acoustic and electric guitar, as well as pedal steel guitar.

Dansband music

Dansband music is also popular, with name like Ole Ivars and Scandinavia. Ole Ivars scored a 1999 hit with the song Jag trodde änglarna fanns together with med Kikki Danielsson. Another famous Norwegian song, "Lys og varme", which was written by Åge Alexandersen, became a popular dansband song in Sweden, as "Ljus och värme".

Folk rock

In recent years artists like Gåte and Odd Nordstoga have made folk music more accessible to younger crowds. Gåte fused folk music with metal and became very popular. Lumsk is another band mixing Norwegian traditional folk music with metal. The most famous Sami singer is undoubtedly Mari Boine, who sings a type of minimalist folk-rock with joik roots. Karl Seglem is a Norwegian music and composer who plays sax and bukkehorn. Sofia Jannok is also a popular Sami contemporary artist.


The electronic music scene in Norway mostly revolves around House music. Norway's electronic music scene has been heavily influenced by France and French house. Aside from stars Röyksopp, Norway has produced electronic performers like Alog, Apoptygma Berzerk, Biosphere (musician), Bjørn Torske, Bassdiver, Lindstrøm, 120 Days, Frost, Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band, Xploding Plastix, Icon of Coil, Det Svenska Folket, Palace of Pleasure, Binärpilot, Flunk, Ugress, Sternklang, Teebee and Polar.

Hip hop

Norway's hip hop scene includes Warlocks, Tommy Tee, Darkside of the Force, Punktum, Klovner i Kamp, Gatas Parlament, Tungtvann, Karpe Diem, Paperboys, Madcon, Thomax, and Erik og Kriss.


In recent years Norway has also become a major force in world jazz. Pioneers of Norwegian jazz include Jan Garbarek. His cool, almost ambient approach is typical of Norwegian jazz, although recently there have been moves to build bridges with electronica and post-rock[citation needed]. He, too, has linked jazz with traditional Norwegian music, as evidenced in his recording Rosenfole with acclaimed Norwegian traditional-style singer, Agnes Buen Garnås. His daughter, Anja Garbarek, is one of the artists that has renovated the jazz scene, combining sweet melodies with electronic sounds and pop beats.

The work of the Christian Wallumrod Ensemble ("Fabula Suite Lugano", The Zoo Is Far) serves as a leading example of contemporary Norwegian jazz, along with ECM artists Trygve Seim and Frode Haltli. Other contemporary Norwegian jazz stars include the group Supersilent, drummer Jon Christensen, guitarist Terje Rypdal, pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Nils Petter Molvaer, and experimental jazz band Jaga Jazzist. Many of these artists record for the seminal jazz label ECM. However some of the more modern artists record for the newer Norwegian labels Rune Grammofon, Jazzland Records and Smalltown Superjazzz.

Black metal

Norway is perhaps most notable for giving birth to the controversial Norwegian black metal scene, which has produced such bands as:

This scene is infamous for having members that do not abide to the Christian religion (see Satanism and Norse Paganism).[citation needed] Also, during a time period in 1992 and 1993, Samoth (Emperor guitarist), Bard Faust (then-Emperor drummer) Tchort (then-Emperor bassist), Varg Vikernes (sole-member of Burzum) and members of the band Mayhem went on a spree of church arsons that struck fear in Norway and caused much media attention.[citation needed] Samoth and Tchort were arrested and given jail sentences, while Vikernes was not convicted for these counts of arsons until around the time he was found guilty of murdering fellow black metal musician Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous of Mayhem) in 1993. Other controversial events in this scene include the suicide of former Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin in 1991, and the murder of a homosexual man in Lillehammer, Norway by then-Emperor drummer Bard "Faust" Eithun in 1992.

Gothic Metal

Norway has a large gothic metal scene, including bands like Sirenia, Leaves Eyes, Myriads, Tristania, Theatre of Tragedy, and The Sins of Thy Beloved.

Death Metal

Though less notable than its black metal scene, Norway is known for such death metal bands as Blood Red Throne, Cadaver, Carpe Tenebrum, Myrkskog, Aeternus, Zyklon, Fester and Darkthrone's first album Soulside Journey.

Rock and popular

Modern Norwegian pop acts include Rebekka Karijord, kaada, Furia Norway, Bertine Zetlitz, M2M, Marit Larsen, Marion Raven, Kings of Convenience, Erlend Øye, Minor Majority, Ane Brun, Briskeby, D'Sound, Datarock, Maria Haukaas Storeng, Serena Maneesh, Jaga Jazzist, Hanne Hukkelberg, Maria Solheim, Lene Marlin, Margaret Berger, Kurt Nilsen, Annie, Sondre Lerche, Maria Mena, TNT, Flunk, Venke Knutson, Thomas Dybdahl , Postgirobygget, Return, Savoy and Wig Wam.

The synthpop/-rock band a-ha is quite possibly the most successful music group ever to come out of Norway, having sold over 50 million albums worldwide.

Sissel Kyrkjebø, the singer commonly known as "Sissel", has also reached a level of worldwide popularity - especially after her voice appeared on the soundtrack for the 1997 film Titanic. Highlights of her career include singing the Olympic hymn at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, representing Norway at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert , and performing at the invitation of tenor greats Placido Domingo and José Carreras at the first Christmas concert in Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union.[2]

The Norwegian rock scene comprises bands such as Turbonegro, Gluecifer, BigBang, Kvelertak, Madrugada, Kaizers Orchestra and Gåte. Legends of the scene include 1980s and 90s heroes Dum Dum Boys, CC Cowboys, Jokke & Valentinerne, deLillos, Raga Rockers, Seigmen and Motorpsycho. In alternative rock, The Low Frequency in Stereo is an example of a Norwegian post-rock bands on the rise.

In recent times some Norwegian rock artists have based themselves abroad as a springboard to reach international audiences. Norwegian musicians have formed groups with British musicians. Groups formed include The Wombats and Daddysmilk.

In 2009, Norway won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Fairytale composed and performed by Alexander Rybak. This song received the highest score ever achieved on the Eurovision Song Contest - 387 points.

World music

There are few groups and artists in this genre in Norway. One of them is the Tanzanian musician and poet, Ras Nas aka Nasibu Mwanukuzi. Ras Nas, based in Oslo, plays reggae and soukous. His latest CD Dar-es-Salaam received a five-star review in one of Norway's biggest dailies, Dagsavisen, when it was released in summer 2008. This was the first time happening in Norway.

Secret Garden is an award winning duo playing New Instrumental Music. Secret Garden features Norwegian composer/pianist Rolf Løvland and Irish violinist Fionnuala Sherry. The duo has sold over 3 million albums and won the Eurovision Song Contest for Norway's second time in 1995. Norwegian singer Gunnhild Tvinnereim sang the winning song in the Eurovision Song Contest, but is actually not a member of the group. Ten years earlier Rolf Løvland also co-wrote the song La det swinge that secured Norway its first Eurovision Song Contest victory in 1985.[3] Alexander Rybak won Eurovision Song Contest 2009 with the song Fairytale

Record Labels

Norwegian record labels include:

See also



  • Cronshaw, Andrew. Fjords and Fiddles. 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 211–218. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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