Academic journal article Notes

"To Think and Judge Independently": The Birgit Krohn Albums and Amateur Music Making in Late-Nineteenth-Century Norway

Academic journal article Notes

"To Think and Judge Independently": The Birgit Krohn Albums and Amateur Music Making in Late-Nineteenth-Century Norway

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In the mid-1890s, a young woman named Birgit Krohn left her home in Bergen, Norway, and traveled north to enroll as a student at Nikka Vonen's Pigeinstitut (female institute). Once described as the home of "young women who dare to think and judge independently," this famous school advanced a progressive model of education with a special emphasis on musical training. Krohn documented its musical life in three binder's volumes of print and manuscript music, all heavily marked with marginalia and annotations. The printed materials represent both Norwegian composers and foreign editions specially prepared for the Nordic market; many of these constitute the only surviving copies of these works. The manuscript music, which includes transcriptions and original compositions, reveals interest in a range of styles and subjects.

With the exception of a few prominent figures, women's musical activity has rarely been considered in studies of the Nordic fin de siecle. Although Krohn and her fellow students were amateurs, these young women were highly sensitive to their broader artistic context. Despite--or perhaps because of--their relative isolation in the rural North, music provided a means through which these students could establish their relationships to one another and the larger world. As a result, Krohn's volumes offer a representative example of the ways in which music allowed amateur women in fin de siecle Norway to define social hierarchies, to cultivate shared tastes, and, perhaps most importantly, to explore their own position within a complex cultural environment.

INTRODUCTION

During his trip to Norway in the summer of 1887, Frederick Delius kept a diary, and one entry records a journey down the Dalsfjord to the small village of Dale. (1) There, the young composer hoped to call on Olaf Paulus Olsen, a friend and fellow classmate at the Leipzig Conservatory. Delius's entry from 3 August describes the successful meeting:

   At 2.30 went up to Steia to see Olsen. Had coffee, then played 4
   handig with Olsen & went up to Mrs. Nitter, where we had
   refreshments. 2 daughters, very nice. Olsen engaged to the S's
   eldest. Had supper with Olsen at the boarding school Nikka Vonen, 8
   girls were there, the others home for the holiday. Left Dale at
   10.30. Night glorious--full moon. To the left the glowing of the
   already set sun, to the right the black rocks of the fjord casting
   immense shadows. The whole scene never to be forgotten. I never
   remember a scene so beautiful in light & shade. This is what I came
   to see in Norway. (2)

Delius's evocative description of his departure from Dale overshadows his brief mention of the "boarding school Nikka Vonen." Yet the dinner there was perhaps not entirely a social occasion. Given the Englishman's intense attraction to all things Norwegian, it is possible that Olsen wished his fellow composer to observe this remarkable school for its own sake. Under the leadership of Nicoline Vonen, the Pigeinstitut (female institute) advanced a progressive model of education. It attracted students from across Norway and beyond, with the aim of producing young women who would "dare to think and judge independently." (3) In this endeavor, the Pigeinstitut placed a special emphasis on music. Musical activity was not only a defining feature of pedagogy at the school, but also an important influence on the intellectual, social, and cultural development of its students.

Although Delius may not have observed much of this activity during his visit, one of the students at the Pigeinstitut documented its musical life in three binder's volumes. Birgit Krohn (1881-1972) attended the school from about 1895 until about 1904. Her collection of print and manuscript music, newly discovered in 2013, contains about ninety works heavily marked with marginalia and annotations. (4) The printed materials represent both Norwegian composers and foreign editions specially prepared for the Nordic market; many of these constitute the only surviving copies of these works. …

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