German Influences in the Development of the Norwegian Classical Music Tradition

By Holth, Berit | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2014 | Go to article overview

German Influences in the Development of the Norwegian Classical Music Tradition


Holth, Berit, Fontes Artis Musicae


It was not until the nineteenth century that Norwegian musicians and composers began to take their place on the international stage. Young Norwegian composers and performers had to become familiar with classical music by listening and learning to play, eventually composing music themselves and getting their works published. Germany was central when it came to realizing these efforts. These aspects will be especially focused on in the following text.

In the year 1737, the German musician and composer Johan Daniel Berlin (1714-1787) became town musician in Trondheim, Norway. Berlin was born in Prussia and received his main musical education in Copenhagen. He made an immense impact on the musical life in Trondheim during his lifetime. He published the first textbook on musicology in Denmark-Norway. (2) At that time, the cultural life in Trondheim was the most active in the entire country. In 1765, the Harmonien orchestra was founded in Bergen. In those days, there were fewer than 800,000 inhabitants in Norway.

1814 was an important year in Norwegian history. That year, the union with Denmark, which had lasted 400 years, ended. (3) The personal union which was to follow with Sweden lasted until 1905.

Copenhagen had been the mutual capital in the Danish-Norwegian union. Christiania became the capital of Norway from 1814. The name of the capital was later changed to Oslo (4).

Norway was influenced by the ideas created both in the French Revolution and in the revolutions that occurred all over Europe during 1848. The ideas of freedom and national identity corresponded to Norway's situation. It was undergoing a struggle to emancipate itself and become sovereign. In the long run, one had to accept that it was important to get impulses from abroad, where education and tradition were more accessible, in order to develop one's own national musical identity.

German musicians and composers who settled in Norway made an impact on Norwegian music life. The Germans came to Norway, normally as the result of a larger concert tour. They brought with them great knowledge about the classical music tradition. This knowledge they would transfer to the musically interested inhabitants, through education and performances. Carl Arnold (1794-1873), a learned German composer and musician, followed in the footsteps of the earlier composer J. D. Berlin mentioned above. Arnold was one of the first immigrants who provided musical knowledge to Norwegian society.

He arrived in Norway in 1848 after touring in St. Petersburg and Sweden, together with his son. They introduced Beethoven and other works of Vienna classicism to a larger audience in Christiania's first concert hall, which had been opened a few years earlier. Carl Arnold had grown up partly in the household of the publisher Johann Anton Andre in Offenbach am Main. There Arnold received first-hand knowledge of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's works, including the autographs, since Andre had bought Mozart's musical legacy, or Nachlass, from Constanze Mozart. When Arnold lived with his own family in Berlin, he was connected to the royal court and gave lessons to the queen, among others. As a music director and head of the musical life in Munster, he arranged yearly performances of oratorios by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. His home in Christiania soon became a cultural and musical center where house concerts were often arranged. Many gifted students received classical training from Arnold, including the composers Halfdan Kjerulf (1815-1868) and Johan Svendsen (1840-1911). Carl Arnold was eager to influence and convince the authorities about the importance of educating musicians in Norway not only by establishing music schools in Norway but also through giving scholarships to young musical talents, giving them the ability to go abroad study.

German musicians on tour could also leave footprints without settling in Norway. That was the case with the composer and pianist Rudolph Willmers (1821-1878). …

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