Even if you think you don’t know Edvard Grieg’s music, you’re likely to recognise it. In the Hall of the Mountain King, one of the 19th Century Norwegian composer’s most famous works, has been covered by all sorts of bands, from The Who to Electric Light Orchestra, and was adapted into the track Hair Up for the hit film Trolls. Looking down into the fjord from Troldhaugen, Grieg’s home above the city of Bergen, the light spookiness of his music begins to make sense.
We were at Troldhaugen as part of a trip with Visit Norway, and had just arrived in Bergen to torrential rain. It rains a lot in Bergen. The coastal city is surrounded by seven mountains, so it attracts plenty of clouds. Luckily it’s one of those cities where rain and mist just seem to add to its charms. Bergen caters well for wet weather: you can visit four art museums, the KODE group, as well as the homes of three major composers, including Edvard Grieg’s.
After driving along a rough road to Troldhaugen, past expensive-looking houses with panoramic views of the fjord, we sheltered from the rain in the modern section of the museum.
Troldhaugen and the museum were quiet when we visited, in February. A scaled-back programme of events runs throughout the year, including Little Grieg, a story reconstruction of Grieg’s childhood aimed at the over-7s. Troldhaugen becomes much busier in the summer months; the café opens in April, and then from May to September people flock in their thousands (32,000 last year) to concerts held in the performance space.
The calm, intimate concert hall has a view down to Grieg’s composing cabin, and beyond it to the fjord. Most popular are the lunchtime concerts, which only last half an hour (perfect for fidgety children), and to which tourists, cruise trippers and Bergen residents travel via a shuttle bus running daily from the city. Bergen’s inhabitants feel a keen sense of pride in their heritage; 30m NOK was donated by local businesses for Troldhaugen’s 2015 renovation.
Troldhaugen villa itself is a tall, airy building painted in the cream-and-sage shades chosen by the most wealthy classes of the time. Grieg requested a home that let in lots of light, and which felt close to nature; Troldhaugen’s 4m high walls and large windows do just that. Until it became a museum in 1920, it was run as a home, and although it’s stuffed with pictures, furniture and ornaments, it has the clean, woody smell of a house built using trees that until yesterday were growing in the forest. The place is full of quirky details that tell a story about the life he and his wife Nina led there.
Nina was Grieg’s first cousin, a talented singer and an eccentric who carved out her own personal style, including occasionally wearing trousers (unheard of in a woman at that time), and smoking cigars. The couple had small furniture specially made (they were both tiny – Grieg was only 1m 52cm), with castors put on the bottom, so they could easily trundle the furniture round their living room. The duo loved parties, and on display is a ‘skol’, a traditional Nordic beer drinking bowl that was passed round during toasts, as well as platters for the oysters they liked to serve.
The museum runs guided tours of 35-40 minutes, covering Grieg’s life, his friendships (he was well-connected, listing Ibsen and Hans Cristian Andersen among his close friends) and his musical career. As well as the villa, the well-kept grounds around it are a nice place to wander, have a picnic, and gaze into the beautiful fjord.
Troldhaugen is open daily, apart from over Christmas and New Year. Tickets are 100 NOK for adults; under-16s are free. Prices for the concerts vary. You can find out more here:
If you want to read more about our press trip to Norway, here’s the whole four-day itinerary. I’ve posted here about the village of Flåm and here about our board boat Fjordsafari, and the journey on the Flåm Railway. And if you’re wondering just what In the Hall of the Mountain King sounds like, this video of our trip down the fjords will remind you: