M. A Wyllie.

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way of rain. All day long it had poured steadily,
and as evening drew on, it still rained. A pale yellow
river flowed in the gutters and down the roads, in the
middle of which it left deep furrows. Every two or
three hours a train would disgorge its passengers, men
and women, who emerged from the station in a long
straggling line, with dripping umbrellas of all sorts and
sizes, walked to the corner of the road, where all dispersed
each on his own business. Then silence followed, with
nothing to break it but the dripping of the trees. There
was no night, the daylight simply got greyer and more
drear for a while, and then about 11 p.m. grew lighter.
A yellow band appeared, which gradually spread, suffusing
the whole sky. The new day was born, not a weeping
day like the one just past, but a day of glorious sunshine,
that made the many roofs shine like burnished gold.
The train left at seven, passing through the pleasant
suburbs : the summer residences of the better classes.
The houses were painted white, picked out with green,
pink, or yellow ; nice enough to live in no doubt, but
with no pretensions to architectural beauty. On we went
past gardens, green fields, and patches of oats swaying in
the warm breezes ; along past small lakes, till the head of
the Nordaasvand opened out, 'allowing a fleeting glance of



beautiful little islands, pleasant villas, and wooded slopes

We left the train at Hop (pronounced Hope) and
wended our way up a dewy lane with high banks on
either side, the brown earth still moist from the recent
rain. Walking slowly before us, and every now and
then stopping, and leaning on his stick, to drink in
the fresh beautiful air, was the slight delicate figure of
Norway's great composer, Grieg, a figure impossible to
mistake. He was dressed in grey, his white hair hanging
beneath a soft felt hat, that he continually raised, to greet
the many respectful bows of the passing peasants. Over
his arm hung a small grey shawl, and alongside him
walked a sturdy maid. As we passed, his glance rested
on us a moment, as though trying to recognise a friend.
Diffidence, however, stepped in, and we went on our way,
till we reached a point with a lovely view high above the
shimmering vand.

Edvard Grieg has certainly chosen a beautiful spot to
rest after the heat and turmoil of the day. No sound but
Nature's own music breaks the peaceful stillness. Gently
the little wavelets gurgle, as they turn the pebbles on the
shore. The rustling of the leaves in the light wind sing
a summer song of their own. The hay lies warm and
sweet drying in the sun. Close round us is the sharp
chirp of the grasshoppers. In the far distance the
high-pitched voices of children playing in the warm
shallows of the lake are borne upwards on the breeze,
and farther still a dog's bark.

The lake stretches away into the distance, an inland
arm of the Nordaasvand. All round the banks slope
gently, thickly wooded, with birch and mountain ash to
the water's edge. Bracken clothes the rocky part of the
slopes, and crossing and recrossing the fields are the long




fences hung with the drying hay. The farmer, his wife
in her pretty red bodice and big white cap, their son and
daughter, are all as busy as bees. The farmer is mowing
the tall flower-spangled grass, his wife and daughter are
lifting and hanging the hurdles full, while the son is
carting home the dry hay.

One long arm of rock stretches away from under the
knoll, on the top of which stands the gi*eat master''s house,
in some views looking like a causeway of rock jutting
towards the farther shore ; but in others detaching itself
into small green islands. The knoll is thickly clothed
with trees, in which the house stands, half hidden, and
from the lookout on the top waves the fine new, free
flag of Norway.

The sketch was finished, and about to be placed in its
case, when we were made aware that strangers were
approaching by the barking of a little dog, who had
divided his attentions between us and the farmer, his
master. In the two figures walking slowly up the hill,
one was at once recognisable as Edvard Grieg. As he
came nearer, he put out his hand, and said, " May we be
allowed to see ? I and my friend, Mr. Beyer (who allow
me to present to you as my very dear friend and constant
companion), were taking our evening stroll and perceived
you at work."

The drawing was duly admired, and must be shown
Madame Grieg, so, closing the paint boxes, the two
masters walked ahead, whilst Mr. Beyer and I followed.
Mr. Beyer was most interesting and kind. He told me
that for over twenty years the great master had been his
best friend. Mr. Beyer had helped him to collect his
folk-songs, and how one day as he was walking along he
came upon a girl milking a cow and singing a song he
had never heard. "I out with my pencil and a bit of


paper, and said to the girl, ' Sing on ! sing on ! "■ Whilst
she sang I wrote the notes of music on the cow's back.*"

Noticing the frail look and bent back of the master, I
asked, " Is Mr. Grieg very delicate .? " " Oh ! not so much
as he looks. He is not a strong man, but he is careful.
Oh dear ! he should have his shawl on. See, talking to
youi' husband he has forgotten himself," and he ran ahead,
and drawing the shawl from the master's arm wrapped it
round him. We had reached the pretty garden full of
flowers, Mr. Grieg opened the gate, and, as he did so, said,
" Welcome to Troldhaugen,"" and escorted us to the house,
whilst Mr. Beyer went to find Mrs. Grieg.

The room into which we were ushered was cosy, and
full of sun and colour. On the walls were various large
and small laurel wreaths hid M'ith the gay colours belong-
ing to the nations whose hearts had been touched by the
master's sweet music. In one corner stood a splendid
bust of Bjornson, with a great wreath hung round the
neck, and on the other side of the room the master's
piano. I longed to open it, and say " Play," but did not
dare presume. So we chatted, and Frau Grieg came in,
all charm and bustle, looking like a ray of sunlight let
loose. She admired the sketch, and showed us her
pictures, and insisted on tea, Avhich was served in dainty
blue cups. Just about to show us her garden, she was
called aside. Coming back, Frau Grieg begged us to
excuse her, as the doctor had arrived, to see her aged
mother, who, poor lady, had had a heavy fall.

Mr. Grieg said, " Come, let me show you my view," and
he and Mr. Beyer led us through the garden to a small
mound up which ran a narrow path. From the top one
looked down on the beautiful vand. Grieg stood quiet
for a moment gazing on the lovely panorama, a far-away
look in his kind blue eyes. Turning suddenly, he said,


" What can I do for you ? I should Hke to do some-
thing." I passed him my httle book. " Shall I write my
name ? " " Please do." " Anything else ? Poetry, music,
eh ! " I said, " Just a bar, please." To my delight, he
wrote a bar of the piece I so love, and passed it back.


yVd>^'i^-, I-, I ^


We took hands, and said nice things while strolling back
to the gate.

One thing we had much wished had come to pass. AVe
had seen and spoken with Mr. and Mrs. Grieg. Mr,
Beyer overtook us on our way to the station, and again
shook hands, saying over and over, " So delighted to see
you." He told us how on one occasion he was in a
boat with Grieg on the lake. Grieg sitting still, his
head full of inspirations, began to scribble on pieces of
paper, which, as he filled, he laid on the seat beside him.
A little puff of wind took one of the papers to Mr. Beyer,
who was sitting on the thwart behind. He picked it up and
softly whistled the tune, which made Grieg look round
with a jump. "Where did you hear that.?" "Oh,"
said Mr. Beyer, "only a little tune that has just entered
my head," which set Grieg marvelling, that such an
interchange of thought could take place.

It is nice for us to know, that though Bergen lays claim
to this great master, we, in our turn, can claim him as
belonging in the first place to us. " Are you Scotch ? "
was one of his questions. " So am I." It was in the
troublous times after the Battle of Culloden, when every-
thing seemed lost, that many Scotchmen left their


country, and amongst them was a meichant named
Alexander Greig of Aberdeen, who emigrated to Nor\vay,
where the climate (a wee bit saft) and general surround-
ings sufficiently resembled his beloved home. He estab-
lished himself at Bergen, and changed his name to Grieg,
so that the pronunciation should sound the same in
Norwegian. Grieg said that the names of General Greigh
and Elphinstone had been impressed on him when his
father told him that his family arms, which bore a ship,
denoted that his ancestor was in all probability the
Scotch Admiral Greigh.

" To the question, Who is the most original and
poetic of living composers ? there can to-day be but one
answer : Edvard Grieg," " Grieg is recognised far beyond
his native country as one of the few masters who have
enriched music with new means of melody and harmonic
expression, and created a national art distinguished by
poetic feeling and the charm of many moods. He has
brought it about that Norwegian moods, and Norwegian
life, have entered into every music-room of the whole
world ; " and " The north is most assuredly entitled to
a language of its own." These are the opinions of La
Mara, Georg Capellen, Bjornson, and Robert Schumann.

Grieg's great talent was inherited from his mother,
Gesine Judith Hagerup, who devoted much of her time
to music. Her skill was so gi'eat that she was able to
appear as soloist at concerts in Bergen. Grieg always
remembers the remarkable nerve and rhythmic animation
with which she played the works of her favourite, Weber.
His mother began to teach him when he was only six
years old, and succeeded beyond her fondest hopes. " Not
that it was all easy sailing at first. I had to practise
just what Avas unpleasant. . . . There was no trifling
with her if I spent the time in dreaming at the piano


instead of busying myself with the lesson set. . . . My
unpardonable tendency to dreaming was already beginning
to bring me the same difficulties which have accompanied
me long enough throughout my life. Had I not inherited
my mother's irrepressible energy, as well as her musical
capacity, I should never in any respect have succeeded in
passing from dreams to deeds."

Ole Bull it was that discovered the great gift that lay
in the lad. To quote Grieg's own words : " When he
heard I had composed music I had to go to the piano ;
all my entreaties were in vain. I cannot now understand
what Ole Bull could find at that time in my juvenile
pieces. But he was quite serious, and talked quietly to
my parents. The matter of their discussion was by no
means disagreeable to me. For suddenly Ole Bull came
to me, shook me in his own way, and said : ' You are
to go to Leipzig, and become a musician ! ' Everybody
looked at me affectionately, and I understood just one
thing — that a good fairy was stroking my cheeks, and that
I was happy."

At the Conservatory his first teacher was the renowned
Plaidy, followed by E. F. Wenzel, the gifted friend of
Schumann, and the famous Ignaz Moscheles. There were
other foreigners at the Conservatory at the same time as
Grieg, five of whom subsequently became leaders in the
musical world of London. Among these were Sir Arthur
Sullivan, Franklin Taylor, Walter Bache, Edward
Dannreuther, and lastly the fine musician John Francis
Barnett. These English boys progressed more quickly
than Grieg at the time. Grieg suddenly realised this,
and saw that he would have to submit to the drudgery
as they did, and he went from one extreme to the other.
He worked day and night, with the result that he
collapsed in the spring of 1860 with lung trouble, which


impaired his health for life. Later he returned to the
Conservatory, and in the spring of 1860 passed his examina-
tions with credit. Grieg writes —

" I played some pianoforte pieces of my own ; they
were lame productions enough, and I still blush to-day
that they appeared in print as Opus I. ; but it is a fact
that I had an immense success, and was called for several
times." So his career began. The famous Niels W. Gade
did much to encourage him. Grieg had arrived at the
age of twenty, and was asked by Gade if he had anything
of his own composition to show. His answer was that he
had nothing of importance. " Very well, then," retorted
Gade, " go home and write a symphony." A fortnight
later he had composed and orchestrated the first movement
of a symphony, with which Gade was much pleased, and
spoke words of encouragement that fired the young man''s

It was at Valestrand, in the beginning of 1864, that
Grieg formed an intimate friendship with the great
violinist Ole Bull. They made excursions together into
their favourite mountain regions, where Ole Bull as a child
had fancied he heard nature sing and the blue-bells ring.
The consequences were inevitable. Ole Bull, whose motto
was, " My calling is Norse music," was pleased to have
so sympathetic and talented a young companion. To hear
such a man play, to play with him, to accompany him
to the homes of the peasants and hear their music, this
was the privilege of Edward Grieg at twenty-one. Then,
too, flourished Richard Nordraak, a young Norwegian
composer of rare talent, who might have done as much as
Grieg himself had not death carried him off at the age
of twenty-four. Even in this short span of life he created
some notable works, among them pianoforte pieces, set-
ting of his cousin Bjornson's Mary Stuart in Scotland^


Siguard Slemhe and the patriotic song " Ja vi elsker."
Like Ole Bull, he was patriot to the verge of fanaticism.
By him Grieg, who loved his fatherland above everything,
had his feelings fanned to a bright flame. Up to this
point Grieg had felt the Leipzig shackles, and was some-
what timid; but Nordi'aak's courage and enthusiasm
proved contagious. He now dared to be himself, and
Norse. He wrote his four " Humeresken," Opus 6,
dedicated them to Nordraak, and the die was cast.

" Jeg elsker dig " (I love thee) is one of the most
impassioned and popular of love songs. The date of
its composition is 1864. In that year Grieg became
engaged to his cousin. Miss Nina Hagerup, love for
whom had inspired him to set to music H. C. Anderson's
heartfelt lines. During the period of the engagement
(three years) to his Danish bride, Grieg was so much
under Danish influence that Schjelderup speaks of it as
the Danish period in the development of his genius. He
was married in 1867, and was much helped by his young
wife. The year 1868-69 was a black year for them both.
Grieg's best friend and ally, Halfdan Kjerulf, died. The
latter, born in 1815, was really the first of the Norwegian
national composers. Among his compositions there are
about a hundred songs and forty piano pieces that are
mostly tinged with Norse colour. He has been referred
to as a martyr, but Grieg writes : " Kjerulf lived in
Christiania as a teacher and composer, appreciated by all."
Next year Grieg's little thirteen-months-old daughter died.
This was the only child born to them, and their cup of
bitterness seemed emptied to the dregs.

In 1868 Franz Liszt wrote to him from Rome a letter full
of praise, after perusal of his sonata (Opus 8), inviting him
cordially to spend some time at Weimar. Commendation
from so great a man as Liszt induced the Norwegian


Government to grant Grieg a sum of money which enabled
him to visit Rome and meet Liszt personally. He wrote
two letters home that are too long to reproduce here, but
which are of the greatest interest, showing how fully Liszt
appreciated his splendid talent. After Liszt had given
him a grand exhibition of his own tremendous musical
power he turned to Grieg and said jauntily : " Now let
us go on with the sonata." Grieg continues : " You
must bear in mind, in the first place, that he had never
seen or heard the sonata ; and in the second place, that
it was a sonata with a violin part, now above, now below,
independent of the pianoforte part. And what does
Liszt do ? He plays the whole thing root and branch,
violin and piano, — nay, more, for he played fuller, more
broadly. The violin got its due right in the middle of
the piano part. He was literally over the whole piano
at once, without missing a note, and how he did play.*"
Grieg left the house feeling strangely hot in his head,
but with the consciousness of having spent two of the
most interesting hours in his life.

After his return from Rome in the following year he
founded the " Musical Society " in Christiania, largely
helped by Johan Svendsen, who became his successor
when he left the capital in 1874. Johan Svendsen's co-
operation with Grieg in the sixties and seventies, and
his subsequent wide-ranging activity as conductor and
composer, have left their ineffaceable traces in the
Norwegian musical world. His works, apart from his
employment and arrangement of national airs, have not
the same strongly national character as those of
Grieg, but he possesses sense of form and the art
of instrumentation to a remarkable degree, is a born
symphonist and orchestral conductor. His symphonies,
fantasies, Norse Carnival transcriptions for string


orchestra, chamber music, romances, and male choruses
are all of the greatest artistic value. Grieg and Svendsen
were justly honoured and rewarded by the Norwegian
Government, who presented each with an annuity of
£HS a year for life.

Here another man, one of the wonderful group of
great men of our time, makes his entry into Grieg's
life. Henrik Ibsen, on the 23rd day of January 1874,
writes to him from Dresden a long letter, asking if
he is willing to co-operate with him, and write the
music for his Peer Gynt. Ibsen goes on to say : " The
following is what I have in view. I intend to arrange
Peer Gynt — of which a third edition is to appear soon —
for performance on the stage. Will you write the required
music? Let me tell you as briefly as possible how I
project the structure of the play."

Then follows long explanations of the greatest interest,
and he finishes this letter, that was all the world to Grieg,
with the following words —

" Such, approximately, is my plan, and I now beg you
to let me know if you are willing to undertake the
work. If you consent, I shall at once communicate with
the director of the Christiania Theatre. . . . Your
devoted friend, Henrik Ibsen "

Grieg lost no time, but got to work at Sadviken, near
Bergen, and from his pen flowed the inspired music
which, more than any of his other works, has made him
known as an original and fascinating composer.

In 1877 he again left Christiania, to which he had
returned after his first hearing of Peer Gynt, and went
to live at Lofthus. But the curiosity of the tourists
was too much for him ; they had a habit of watching


him from boats outside his windows, and they, the
common herd, at last drove him away in 1885 from a
spot he loved. He made his home at Hop, building
his villa Troldhaugen, where he now lives.

After leaving Hop the train dawdles along to Nestan,
where the line makes a very sharp bend, striking off north-
north-east. Up a valley called Langedal, over brawling
streams and past mountain lakes. Soon we began to
run downhill to the banks of the Arnevaag, an inky
narrow inlet. Here were a village and church for all
the world ,like a little model from a toy box. The line
now made a sharp bend to the south-east, all along
the rocky shore of the winding Sor Fjord. At the foot
of the steep hills were many little boat-houses, each
with its little slipway over the boulder-strewn shore.
There were most queer traps for catching fish moored
to buoys out in the fjord, looking like large set pieces
for fireworks lying on their backs or propositions in
Euclid. One of them would have done very well for
the pons asinorum.

On the island of Ostero across the water was the neat
white little wooden church of Hans, more like a toy
than ever, standing at the foot of the great hummocky
mountains which towered into the sky almost covered
with birch trees.

On we went, sometimes through woods, then out
along the edge of a precipice, through tunnels with now
and then a leap over a torrent, then more tunnels, and
then out upon a narrow ledge cut in the grey walls of
rock, which stretch upward, dark and gloomy, to the
clouds, where patches of snow linger in the crannies.
The fjord narrows here to little more than 500 yards.
Parts of Ostero look very desolate, and opposite Staghelle
there were only two minute white cottages, one close


by the water and the other high up on the shoulder
of the great hill. I wonder if the neighbours are good
friends, or if they quarrel ? There is no one else to talk
to for miles and miles. Here the line bends once
more to the right, and, leaving tidal waters, climbs up
the Dals-Elv between upright walls of stone, broken
here and there where the rocks have tumbled in con-
fusion from the misty mountain tops.

There is a bright green flat, smooth and wide, where
the farmers are cutting odd-shaped lanes and squares
in the standing grass, or piling the hay on hurdles
to dry. Then we pass a plank church, the windows
made with the glass quite flush with the weather board-
ing, and the naiTOw wooden mullions cut into grotesque
imitations of a Gothic window. After that follow more
tunnels and woods of birch, when suddenly we burst
out on the tidal waters of the Bolstad Fjord. For
a moment there is a marvellous vision of rugged crag
and wooded dell, all mirrored in the glassy surface.
Then more tunnels, some of them pierced with little
peep-holes, through which we catch tantalising glimpses
of placid waters. Out again on a little terrace cut half
way up a cliff. Lower down we see for a moment the
road blasted out of the rock, and winding along a few
feet above the water's edge. On the other bank is a
tiny farm set on a triangular patch of soil, which seems
to have slipped down bodily from the mountain, — a sort
of "Tom all alone" surrounded by lofty cliffs. Next
we catch sight of a moraine left here by the old glaciers,
now covered with farms and bright green fields.

At Evanger the cultivation spreads up the steep
mountain side just like a patchwork quilt made of many
different tints of green stuffs. On the lake the villagers
were rowing to church, all in their Sunday broadcloth,


And as they fly past, and drop out of sight, a great
waterfall takes then' place, tumbling headlong into a
black chasm worn in the rock, a wonderful contrast to
the clusters of harebell and meadowsweet or the peaceful
hay fields that scent the air.

Nearing Voss, the waters of the Vosse-Elv come rushing
down, a mighty torrent of boiling, seething, white and
green water, the course of the river checked by a huge
boulder in the centre. The whole volume of water
splits and tears round through two narrow channels
between the boulder and the banks. These streams meet
again, forming a cauldron of spirting, rushing, roaring,
and whirling foam. In parts the stream was very strong,
and covered with whirling eddies. In the slack water
were the first salmon ladders we had come across.

Vossevangen was just a little disappointing after the
beautiful scenery that had led up to it. Being Sunday,
all the good folk that were able had joined the train
at the various stations on the way to their favourite
churches. The married women were dressed in black
sateen skirts closely pleated round the waist, tight-fitting
bodices, and the most funereal black silk bonnets that
can be imagined. These had dangling black oats at the
top, broad black strings tied in a severe bow under the
chin, and a short black frill at the back. Their faces
looked melancholy, or shall we say devout ? They really
must have looked melancholy, as all my sympathy went
out to a group that alighted from the train at Evanger.
These walked two and two, wending their way across
the bridge which spans the Vosse-Elv to the little
church beyond.

A young woman came first, carrying a child, but so
wrapped up that by the look on her face I assumed it
to be very ill, if not dead. Older women followed with

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Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 10 of 23)