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About the composers

Harald Sæverud

Harald Sæverud foran komponisthjemmet Siljustøl

Harald Sæverud. Foto: Jon Eriksbakken.

Harald Sæverud (1897–1992) was a highly beloved musician and composer. He lived and worked at Siljustøl, outside of Bergen.

During the 1930s and 1940s he established himself as one of Norway’s leading composers.

In 1943, he composed the renowned “Ballad of Revolt”. The work has remained the musical symbol of the resistance in Norway and became an expression of Sæverud’s rage against the German occupants.

Harald Sæverud lived at Siljustøl with his wife Marie Hvoslef and their family. He had a long career and wrote his last piece at the age of 92. Sæverud died in 1992, and the funeral ceremony in Grieghallen was broadcasted live by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

Famous compositions: "Rondo Amoroso", Ballad of Revolt", "Sinfonia Dolorosa" and music for Henrik Ibsen’s "Peer Gynt".

Portrait of Harald Sæverud eating breakfast in bed.

Harald Sæverud, 1953. Foto: Arbeider-Avisa / Sverresborg Trøndelag Folkemuseum.

Portrait of Harald Sæverud eating breakfast in bed.

Harald Sæverud, 1953. Foto: Arbeider-Avisa / Sverresborg Trøndelag Folkemuseum.

The first symphony

Harald Sæverud was born in Nordnes in Bergen on 17 April in 1897. The family, who eventually counted eight children, lived at different addresses within and outside the old city boundary. His father, Herman Sæverud, was a farmer’s son from Bømlo, and his mother, Cecilie Bårdsdatter Tvedt, originated from Samnanger.

Sæverud made his first attempts at composing at an early age. At school, he would sometimes skip lessons to hear the military band play. After two years at Bergen Cathedral School he quit and was accepted as a student at the music conservatory in Bergen, where Borghild Holmsen became his teacher in piano and harmonics.

Eighteen-year-old Sæverud started writing his first symphony, and he received favourable reviews when his work was performed in Kristiania. The attention this arose granted the young student a scholarship from the state, and in 1920 Sæverud went to Berlin for a two-year study at the music academy Staatliche Hochshule für Musik.

Marriage and family

Back in Bergen, Harald Sæverud made a living as a composer, musical critic and piano teacher. Several new symphonies saw the day of light as well as piano pieces.

In 1934, he married the wealthy Marie Hvoslef, who grew up in New York with parents of Norwegian descent. Hvoslef was already married in Bergen but became fascinated with Sæverud and his music. She finally decided to get a divorce and start a new life with the slightly eccentric composer.

In the following years their three sons Sveinung, Tormod and Ketil were born. At first, the family lived at Fjøsanger, but then moved into their new house at Siljustøl in 1939. The property was a wedding gift from Sæverud’s mother-in-law, who also provided funds for the building of the house.

Sæverud chose Ludolf Eide Parr as his architect, and the two of them worked together on the architectural design. The inspiration was Norwegian building traditions and the ideas came from Setesdal and Telemark, and not least from Werenskiold and Kittelsen’s illustrations of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s fairy-tales.

Painting of Marie Hvoslef in a red dress, standing in a red room with two lilys in a vase.

Bozidar Jakac: Marie Hvoslef (1936).

The new home at Siljustøl

During the 1930s and 1940s, Harald Sæverud established himself as one of Norway’s leading composers. The large outdoor area at Siljustøl now became his most important source of inspiration. Finally, he could realise his dream of living in close contact with nature.

The house is built over three floors in a sloping terrain, allowing one to step directly out into nature from every floor. Each morning, Sæverud stepped barefoot out onto the dewy grass as he believed it was beneficial to his health. He also believed in seawater as a preventative remedy, and every morning he downed a small glass of salt water from 40 m depth in Korsfjorden.

Siljustøl as inspiration

While he previously had mostly composed large works and symphonies, Sæverud now took up composing for the grand piano. This resulted in, among other things, several collections of “Slåtter og Stev fra Siljustøl” and “Lette stykker for klaver”.

Shortly after he moved in, Sæverud’s most famous and most played piano piece “Ronda amoroso” was created. The inspiration was a dialogue between him and his eldest son, Sveinung. Sæverud said that “alone I could never write it, but a child had found the key to my ‘melody hideaway’—had opened up the path leading to the ‘spring’.”

The pieces from this time are simple in form and evoke associations to Norwegian folk music. But they are still Sæverud’s own, and he himself emphasizes: “Slåtter og Stev" are not folk tunes, but wholly my own creations, conceived at my property Siljustøl.”

Many of the titles of the pieces in “Slåtter og Stev fra Siljustøl” also allude to nature: “Revebjølle” (“Foxglove”), “Kvernslått” (“Mill-Wheel Tune”), “Fossekallen” (The Dipper”) and not least titles like “Myrdunspele’ på månestrålefele” (“Windflowers Twiddle the Moonbeam Fiddle”). Sæverud emphasized that the music grew “from soil and landscape”.

En byste av Harald Sæverud er plassert i et rom i underetasjen.

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Et utvalg detaljer fra Harald Sæveruds komponisthjem på Siljustøl.

En tegning av Harald Sæverud som henger på veggen i trappen på Siljustøl

Fra Siljustøl. Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Omslaget til notene til stykket Rondo Amoroso

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Et maleri som framstiller de tre barna til Harald Sæverud og Marie Hvoslef

Siljustøl: Portrettmaleri av Sæveruds tre sønner i spisestuen. / Painting of Sæverud's three sons hangs in the Dining Room. Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Harald Sæverud og Marie Hvoslef foran huset på Siljustøl

Harald Sæverud og Marie Hvoslef.

Ekteparet Harald Sæverud og Marie Hvoslef.

The Second World War

During the Second World War, a German delegation tried to confiscate Sæverud’s estate. Sæverud refused and his requests were met; they could only stay in the garage, while the commanding officer was installed in the dressing room. They did not stay long however, but even after they moved out, grenades would hit the property.

The war opened up for creative forces in Harald Sæverud. It was the rage over the Germans’ assaults and cruelty that provoked the colossal creative powers in him.

Among the works that were created in this period is Sæverud’s most famous, “Kjempeviseslåtten” ("Ballad of Revolt”), which was composed in 1943 and is dedicated to “The Home Fronts small and large resistance fighters”.

Peer Gynt

In 1948, Harald Sæverud caused a furore with his music for Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”. The radical theatre director at Det Norske Teatret in Oslo gave him the assignment. He planned an anti-romantic version of the play, using New Norwegian language, meaning the music had to represent something new and radical and break with Grieg’s tonal language.

The music should “cut and burn” and create a sinister atmosphere and anxiety. The premiere was described as a “scandalous success”, with booing and people demonstrating afterwards. Later, there was great enthusiasm for both Hans Jacob Nilsen and Sæverud’s music. Sæverud was awarded a government grant for artists in 1953.

Et noteark som viser komposisjonen Kjempeviseslåtten

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Productive to the last

Harald Sæverud kept on composing into old age. He was also made Knight of the Yugoslavian Flag in 1973 and commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1977.

After Marie Hvoslef passed away in 1982 at the age of 82, he kept on living and composing at Siljustøl. In 1986, 89 years old, he was selected as festival composer for Bergen International Festival. He wrote his last work at the age of 92.

Sæverud found great pleasure in nature until the end and used the outdoors area at Siljustøl regularly. So it was quite natural that he—like Edvard Grieg—planned to be buried at his own estate. He pointed out the spot himself, which would be placed so he could look up at his study from his grave. Exactly where he is buried is however a secret.

The memorial itself is decorated with three blocks of granite gifted to Sæverud by Bergenshalvøens Kommunale Kraftselskap. They were carried by helicopter from Osterøy outside Bergen, and the largest stone has the silhouette of a face. When they arrived at Siljustøl, Sæverud was very enthusiastic.

Gave away the estate

Harald Sæverud died on 27 March in 1992 and was buried on 6 April. The memorial ceremony in Grieghallen was broadcasted live on national TV. Only the closest family and a few selected friends attended the burial at Siljustøl.

In 1984, Harald Sæverud signed his testament where it was stated that Siljustøl should be turned into a foundation after he died: “Marie Hvoslef and Harald Sæverud foundation for the promotion of Norwegian music and the visual arts”. On the occasion of Sæverud’s 100th birthday in 1997, Siljustøl was opened as a museum by King Harald. Today, Bergen municipality runs the estate while Kode is in charge of museum and concert activities.

Gjenstander som ligger på bordet i arbeidsværelset til Harald Sæverud

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Gravsteinen som står på uteområdet på Siljustøl

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

Gjenstander plassert på et skap, inkludert et fotografi av Harald Sæverud og Marie Hvoslef

Foto: Thor Brødreskift

En byste som framstiller Harald Sæverud, plassert i en vinduskarm

Foto: Thor Brødreskift