Geirr Tveitt

Last updated
Geirr Tveitt
Geirr Tveitt framom apalen (cropped).jpg
Geirr Tveitt
Nils Tveit

(1908-10-19)19 October 1908
Died1 February 1981(1981-02-01) (aged 72)
OccupationClassical composer and pianist

Geirr Tveitt, born Nils Tveit (19 October 1908 – 1 February 1981) was a Norwegian composer and pianist. Tveitt was a central figure of the national movement in Norwegian cultural life during the 1930s. [1]



Early years

Tveitt was born in Bergen, where his father briefly worked as a teacher. His parents were Håkonson Lars Tveit (1878–1951) and Johanna Nilsdotter Heradstveit (1882–1966). His family were of farmer stock, and still retained Tveit, their ancestral land in Kvam – a secluded village on the scenic Hardangerfjord. The Tveit family would relocate to Drammen in the winter to work, but return to Hardanger in the summer to farm. Thus Tveitt enjoyed both a countryside existence and city life. Tveitt had originally been christened Nils, but following his increasing interest in Norwegian heritage, he thought the name 'not Norwegian enough' and changed it to Geir. He later added an extra r to his first name and an extra t to Tveit to indicate more clearly to non-Norwegians the desired pronunciation of his name. It was during his childhood summers in Hardanger that Tveitt gained knowledge of the rich folk-music traditions of the area. Historically, Hardanger's relative isolation allowed for the development of a unique musical culture, with which Tveitt became infatuated. Tveitt was no child prodigy, but discovered that he possessed musical talent, and learned to play both the violin and the piano. And, after having been encouraged by Norwegian composer Christian Sinding, Tveitt decided to try his hand at writing music. [2]


In 1928 Tveitt left Norway to be educated. He headed for Germany – to Leipzig and its Conservatory, which had been the hub of European musical learning and culture for so long. It was an intense time for Tveitt. He studied composition with Hermann Grabner and Leopold Wenninger, and the piano with Otto Weinreich, making extraordinary progress in both fields. The joy of learning from some of the best German educators of the time was often overshadowed by his almost chronic lack of funds – Tveitt having to rely upon translation work and donations to support himself. The Norwegian composer David Monrad Johansen through the student years. Perhaps it was the expatriation from Norway that kindled in Tveitt a strong desire to embrace completely his Norwegian heritage. Tveitt's profound interest in the modal scales (which forms the basis of the folk-music of many countries) often tested Grabner's patience. However, the latter must have felt great pride when Tveitt had his 12 Two-part Inventions in Lydian, Dorian and Phrygian accepted for publishing by Breitkopf & Hartel in 1930. The following year the Leipzig Radio Orchestra premiered Tveitt's first Piano Concerto – a composition that reflects Tveitt's search for an individual and Norwegian voice.

Amongst the great in Europe

In 1932 Tveitt headed on to Paris. Tveitt had become increasingly frustrated with the teaching in Leipzig, but found a new freedom and inspiration. Here he obtained lessons from some of the greatest and most well-known composers of the times: Arthur Honegger and Heitor Villa-Lobos both agreed to see Tveitt. He further managed to enroll in the classes of Nadia Boulanger. Tveitt also made a visit to Vienna, where he was able to study for some time with Austrian composer Egon J. Wellesz, a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. Tveitt made one last educational stopover in Paris in 1938 before heading home to Norway to work. Compared to other Norwegian composers contemporary with Tveitt, he had perhaps the most diverse education – and he had already started to make a name for himself. His writings and compositions made quite a stir amongst the establishment in Oslo. In the years leading up to World War II, Tveitt derived most of his income working as music critic to Sjofartstidende (The Naval Times). Tveitt's highly opinionated reviews contributed to his securing strong opponents – one of these were the Norwegian composer, Pauline Hall. Tveitt focused his energies on composing. As soon as the Second World War had ended, Tveitt brought his scores with him to Europe, touring extensively – often performing own piano works with similar works by other composers, i.e. Grieg and Chopin. Many of the concerts were great personal and artistic successes for the Norwegian composer, and especially so the 1947 concert in Paris. Here Tveitt premiered his Piano Sonatas nos 1 and 29, some of his adaptations of Hardanger Folk-Songs and also the Fourth Concerto for Piano and Orchestra – Aurora Borealis. The piano concerto was performed in a two-piano version, Tveitt assisted by the French pianist Genevieve Joy. According to reviews, the concerto had thrown the Parisian audience into a paroxysm of ecstasy. Tveitt's intense, glittering, French-Impressionist flavoured rendition of the dancing and mystical northern winter sky, earned him the acclaim of his former teacher Nadia Boulanger in her following review. [3]

Burned to the ground

In spite of Tveitt's glorious successes internationally, the contemporary Norwegian establishment remained aloof. Following the upheaval of the Second World War, anything that resembled nationalism or purism was quickly disdained by the Establishment. Tveitt's aesthetic and music were fundamentally unfashionable. Tveitt struggled financially and became increasingly isolated. He spent more and more time at the family farm in Kvam, keeping his music to himself – all manuscripts neatly filed in wooden chests. The catastrophe could therefore hardly have been any worse when his house burned to the ground in 1970. Tveitt despaired – the original manuscripts to almost 300 opuses (including six piano concertos and two concertos for Hardanger fiddle and orchestra) were reduced to singed bricks of paper – deformed and inseparable. The Norwegian Music Information Centre agreed to archive the remains, but the reality was that 4/5 of Tveitt's production was gone – seemingly forever. Tveitt now found it very difficult to compose and gradually succumbed to alcoholism. Several commentators imagine that his many hardships contributed to these conditions. Tveitt died in Norheimsund, Hardanger, reduced and largely embittered, with little hope for the legacy of his professional work. [4]

A great controversy

One of the most delicate and controversial areas of Tveitt's biography is his affiliation with the so-called Neo-Heathenistic movement, which centered around the Norwegian philosopher Hans S. Jacobsen (1901–1980) in the 1930s in Oslo. This is a topic that frequently returns in Norwegian public debate. Jacobsen's main thesis, inspired by the theories of the German theologist Jakob Wilhelm Hauer, was the total refutation of Christianity in favour of a new heathen system based upon Norse mythology and the Edda poetry. The movement rejected Christianity and sought to re-introduce the Norse pre-Christian system of belief – the adoration of Odin, Thor and Balder. Jacobsen later became a member of Nasjonal Samling ('National Assembly'), which led the interim, pro-Hitler puppet government during the German occupation of Norway. Even though Geirr Tveitt displayed a deep interest in the theories of the movement, he never enrolled as a member of Nasjonal Samling. His preoccupation with Jacobsen's thinking however, materialised in conspicuous ways; for example Tveitt invented his own non-Christian timeline based upon the arrival of Leif Erikson in what is now Canada. Traces of Antisemitism are often found in his correspondence from the 1930s. The Neo-Heathen system of thought found its way into Tveitt's music; his perhaps most intensely such composition is the ballet Baldur's Dreams . In it, one could argue, Tveitt seeks to establish a link between this world – its creation, cycle and dwellers – and the eternal battle between the benevolent heathen Norse gods and their opponents, the evil jotuns. Tveitt began work on the ballet whilst studying in Leipzig, where it was first performed on 24 February 1938. There Baldur's Dreams became a remarkable success, and performances were later given in Berlin, Tübingen, Bergen and Oslo.

Another result of Tveitt's Norse purism was his development of the theory that the modal scales originally were Norwegian, renaming them in honor of Norse gods. He also developed an intricate diatonic theory, which interconnected the modal scales through a system of double leading notes. These ideas were published in his 1937 argument Tonalitätstheorie des parallellen Leittonsystems. Even though most musicologists agree that Tveitt's theories are colored by his personal convictions – his thesis is intelligent, challenging and thought-provoking.

The issue of Tveitt's inglorious relationship with so-called 'nazi-ideologies' is so delicate that most scholars have avoided it altogether. Some commentators have noticed that one of the foremost Norwegian authorities on Tveitt, Hallgjerd Aksnes, Professor of Music at the University of Oslo, did not address this question in her article on Tveitt in Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Tveitt's connection to far-right German thinking is perhaps a question scholars will return to as the world understands the dynamics of a troubled period in European history more fully. For Tveitt, the question proved devastating to his reputation, and contributed significantly to his becoming a persona-non-grata in the post-war musical establishment in Norway. However, as the most traumatic years of European history become more distant, a new generation of academics and musicians are approaching Tveitt and his music. Most of Tveitt's remaining music is now commercially available on records. [5] [6]



His music draws from many styles and traditions, most notably the barbarism of Stravinsky's early ballets, the unique rhythms and textures of Bartók's music and the floating and mystic moods of Debussy and Ravel's music – always underpinned by idioms derived from Norwegian folk-music. Very few of Tveitt's works had been published or properly archived at institutions – aggravating the effects of the 1970 fire. Tveitt himself made visits to universities across Norway, and wrote to friends, asking for spare copies and parts – but little was found. However, over the years, copies of quite a few scores have turned up, and others have been reconstructed from orchestral parts, or from radio and magnetic tape recordings. [7]

The great treasure of Hardanger

Tveitt's perhaps greatest musical project was the collection and adaptation of traditional folk melodies from the Hardanger district. Many composers and musicologists (including Norway's internationally recognised Edvard Grieg) had successfully researched and collected the music of Hardanger long before Tveitt. However, from 1940 onwards, when Tveitt settled permanently in Hardanger, he became one of the locals, and spent much time working and playing with folk-musicians. He thus happened upon a treasure of unknown tunes, claiming to have discovered almost one thousand melodies, and incorporated one hundred of these into his work list; Fifty folktunes from Hardanger for piano op. 150, and A Hundred Hardanger Tunes op. 151. Musicologist David Gallagher might speak for many when he suggests that in these two opuses – their universe, music and history – are found the very best of Tveitt's qualities as a composer. The tunes reflect both profound (in fact) Christian values and a parallel universe dominated by the mysticism of nature itself and not only the worldly, but also nether worldly creatures that inhabit it – according to traditional folklore. The major part of the tunes is directly concerned with Hardanger life, which Tveitt was a part of. In his adaptations, therefore, he sought to bring forth not only the melody itself, but also the atmosphere, mood and scenery in which it belonged. Tveitt utilised his profound knowledge of traditional and avant-garde use of harmony and instruments when he scored the tunes – achieving an individual and recognisable texture. Copies of the piano versions and orchestral suites nos 1, 2, 4 and 5 were elsewhere during that tragic fire in 1970, so these works survive. Norwegian musicologists hope that suite nos 3 and 6 might be restored from the burned-out remnants held at the archives in Oslo.

Songs for the common Norwegian

Tveitt's works remained largely misunderstood and unappreciated by his contemporary Norwegian musical establishment. However, Tveitt won the hearts of a whole nation with his radio programmes on folk music at the Norwegian National Broadcasting (NRK) in the 1960s and '70s. Tveitt worked as Assistant Producer to the radio, where he also premiered numerous songs written to texts by respected and well-known Norwegian poets like Knut Hamsun, Arnulf Overland, Aslaug Vaa and Herman Wildenvey. Many Norwegians remember perhaps Tveitt most fondly for his tune to Aslaug Låstad Lygre's poem We should not sleep in summer nights. Tveitt could not impress the musical intelligentsia with his complicated and refined scores, but won the affection of the commoner with simple lyrical tunes of a clearly Norwegian curve. In 1980 Tveitt was awarded the Lindeman prize for the work he had done through the NRK. He also set songs by Aslaug Vaa and Olav H. Hauge.

Recordings and research

Today Norway is seeing the advent of a new generation of musicians and musicologists, who seem to be primarily concerned with Tveitt's music and not so much with the controversies he inspired. Starting in the late 1990s the Norwegian government began to provide some funding for the examination and preservation of the remains of Tveitt's scores, and several startling discoveries have been made. Thought to have been lost for all time, Baldur's Dreams appeared amongst the damaged manuscripts, and its fate is illustrative. Tveitt made numerous versions of the ballet – in Paris he presented a reworked score Dances from Baldur's Dreams. Tveitt then sent it to the choreographer Serge Lifar in London, where the score allegedly was lost in the Blitz.

However, after the singed manuscripts held at the NMIC were examined in 1999, it became apparent that Tveitt indeed had a copy of the 1938 original score – and through tedious restoration work by Norwegian composer Kaare Dyvik Husby and Russian composer Alexej Rybnikov from the singed manuscripts, recording, and a piano version, the ballet literally rose from the ashes. It is now available on BIS-CD-1337/1338, where Ole Kristian Ruud conducts the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. A TV documentary program Baldur's Dreams on the incredible fate of the ballet, was broadcast in Norway on 15 June 2008 and attracted nationwide interest.

Another reconstruction project worth mentioning is the reconstruction of the solo piano piece Morild. The title alludes to the mysterious phenomenon of phosphorescence of the sea, and it was amongst the treasures lost in the 1970 fire. Fortunately, a recording of the work made by Tveitt for French national radio in 1952 has survived. It was issued for the first time on Simax in 1994. A reconstruction of the score was undertaken by the American transcription specialist Chris Eric Jensen in 2005 in collaboration with the pianist Håvard Gimse who gave the piece its first performance on Tveitt's 100th birthday on 19 October 2008, the first time it had been played by a pianist other than the composer.

Selected works

The major part of Tveitt's scores are published by the Norwegian Music Information Centre, and the archives of the Society of Norwegian Composers.






Wind Band

Related Research Articles

Johan Halvorsen Musical artist

Johan Halvorsen was a Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist.

Piano Concerto (Grieg) Piano concerto by Edvard Grieg in 1868

The Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, composed by Edvard Grieg in 1868, was the only concerto Grieg completed. It is one of his most popular works and is among the most popular of all piano concerti.

Paul Creston was an Italian American composer of classical music.

Eivind Groven Musical artist

Eivind Groven was a Norwegian composer and music-theorist. He was from traditional region of Vest-Telemark and had a background in the folk music of the area.

Håvard Gimse is a Norwegian classical pianist from Kongsvinger, and the brother of the cellist Øyvind Gimse. He has received the Griegprisen (1996) and the Steinway Award (1995). Gimse has done several recordings for Naim Audio, Naxos Records, Sony Classical Records, Chandos Records and Simax.

The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is a Norwegian orchestra based in Bergen. Its principal concert venue is the Grieg Hall.

Halling (dance) Traditional Norwegian dance

The Halling (hallingdansen) is a folk dance (bygdedans) traditionally performed in rural Norway, although versions of the halling can also be found in parts of Sweden. The dance is traditionally performed by young men at weddings and parties.

Ole Olsen (composer) Musical artist

Ole Olsen was a Norwegian organist, composer, conductor and military musician.

Arve Moen Bergset

Arve Moen Bergset is a Norwegian traditional folk singer, hardanger fiddler, and classical violinist.

Ragnar Søderlind is a Norwegian composer. He has written ballets and operas, and for the concert hall, programmatic works based on poems.

Baldur's Dreams is a ballet by the Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt. It is loosely based on the poem Baldrs draumar from the Poetic Edda. It has never been staged as an actual ballet. The music was performed by a symphony orchestra in Oslo in 1938. The score was lost during World War II but reconstructed and rediscovered in the early 2000s.

Emil Hartmann Danish composer (1836–1898)

Emil Hartmann was a Danish composer of the romantic period, fourth generation of composers in the Danish Hartmann musical family.

Stavanger Symphony Orchestra Norwegian symphony orchestra

The Stavanger Symphony Orchestra is a symphony orchestra based in Stavanger, Norway. The SSO principal venue is the Stavanger Concert Hall, performing in the Fartein Valen concert hall.

Conrad Baden Norwegian composer

Conrad Baden was a Norwegian organist, composer, music educator, and music critic. He had an extensive production of orchestral works, chamber music, vocal works and church music.

Geir Botnen Musical artist

Geir Botnen is a Norwegian pianist. He focuses mainly on the works of Geirr Tveitt, but his repertoire also includes works by other composers.

Lars Petter Hagen is a Norwegian contemporary composer, former director of the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival and currently an adviser for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 1981 in Norwegian music.

The following is a list of notable events and releases of the year 1908 in Norwegian music.

A Hundred Hardanger Tunes is a collection of folk songs from the Hardanger region of Norway arranged for orchestra by the composer Geirr Tveitt between 1954 and 1963. Of the originally planned 100 tunes, 4 suites with a total of 60 songs are extant.


  1. Geirr Tveitt (Store norske leksikon)
  2. Short biography (Reidar Storaas)
  3. Short biography (John Hovland, 2000) Archived 2004-12-27 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Geirr Tveitt talks about destroyed scores (NRK)
  5. "Quisling ikke rasetenkende nok (Aftenposten. 18 May 2003)". Archived from the original on 25 October 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2007.
  6. Den irrelevante fortiden og den gudommelige musikken Halfdan Bleken, 2 June 2003)
  7. Tveitt, Geirr (

Primary sources

Other sources

60°21′14″N6°09′51″E / 60.35399°N 6.16405°E / 60.35399; 6.16405 Coordinates: 60°21′14″N6°09′51″E / 60.35399°N 6.16405°E / 60.35399; 6.16405