For such a small population, Norway has an incredibly rich, accomplished and varied cultural scene, thanks in part to government funding of artists
and institutions through our Arts Council Norway, which finances artists of all kinds across Norway.
CLASSICAL MUSIC: Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) is thought of by most people as Norway’s greatest composer. Grieg’s music is romantic with a nationalist streak, using scales and modes from Norwegian folk music to create beautiful, modern (for its time, that is) impressionistic pieces. His most famous works are his Lyrical Pieces for piano, his Piano Concerto in A Minor and his incidental music to Henrik ibsen’s Peer Gynt.
Norway also has some internationally renowned classical performers, like piano player Leif Ove Andsnes, widely regarded as one of the greatest classical music performers in the world, and winner of several Grammy Awards. He is particularly well known for his interpretations of Grieg’s music, and is often seen in Grieg’s home town of Bergen. The cellist Truls Mørk is also a well-known international performer of Grieg’s music, and is an outstanding performer both of chamber music and as a soloist for an orchestra.
JAZZ:. Norway’s jazz scene is phenomenal. Everyone agrees that Norway has one of the most interesting jazz scenes in Europe, with each successive generation of musicians reinventing and creating their own musical language, from the world-influenced, almost-ambient “mountain jazz” of the 80s and early 90s through to the electronica-based period of the late 90s into the hard-bop and free improv-influenced styles of the younger generation.
Names like Jan Garbarek, Mari Boine, Arild Andersen, Nils-Petter Molvær, and Bugge Wesseltoft have made their names internationally. While the younger generation of artists, with names like Paal Nilssen-Love, Håvard Wiik, Kjetil Møster, Håkon Kornstad, Supersilent, Jaga Jazzist and Wibutee are gaining wider and wider recognition as world-class artists in the younger market.
POP/ROCK/ELECTRONICA: The past seven or eight years have been good to Norwegian popular music acts. The so-called “Bergen Wave”, in particular, brought a number of bands from the city of Bergen in Western Norway to great popularity in Norway and abroad. Names like Röyksopp, Kings of Convenience, Sondre Lerche, Magnet and Annie are still widely known and tour throughout the world.
Other parts of the country have also produced a lot of popular bands and artists in the past years in the pop and rock fields, with some prominent names being Lene Marlin, Madrugada, A-HA, Turbonegro and Sissel Kyrkjebø still regularly touring and producing records.
The Norwegian heavy metal and death metal scene, meanwhile, is universally acknowledged as superior to all other such scenes in the world, with names like Dimmu Borgir, Satyricon, Immortal, Darkthrone and Burzum having achieved worldwide celebrity and/ or notoriety.
LITERATURE: Norway has produced more than its share of the great poets, playwrights and novelists of our time. Henrik Ibsen (1828 - 1906), is probably one of the three most respected dramatists in the world, and is performed almost as much as Shakespeare around the world. He is considered the father of the realistic drama, an important pre-modernist influence and a great social critic. His list of canonical plays includes A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Peer Gynt, Hedda Gabler and An enemy of the People.
Three Norwegian authors have received the Nobel Prize for Literature: Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) in 1928, Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) in 1920 and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) in 1903.
CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE: Jon Fosse is currently Norway’s most popular living dramatist both nationally and internationally. His plays are completely minimalist with an absolutely infuriating, repetitive style, delving deep into the existential darkness of man and grasping for things language cannot express.
Some of the best-known current authors include Jostein Gaarder, who wrote Sophie’s World - A Novel about the History of Philosophy. The novel, a sort of mystery/history-of-philosophy4kidz, has sold more than 25 million copies. Lars Saabye Christensen got his international breakthrough with Halvbroren (The Half Brother) and many of Saabye Christensen’s novels have been translated into several European languages.
FINE ART: The Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was one of the pioneers of the expressionist movement in modern painting. You’ve almost certainly seen his endlessly-reproduced Scream, an unnerving expressionist exploration of existential angst, has by now been turned into mouse pads, book covers, desktop backgrounds, horror movie props and posters all over the world. It is probably one of the three most famous paintings around the world that are less than 150 years old.
When Munch died in January 1944, it became known that he had unconditionally bequeathed all his remaining works to the city of Oslo. The city built the Munch Museum in 1963 to house his unique collection of approximately 1100 paintings, 4500 drawings and 18,000 prints.
Anne Katrine Dolven is a contemporary video artist and painter. She has gained international recognition with her carefully considered videos, described as formal in style and spare in narrative expression – humour and eroticism – at times even simultaneously.
ARCHITECTURE: Norway is famous for its unique Stave churches, which are wooden churches built as early as the 12th century. Also, many fine examples of the Jugend/Art Nouveau style of architecture can be found in Norway, for instance in Ålesund, where most of the city centre was rebuilt in that style after a catastrophic fire in 1904.
When it comes to contemporary architecture, the Snøhetta architectural firm based in Norway has achieved great international acclaim for their low-key, cool, “Scandinavian” style. They are behind many high-profile projects such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, the new Opera House in Oslo, and the Visitor’s Center at the World Trade Center memorial site in New York.
FESTIVALS: Festivals take place throughout the year, covering all areas of culture including music, film, literature and various forms of art. ‘Norway Festivals’ is the organisation that helps to coordinate and develop all the Norwegian festivals.
Molde International Jazz Festival, the Quart Festival and Norwegian Wood are all international music festivals attracting renowned performers from all over the world.
There are three travelling cultural institutions in Norway: the Norwegian national touring theatre Riksteatret, the national touring concerts Rikskonsertene and the national touring exhibitors Riksgalleriet. These institutions are all funded by the government and perform across the country.