Harald Sæverud - a Norwegian composer

Harald Sæverud - a Norwegian composer

Harald Sæverud (1897 - 1992) was a Norwegian composer.

In the 1940s, when the 2nd world War raged in Norway, Harald Sæverud traveled from Oslo to Bergen. When he saw what the war had done to the countryside, which now was full of ugly concrete bunkers, he was furious. But, as he was a respectable, distinguished gentleman, it was below his dignity to swear. What did he do? First, he banged his arms against the closest wall and discovered that the banging made quite a good tune. He went home and composed maybe his best work ever: “Kjempeviseslåtten” (“Ballad of Giants”), which truly expresses his anger and fury.

Kjempeviseslåtten is typical for the music and lyric made during the war. It is strong and clear, the music is almost like heartbeats, very intense. Kjempeviseslåtten was immediately very popular, and it is still considered among Sæverud’s best pieces.

Harald Sæverud grew up in Bergen, where he from 1915-18 studied at the Academy of Music. Afterwards he obtained a Composer scholarship and continued studying at the Academy of Music in Berlin. Sæverud began composing already as a child. He wrote mostly orchestral music, but from the 1930s he started writing for piano too. His first symphony was played in 1920. From the 1930s he also became one of the front figures of the cultural life in Norway, and from 1939-54 he was a member of the Norwegian branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music.

There are many stories about Harald Sæverud. Here is one of them:

One of Norway’s best pianists was a good friend of Sæverud. One year the pianist published a record with Sæverud’s music. This happened in the time of the LP. The pianist himself thought that the record was pretty good, and was very surprised when he went to see Sæverud again. Sæverud scolded him, telling him he was playing it all wrong, it went much too fast! The pianist was shocked for as far as he knew, he had been playing it in the right tempo. So what had happened? As the pianist learned when he went over to have a look at Sæverud’s record player, the “fast speed” button was on. The button had been pressed in ever since Sæverud acquired the record player years earlier and he had never quite looked at the display.

With this discovery made, it suddenly dawned on Sæverud why he had always thought the live concerts with the Philharmonic Orchestra went so slowly - he’d been listening to the records at home in fast forward mode!

Sæverud passed away in 1992. His home at Siljustølen in Bergen is now a partially museum.

Siljustøl Museum - the home of Harald Sæverud

A courtyard with many small houses surrounding it, like a mountain farm. That was how Sæverud originally imagined his home in Rådalen in Fana, south of Bergen. Fana is today a "pictoresque" suburb of Bergen.

The beautiful estate and the money for constructing a house, was a wedding gift to the composer and his coming wife, Marie Hvoslef, when they married in 1934. A piece of West Norway in miniature. A miniature that measures no less than 176 acres.

The beautiful place is located only 14 km from the center, and 6 km from the house of the composer Edvard Grieg - Troldhaugen. The generous gift was given by Madsella Hvoslef. As a widdow after the sea captain, and ship broker, Fredrik Waldemar Woslef, she had inherited a fortune in Baltimore, USA. In the end, the only thing that was to associate Suljustøl with a mountain farm, was the name.

Siljustøl, which was the largest private home in Norway when the composer moved in in 1939 was drawn by Sæverud in close cooperation with Ludolf Eide Parr, an architect from Haugesund.

"Tone castle"
Christian Skredevigs famous painting "gutten med seljefløyten"(Selje: Eng: Sallow), was where Sæverud got the idea of the name. However, Sæverud preferred the dialect of Telemark's - silju - which he felt gave an even stronger sense of a tree blooming in the spring. The tree in the yard of Siljustøl is of course a "silju". Instead of a mountain farm he ended up with something more like a castle, which the public soon where to name "the tone castle". Sveinung Sæverud - his son - thinks that is was the "kongsgaarden" (Royal farm) in the fairy tales of Asbjørnes and Moe that inspired his father.

It took 52 workers 3 and a half years to finish the amazing "tone-castle". Siljustøl included:

  • 63 rooms
  • 86 doors (later 92)
  • 4 fireplaces
  • 8 telephones, half of them intercoms.
  • 6 toilets

"If you want to use the toilet , it shouldn't be necessary to stand in line", said Sæverud. His own toilet was just a hole in the floor.
Harald Sæveruds composer-room was in the 2nd floor. Most of his compositions were written here. Originally his working tool was a flygel. This instrument where later taken over by his son, the composer Ketil Hvoslef. Notice the tri-angled table in the corner. It was made after the composers own drawings. He thaught square tables took fare too much space.

In the hall You are being welcomed by the portrait of Harald and Marie, and several of his inventions - like a cod-liver-oil lamp hanging from the roof. Sæverud made sure that he could walk out into the nature from every level of the house. In the first floor the garden door is in the hall.

The cave (Hulen)

The name "the cave". It was Sæveruds' children who gave the room its name. Almost every afternoon Sæverud used to read for them from national literature such as Bjørnson and Garborg. These were precious moments for the children. At the same time it was a very exciting and mystical place to play in.

The morning ritual
Harald Sæverud had a strong belief in the healing effects of the nature itself. Every morning he used to walk barefooted in the grass to pick up important minerals from the morning dew - just like the birds. He also strongly believed in seawater as a medicine, and every morning he drank a glass of it, brought from 30-40 meters depths in Korsfjorden. He kept the glass and the water in a secret room in the bookshelf in the cave.

Sæverud - the multi artist
Both the carpet and the lamp in the cave are designed by Harald Sæverud. The carpet was made by his sister, who was a textile artist, after his directions.

The cat, Piomia, respected her master so much that she never sharpened her claws on any of the furniture's he used, on all the others she did exactly as she wanted - which is clearly visible if you compare Haralds chair to the left, with Maries chair to the right.

The story about the car
Maries' Buick, was from the thirties, bought in America. Marie was the first woman ever to have a driver license in Norway. Since the mother in law couldn't keep up her frequent traveling from the US. - supplying the Sæverud family with money - during the war, they had to sell the car.
More info about:

The Siljustøl Museum

Harald Sæverud's home, Siljustølen.
Harald Sæverud's home, Siljustølen.
Sæverud: Here carved in stone.
Sæverud: Here carved in stone.
Siljustol Museum floor plan

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