Grieg's home in 'troll' country

Nobody should visit Norway without going to Bergen, a stunning medieval seagoing city perched on the edge of a fjord surrounded by steep mountains.

Bergen is famous for its old wooden houses, narrow alleyways, open-air fish market on the wharf in the middle of town, funiculars and cable cars to the tops of mountains, and a thriving cultural life.

And nobody who visits Bergen should miss going to Troldhaugen. The home of composer Edvard Grieg, Norway's most celebrated musician, Troldhaugen (Hill of the Trolls) is about a half-hour from Bergen by bus or car.

Plan to spend at least an hour, whether or not you are familiar with Grieg's haunting music, flavored with the lilt of folk tunes, because it provides a fascinating glimpse into Norwegian life more than 100 years ago.

Built in 1885 on a hill that, according to local legend, was a haunt for trolls - the little fantasy folk of Norway - Troldhaugen served as a summer retreat for Grieg and his wife, Nina.

Grieg was born in Bergen in 1843 to a bourgeois family that had made its money in trading dried fish. His mother was an accomplished pianist and taught him to be the same.

At the age of 15, he went off to study at the Conservatory of Music in Leipzig, Germany, and then spent many years teaching, composing, and performing all over Europe.

Eventually, with the support of an annuity from the Norwegian government, he returned to live in his hometown, where Troldhaugen served as a haven. There, in a little garden hut on the shore of the lake, he composed many of his best-known works, including the famous Peer Gynt Suites.

The house, the hut, a concert hall, and a museum building can all be visited.

The main focus at Troldhaugen is the unpretentious, cream-colored, two-story wooden house built in the popular Victorian style of the time. It is filled with mementos, photographs, and original furnishings augmented by others typical of the period, and the composer's own Steinway piano.

Although the exterior is decorative, the interior walls are bare timber in the tradition of a Norwegian farmhouse. After Grieg died and his wife later moved out of the house, all the furnishings were sold and had to be painstakingly reassembled before the house could be opened to the public.

The piano that stands in the living room on a flowered carpet handmade by his sisters-in-law is still used for recitals on special occasions. In another room, the walls are covered with sketches, portraits, and photographs, while glass cases hold concert programs, original manuscripts, and the first conductor's edition of the A Minor Piano Concerto.

In 1985, Troldsalen, a low, sod-roofed concert hall seating 200 people, was opened for chamber-music performances. It hosts more than 300 concerts every year.

Outside the entrance stands a life-size statue of the 5-foot,1-inch composer. And tucked in a small cave carved into a cliff facing Lake Nordas are the graves of Grieg and his wife.

The Edvard Grieg Museum opened in 1995. It includes a permanent exhibition, a multimedia room, cafeteria, and shop that sells souvenirs, music, and relevant books.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of Troldhaugen is the garden hut where Grieg worked for so many hours in solitude. Visitors take the path from the front door of the house down a densely wooded hill to the "troll valley," a small ravine where the tiny brown workshop stands, its one window looking out over the silver waters of the lake.

Inside are Grieg's desk, a sofa, upright piano, and footstool.

Whenever Grieg left Troldhaugen, he put a little note in the hut for the edification of possible intruders. It asked them not to disturb the papers because they would certainly be of no value to anyone but himself.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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