MUSIC: HALFDAN KJERULF (1815 – 1868)
TRANSLATION and COMMENTARY: DR. ALF LUNDER KNUDSEN and DR. JEFFREY R. HIGHLAND
Norwegian-born Halfdan Kjerulf was the son of Peder Kierulf, a Danish civil servant who immigrated to Norway in 1814. The younger Kjerulf was musically inclined and studied piano in Oslo with Lars Roverud and Otto Wetterstrand, but actually intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. While he played the piano and “dabbled” in composing, and teaching piano, he set out to study law in 1835 but broke off his studies [in 1839] just before his final exams due to severe health problems. Almost prophetically the former teacher “sneaked in” music theory along with the piano lessons, which later would come in handy for one of Norway’s greatest composers.
Contemporaries, Kjerulf perceived to live in the shadow of Edvard Grieg, he actually was Grieg’s forerunner in utilizing and promoting the Norwegian sound/music influenced by the country’s folk-music.
In 1840 his recuperation efforts included a trip to Paris, where he was introduced to a flourishing and inspiring music milieu. On his return to Norway in 1841, tragedy struck when both his brother and father died. As the eldest sibling he had to take on the responsibility of supporting the family financially. He was hired as foreign affairs editor in ‘Den Constitutionelle,’ one of the two most prominent newspapers in Oslo at the time. He was able to add income by continuing his music composition studies, teaching piano and publishing small compositions. In 1845 he was urged to take over as director of the Studentersangforening University Student Chorus and, by 1856, his musical endeavors became his sole income and he was able to take music study trips to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Leipzig, Germany.
His status as musician/ composer grew quickly, and his significant contribution to the Norwegian Male Chorus repertoire is still popular and performed in the 20th century. In 1863 he was awarded the medal Litteris et Artibus (a Swedish royal medal established in 1853 by Charles XV of Sweden, who was then crown prince). In 1865 he became a member of Kungliga Svenska Musicaliska Academien (The Royal Swedish Music Academy) and in 1867 he was awarded The Norwegian Ridder av St. Olavs Orden (Knight the Royal Order of St. Olav).
Perhaps best known today as the author of the national anthem for children “Vi ere en nasjon,” the Norwegian romantic poet Henrik Arnold Wergeland was the oldest son of pastor Nicolai Wergeland (1780-1848), who had been a member of the constituent assembly at Eidsvoll in 1814. His early experience and connection to Eidsvoll had a life-long impact of nationalism and patriotism on the young author.
Originally entering The Royal Frederick University (University of Oslo) in 1825 to study theology, Wergeland graduated in 1829 and immediately immersed himself in the fight for celebration of the constitution on “Syttendemai” (May 17th), which later became Norway’s Constitution Day (Norges Grunnlovsdag). He is credited with starting the tradition of celebrating May 17th with a children’s parade (Barnetoget på Syttendemai). As an advocate for democracy, Wergeland worked for independence of all nations and freedom of both expression and faith. Few citizens have contributed as much as Wergeland to the amendment of the Norwegian constitution allowing Jews to enter the country. The Jewish community of Oslo pays respects at his grave on May 17, in appreciation of his efforts to allow Jews into Norway; however, the Nazi occupiers of Norway did not allow celebration of Wergeland during World War II. University students and school children decorate his grave and statues every year.