Norwegian culture should be understood in the context of Norwegian history as well as Norwegian geography. The unique Norwegian farm culture resulted not only from scarce resources and a harsh climate, but also from Norway’s ancient property laws, which sustained a unique character still visible in Norway today. This unique character resulted in a strong romantic nationalistic movement in the 18th century which is visible to this day in the Norwegian language and media. Norwegian culture is very egalitarian, and this has both positive and negative effects.
From its origins about 9,000 years ago to the present, the architecture of Norway has evolved in response to shifting economic conditions, technological advances, demographic fluctuations, and cultural shifts. While outside architectural influences are apparent in much of Norwegian architecture, they have often been adapted to meet Norwegian climatic conditions, including: harsh winters, high winds and, in coastal areas, salt spray.
Norway’s architectural trends are also seen to parallel political and societal changes in Norway over the centuries. Prior to the Viking Age, wooden structures developed into a sophisticated craft evident in the elegant and effective construction of the Viking long ships. Following that, the ascent of Christianity introduced Romanesque architecture in cathedrals and churches, with characteristically slightly pointed arches, barrel vaults, cruciform piers supporting vaults, and groin vaults; in large part as a result of religions influence from England.
During the Middle Ages, the geography dictated a dispersed economy and population. As a result, the traditional Norwegian farm culture remained strong, and Norway differed from most European countries in never adopting feudalism. This, combined with the ready availability of wood as a building material, ensured that relatively few examples of the Baroque, Renaissance, and Rococo architecture styles so often built by the ruling classes elsewhere in Europe, were constructed in Norway.
Instead, these factors resulted in distinctive traditions in Norwegian vernacular architecture, which have been preserved in existing farms in the many Norwegian open-air museums that showcase buildings from the Middle Ages through to the 19th century; prominent examples include the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo and Maihaugen in Lillehammer, as well as extant buildings still in service on farms such as those in the Heidal valley.
In the 20th century, Norwegian architecture has been characterised by its connection with Norwegian social policy on the one hand, and innovation on the other. Norwegian architects have been recognised for their work, both within Norway – where architecture has been considered an expression of social policy – and outside Norway, in several innovative projects.
Expressionist painter Edvard Munch is the most famous Norwegian artist in a long artistic tradition that includes modernists such as Gunnar S. Gundersen and romantic-period painters such as Adolph Tidemand, Hans Gude, and J.C. Dahl.
Norwegian literature is literature composed in Norway or by Norwegian people. The history of Norwegian literature starts with the pagan Eddaic poems and skaldic verse of the 9th and 10th centuries with poets such as Bragi Boddason and Eyvindr Skáldaspillir. The arrival of Christianity around the year 1000 brought Norway into contact with European medieval learning, hagiography and history writing. Merged with native oral tradition and Icelandic influence this was to flower into an active period of literature production in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Major works of that period include Historia Norwegie, Thidreks saga and Konungs skuggsjá.
The period from the 14th century up to the 19th is considered a dark age in the nation’s literature though Norwegian-born writers such as Peder Claussøn Friis and Ludvig Holberg contributed to the common literature of Denmark-Norway. With the advent of nationalism and the struggle for independence in the early 19th century a new period of national literature emerged. The dramatist Henrik Wergeland was the most influential author of the period while the later works of Henrik Ibsen were to earn Norway a place in Western European literature. In the 20th century notable Norwegian writers include the two Nobel Prize winning authors Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset.
Music based on traditional Norwegian form usually includes minor or modal scales (sometimes mixed with major scales), making a sober and haunting sound. Pure major key dance music forms also exist. Prior to the 1700s, there is scant written record of what kind of music was played in Norway, but there is a large aural tradition. In 1380, Norway had come under Danish rule, and thus had no royal house or nobility of its own; as a result, for 450 years, Norway did not participate as much in the musical development which occurred in royal (or “cultured”) circles throughout the rest of Europe. Religious and traditional (folk) music were dominant throughout this era in rural areas, though again scant records exist to document their nature. In the last half of the 20th century, Norway, like many other countries in the world, underwent a roots revival that saw indigenous music being revived.
The first classical composers from Norway are documented from the beginning of the 18th century, when they composed dance and chamber music, including cantatas. In 1814, Sweden entered into a union with Norway, and the Swedish royal family spent time in Norway’s capital, Christiania, Norway (Oslo). At their royal court, music flourished.
The violinist Ole Bull (1810–1880) was the first major Norwegian musician. He became world-famous starting in about 1834, and was known as the Nordic Paganini.
The Golden Age of Norwegian music’s most prominent composers were Johan Svendsen and Edvard Grieg. Bull’s efforts directly inspired Grieg to look for folk musical sources. These composers, inspired by Lindeman’s collections and Ole Bull’s Hardanger fiddling, incorporated Norwegian folk elements into their compositions.
At the end of the 19th century, the collection of folk tunes continued unabated, and composers like Christian Sinding and Johan Halvorsen were well-known. Following the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905, Norwegian nationalism continued to grow in popularity and innovation, led especially by David Monrad Johansen, Geirr Tveitt, Bjarne Brustad, Ludvig Irgens Jensen, Harald Sæverud, Klaus Egge and Eivind Groven. These composers focused on using folk music in their compositions, a trend which continued well into World War II, though a process of internationalization began in the 1930s. In between the wars, only a few composers, like Pauline Hall and Fartein Valen, were significantly influenced by foreign styles.
After World War II, Norwegian music began moving in a new direction, away from the Nordic and Germanic ideals of the past, and towards a more international, especially American, British and French, style. New composers of this period included Johan Kvandal, Knut Nystedt, Edvard Hagerup Bull and Egil Hovland. Of especial importance was French neo-classicism, Paul Hindemith and Béla Bartók. During this period, serial music appeared in Norway, led by Finn Mortensen. Later, avant garde composers like Arne Nordheim took advantage of technological developments, using a variety of electronic effects and bizarre instrumentation.
Much of the Norwegian public did not appreciate the new direction these avant-garde composers were moving in, which helped to fuel a conservative backlash. Some composers, like Kåre Kolberg, reacted by writing simple music, while others, such as Alfred Janson and Ragnar Søderlind, revived romanticism. Some music from this era attempted to address social and political concerns, such as Janson’s dedication of a violin concerto to Chilean president Salvador Allende.