As far back as the 13th century, when Bergen Cathedral School was founded, the school offered different types of organised music education for shorter or longer periods. This was linked to specific needs, such as the training of singers for Bergen Cathedral. In an account of music at the Cathedral during the late 17th century, when Ludvig Holberg was a pupil in Bergen, Hilbrandt Meyer describes such a high level of vocal and instrumental music, that people from ‘foreign places’ came to listen in the summer. The town musicians and organists trained aspiring candidates as well, and eventually Harmoniens orkesterskole (Harmonien’s Orchestra School) was founded. In the 19th century, Bergen had many well-trained piano teachers (often women), and mention must be made of Ferdinand Vogel’s school for organists, which was active for nearly 40 years (1852–1887). In fact, Vogel’s school offered the first state-funded music education in Norway.
The ‘Music Academy’ of 1905
Toward the end of the 19th century, Harmonien’s Orchestra School was closed down, but 1905 was to be a landmark year. On September 1, violinist Torgrim Castberg opened the doors for the first students of Bergen’s newly established ‘Music Academy’. At the time, Castberg, an excellent and charismatic violinist, was concertmaster of Harmonien, today’s Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. He had studied in Paris and Berlin, and had a keen interest in music education. One of his idiosyncrasies was his great respect for Norwegian folk music, something fairly uncommon at the time.
Before Castberg opened his Music Academy in 1905, he had thoroughly prepared and gotten solid backing from local supporters. Edvard Grieg was one of his advisers, and it was he who suggested the name ‘Music Academy’.
Initially, the Academy was housed at Nygårdsgaten 29, just a stone’s throw from today’s Grieg Academy. The institution grew rapidly, and in 1908, two members of parliament, Joachim Grieg and Johan Ludwig Mowinckel from Bergen, presented a proposal for state funding of the Academy. The proposal was unanimously adopted.
As the number of students continued to rise, the Academy needed to expand. Two lots on Vestre Torvgate were purchased, and with the support of one of Bergen’s prominent citizens, Castberg was able to realise the construction of a custom-made building that opened its doors in autumn 1913 with 17 teaching rooms, a rehearsal hall, a 250-seat concert hall and administrative offices.
Castberg was succeeded by the violinist Arve Arvesen who continued running the institution in Castberg’s spirit, although the name Music Academy was changed to Bergen Conservatory of Music (Bergens Musikkonservatorium). The main focus was on music education for children and adolescents, but while Arvesen ensured that the youngest children were offered activities and lessons, he was keen to develop the academy’s offerings for talented young people who wanted to become professional musicians. The first exams for organists and school teachers date back to his day. In addition, the foremost instrumental talents were offered the chance to be soloist with Harmonien’s Orchestra! These concerts became extremely popular with audiences.
In 1946, the Conservatory sadly lost its magnificent premises in Vestre Torvgate. The new location in Olav Kyrres gate 59 consisted of an older and less suitable villa. Arve Arvesen lived here himself and continued to run the Conservatory until his death in 1951 at the age of 82.
In 1952, the legendary Gunnar Sævig took over as owner and director. The curriculum focused on string playing as well as choir and orchestra activities, and many of Sævig’s students became professional musicians.
In 1958, Sævig took on a major challenge. Ivar Benum, rector at the Teachers College in Bergen (Lærerskolen i Bergen), planned to launch a music programme, and Gunnar Sævig was appointed as its head. The programme attracted talented young people from across the country who saw an opportunity to obtain formal qualifications in music under the umbrella of the state. Sævig and Benum had a dream of coordinating and developing the professional musical environments of the conservatory and the teacher school.
The name of the prospective institution was already in place: it was to be called Grieg Academy! On numerous occasions, these plans were discussed with the ministry, but unfortunately Gunnar Sævig never had the chance to pursue his vision and live to experience the founding of a Grieg Academy in Bergen. He died in 1969, only 44 years old.
The state takes over
By the end of the 1960s, music education in Norway was still in the hands of private institutions, mainly financed through student tuition. However, a new law opened up for private colleges, and violinist Ernst Glaser was asked to assume academic responsibility. This reorganisation brought about a division in the running of the Academy. Since the government subsidy only applied to vocational education, the latter was incorporated into what was called the conservatory department.
The funding of the music school for children and adolescents became a municipal responsibility. The Conservatory was taken over by the state in 1980 and integrated into the regional college system under the name Bergen University College (Høgskolen i Bergen).
After many years in inadequate premises, the Conservatory was able to move into Nygård School next door to Grieghallen, where many of the Conservatory’s finest teachers are regular members with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Grieg Academy – an old dream becomes reality
Toward the end of the 1980s, the Conservatory was facing yet another major change: a government report recommended closer cooperation with the University of Bergen.
The idea attracted great interest and the debate was quickly underway. In autumn 1995, on Nina Grieg’s 150th anniversary and 90 years after Torgrim Castberg launched the Music Academy, the Conservatory became a department of UiB, and the Grieg Academy was established as an umbrella for all music education at UiB and Bergen University College.
Since 1995, the number of employees and students has rapidly increased. The Arne Bjørndal collection, which consists of unique folk music treasures from western Norway, was integrated into the Grieg Academy. The curriculum was expanded with master’s programmes in ethnomusicology and musicology, and we are planning to establish a bachelor’s degree in both subjects. In addition, we have added majors in jazz performance and folk music (in collaboration with the Ole Bull Academy at Voss). The latest addition is music therapy, which, with the support of the G.C. Rieber Foundations, was introduced in 2006. Music therapy at the Grieg Academy offers degrees at both the bachelor’s and the master’s level and maintains its own research centre, GAMUT.
Thus, Torgrim Castberg’s vision for the Music Academy became reality and exceeded its original aim, even if 90 years were to pass before the dream was realised.
Based on Frode Thorsen (2005), CD booklet ‘Med Grieg i ryggen’