|It is now 150 years since the birth of "Ja, vi elsker dette landet". Bjornstjerne Bjornson wrote the words and Rikard Nordraak composed the music for what was to become Norway's national anthem. Arild Yttri has engraved a fine stamp to commemorate this anniversary.|
On the top of the victory podium stands the gold medallist, straight-backed and blinking away a tear as the Norwegian national anthem swells over the loudspeaker system. This stirring scene brings goose pimples to our skin and we join in the singing,proud to be Norwegian. However, Norwegians do not sing the national anthem with the same intensity today as they did fifty or sixty years ago, when feelings for it were linked with experiences during the war. It is said that members of the Resistance who were sentenced to death sang the anthem in front of the firing squad until the shots were fired and all went quiet. On Liberation Day, 8 May 1945, the Norwegian prisoners in the Grini internment camp assembled for roll call for the last time. Five thousand voices rose in unison, singing the national anthem - the voices of women and men who had shown by their actions what the words of the anthem can mean.
Did someone say goose pimples?
The national anthem has never lost the position it had at the end of the war. It is sung at every national commemoration and celebration. That ought to make it Norway's official national anthem, but this is
not so. Its use at all official events is founded on custom and has never been made statutory by political resolution.
Bjornstjerne Bjornson (1832-1910) wrote the first draft of the anthem in 1859 and had it printed in Aftenbladet in Bergen. After some polishing and rewriting, the final version was published in 1868. In the meantime, a previous version had been performed publicly for the first time on 17 May 1864 in Eidsvoll, on the 50th anniversary of the Constitution. It was set to music by Rikard Nordraak (1842-66), which he composed in 1863-64 during a stay in
Berlin. Nordraak was very pleased with the result, shouting exultantly when it was finished that he had written something that would be heard from the North Cape down to Lindesnes! Nordraak died two years later, only 23 years old. He was never to know just how right he had been.
After the anthem's initial performance in Eidsvoll in 1864, it was not long before it ousted a previously sung anthem. Down through the years there have been many occasions when this anthem has acted as a strong, collective voice for the Norwegian people. It has been a unifying hymn at important events, whether happy or sad. There are close ties between Constitution Day and national anthem, and this may explain why no-one has ever suggested or ocomposed an alternative melody for Bjornson's lyrics.