by Jorid Nordal Baumann and Inger Johanne Christiansen

Pdf document

Back to contents



Jorid Nordal Baumann and Inger Johanne Christiansen


The University of Oslo was founded in 1811 and the University Library at the same time. The National Music Collection [Norsk musikksamling] was at the music department of the University Library of Oslo from its start in 1927 when it was founded as a department of the library by Professor O. M. Sandvik, theologian and collector of traditional music. He was never officially employed at the Music Collection, but visited the library daily until his 100th birthday in 1975. The University Library was mainly for students and professors, but it also had a special responsibility under Legal Deposit Act, and functioned as the National Library of Norway. This means that the National Music Collection is supposed to have all the music printed in Norway, and all the sound recordings made in Norway since 1990.(1) We specialize in bibliographic literature, dictionaries and handbooks. A large part of our budget is used for Collected Works and Denkmäler editions. We are constantly expanding our national collection. It will never be complete.

In 1999 the University Library moved to a new and larger building on the campus of the University of Oslo at Blindern. It was mainly the foreign (i.e. non-Norwegian) collections that were moved to the new University Library, and the Norwegian collections remained in the National Library at Drammensveien 42. But printed music and all books on music were not divided and the National Music Collection remained the same. It is now the music department of the National Library of Norway.

Professor Sandvik visited his personal friends, organized a committee, raised money and travelled at home and abroad. The purpose was to build up a representative collection of European music. He bought the collected works of Mozart, Palestrina, Rameau, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Handel among others, a valuable start for a music department. In the 1920s manuscripts were not yet collectors' items, and he managed to buy rare pieces, even one page of a Beethoven manuscript. (2)

The Library already had manuscripts by Norwegian composers. They were transferred to the new department and became an important part of the new Music Collection. Professor Sandvik also bought the manuscript of Edvard Grieg's concerto for piano and orchestra in A minor, op. 16, for 1000 Norwegian kroner in Leipzig, and this is still, perhaps, the most world-famous and valuable piece of music in our collection. A special private collection, donated by Odd Udbye, contains copies of original manuscripts and first editions of Franz Schubert's songs. They are rare today, since many of these items disappeared during the Second World War. The National Music Collection is the largest music library in Norway. To give an idea of its size, the following statistics may be useful:

  • Printed music: 190,000 items, including 40,000 Norwegian items

  • Books: 35,000 titles

  • Current periodicals: 120 titles

  • Manuscripts: over 20,000 items, including many items of traditional music collected and written down by Ludvig M. Lindeman, Olav Sande, Catharinus Elling and O. M. Sandvik

  • Sound archive: 40,000 sound recordings altogether (including more than 7,000 CDs). The collection also contains wax cylinders, piano rolls, 78 rpm recordings and Pathé discs, EPs, LPs, cassettes and magnetic tapes.

The source materials of our traditional music and folk music are an important part of the manuscript collection. The demand for copies from this collection is contributing to the writing of local history all over the country. In the 1930s the previous head of the University Library, Helge Kragemo, started to collect Norwegian sound recordings. At the same time singer and journalist Alf Due and ethnomusicologist Christian Leden transmitted a radio programme through Norwegian Broadcasting announcing that they wanted to found a National Sound Archive. During the programme they donated a matrix of Fridtjof Nansen's memorial speech about Roald Amundsen. Christian Leden had recorded numerous wax cylinders during his expeditions to Canada, Alaska and Greenland between 1909 and 1920. In 1937 he recorded Norwegian traditional music too. His large collection of cylinders was donated to the University Library. In collaboration with the Audiovisual Department of the National Library in Rana we have started a project to digitise the cylinders and to convert Leden's valuable collection into useful research material that is accessible on-line. 

In 1960 the previous Head of the National Music Collection, Øystein Gaukstad, made an effort to save the Norwegian heritage of sound recordings. He tried to establish an official Norwegian Sound Archive. His correspondance with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs led to nothing, so in 1965 he decided on his own to establish the Norwegian Sound Archive. He set up a voluntary deposit agreement with the record companies that worked satisfactorily for many years. In 1989 Norway approved a Legal Deposit Law that also included sound recordings. Today the Sound Archive is integrated into the National Music Collection. The annual supplement of sound recordings contains about 500-700 recordings a year. We produce the National Discography, available on the Internet.

The Sound Archive has received numerous gifts over the years. We inherited the 78 rpm collection of the Norwegian Broadcasting Company [NRK] many years ago. 900 Pathé discs plus a beautiful player with wooden trumpet are also a valuable part of our historic collections. The record collection of Roberto Bauer and Otto Müller (the Bauer-Müller collection), ended up in the National Music Collection thanks to Arne Dørumsgaard, who arranged their sale to the Norwegian Government. 6,800 items of 78 rpm recordings present the development of the art of singing from 1899 to 1960, and give an interesting illustration of the history of interpretation. Another valuable collection is of sound recordings of Beethoven's music, mainly LPs, which were bought from the internationally-known Norwegian collector Martin Schøyen. The collection contains more than 4,000 sound recordings of Beethoven's works, including more than 138 different recordings of his fifth symphony. 

The National Music Collection is responsible for making Norwegian music known, both in Norway and abroad. We have arranged major exhibitions and have been involved in different publications. In 1993 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Edvard Grieg, Norway's most famous composer, with a large exhibition called "Grieg and Kristiania",(3) the city where he lived for many years. We published a facsimile of Grieg's piano concerto for the anniversary in connection with our exhibition: as we have already mentioned, the autograph is in the National Music Collection. The concerto was played in public several times before it was printed. In the autograph we can see corrections and alterations. And to the very end, Grieg was working on the manuscript in preparation for a revised edition of the concerto. The National Library has some copies left of the facsimile, and they are still available. The National Music Collection has also arranged exhibitions on Norwegian composers such as Johan Svendsen, Christian Sinding and Fartein Valen. In 1999 we celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of Norsk musikforlag A/S, the leading Norwegian music publisher, with an exhibition.
The National Music Collection has been involved in many other publications. We have published bibliographies and other books, and we have printed and published music of many lesser-known Norwegian composers. Øystein Gaukstad, a specialist on traditional music, worked until the end of his life on a printed edition of the folk music collected by Ludvig M. Lindeman (1812-87). This is the most important collection of traditional music in Norway and contains thousands of manuscripts of folk songs. 

The University Library building, which dates from 1913 and now houses the National Library, Oslo Division, is situated in the centre of Oslo City. A beautiful room next to the library entrance was decorated for the music department in 1927. This was the reading room for the music materials. In 1965 the music department moved from the main library into the garden, to the old Observatory, built in 1832. This is a historic building, used for astrophysical observations up to 1939. It was very old-fashioned and very cold during wintertime, but was an extremely charming house and attractive to visitors. It was spacious but not fit for a modern library. When the Music Library ceased to be part of the University in 1999 we had to leave. Today we are temporarily located across the street from the National Library, in a modern building from 1960. 

Construction work has started on new, climate-controlled stacks. This is scheduled to be completed in 2004 and there are also plans to restore the old building. The National Library will be completely refurbished. In 2005 we will move back into the restored old building and the National Music Collection will again be situated on the ground floor, close to the entrance.


Appendix: Some important Web addresses



* Jorid Nordal Baumann is a Cand. Philol with Music as the main subject. She has worked in the National Music Collection since 1983, and in the Public Department at the National Library of Norway, Oslo Division. She was editor of the bulletin Nytt fra Norsk Musikksamling from 1989 to 1993, and was a member of its editorial committee until the last issue in 1999. She has been, and still is, devoted to arranging concerts and exhibitions. Inger Johanne Christiansen is Senior Librarian, National Music Collection, National Library of Norway (since 1983). She has been President of the Norwegian IAML Branch since 1990. Since graduating from library school in Norway in 1969 she has worked as a music librarian in Norway and Denmark, both in public and research libraries.

(1) The Legal Deposit Act of 1883 had included Norwegian printed music from the beginning. In 1937 the National Music Collection became responsible for handling the legal deposit law for printed music. Today it also collaborates with the Music Information Centre Norway and includes the MIC's editions of contemporary music (manuscript copies) in the national bibliography.

(2) This is a fragment belonging to the Quintet for strings in C major, op. 29, second movement (Adagio). Further information on the fragment appears in Beethovenjahrbuch 1 (1908): 185-86. A facsimile of the fragment is printed as a supplement to the article. 

(3) Oslo was called Christiania [Kristiania] between 1624 and 1925.



Webmaster: Jon G. Olsen

Webeditors: Heidi Lorentzen & Marianne Olsen