Norwegian Concert Singer


Her life was a story-book tale. As a child, her talents as a singer were discovered by a king who saw to her education. And the success of her career was assured through the guidance of one of the world's great composers, Edvard Grieg, who became at once entralled upon hearing her sing.

After gaining renown on the European continent, Marta Sandal was to become Grieg's emissary to the new world, introducing his music at Carnegie Hall and on stages in major concert halls across the North American continent.

This homepage was launched on October 17, 1996, in commemoration of the 90th anniversary of Marta Sandal's concert before the public, attended by the royal family of Norway. The audience was stirred as this mezzo soprano of extraordinary skill sang the songs of Grieg, as the revered composer, himself, accompanied her on the piano.


“My first appearance in public was given at a concert in Christiania [now Oslo] by children under 12 years of age,” Marta Sandal recalled years later in an interview with a Chicago newspaper. “I remember I had great difficulty in persuading my parents to allow me to take part. At last they consented and to my surprise I found myself giving a solo.”

Among those hearing that solo was the king of Norway and Sweden. So impressive were the native talents of this child that the king was awed. As a Spokane, Wash. newspaper was to recount decades later, when the singer resided in that city with her husband, Gudmund Rörtvedt:

King Oscar II

Mrs. Sandal-Rortvedt has a most interesting history. When she was a child she sang in a chorus of 500 children in Christiania, Norway. King Oscar II was attracted by her voice and sent for her to come to the royal palace and sing for him. As a result Marta Sandal was placed in the Royal Conservatory of Music in Christiania, where she studied for five years. Then the king sent her to Berlin and later to Paris. While singing in Berlin she was engaged by the grand opera of Dresden, where she sang until she determined to give her time and energy wholly to concert work.       


One day in April of 1902, at the age of 24, she encountered the great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and, impetuously, burst into song. He recounted in a letter to a friend: “I jumped to my feet and shouted that I hadn't heard anything like it since Nina [his wife] was young. Nina herself had tears in her eyes.” Marta Sandal became his protege.

To see the text of Grieg's letters and diary notations concerning Marta Sandal, CLICK HERE

In November of that same year, Edvard Grieg and Marta Sandal performed together in a concert (which was to be the first of several such performances). Afterward, Grieg gave her a photograph of himself (in a form known in that day as a “cabinet card,” intended to be placed in the drawer of a cabinet) inscribed on the back, With thanks and affinity.”

In a letter to Gottfried Mattison-Hansen on Dec. 14, 1902, Grieg wrote:

“Now I have given two concerts....In the first one the singer was Marta Sandal, whom you may have heard in Copenhagen. She is a singular and gifted phenomenon.

The singer's career advanced rapidly. She toured Europe, gaining rave reviews, such as that in the London Times saying, “She has a very beautiful soprano voice which she uses with rare restraint. She never seems to exert her voice, with the result that its possibilities appear endless.”

Henry Bramsen

 Marta Sandal acquired a husband, Danish celloist Henry Bramsen (at right). That first marriage, entered into Nov. 13, 1902, was to prove less lasting than her talent.

Then came the historic concert in Christiania on Oct. 17, 1906, attended by the new royal family. (Norway had broken its ties with Sweden just a year earlier and installed its own monarchs.)

Grieg had gained international recognition as a composer who had attained greatness, and he was idolized by the people of Norway. Yet, he allowed to Marta Sandal-Bramsen the spotlight. In advertisements for the concert, it was she who received top billing, followed by Grieg, and then Bramsen.

The day following the concert, Grieg said in his diary: “Marta Sandal has lost the butterflies in her stomach and has come like Mrs. Bramsen, world wise, more sure of herself....”

And the day following that, he penned, in English, a touching letter of introduction of her to the people of America, knowing of her plan to perform across the ocean. “Gifted and intelligent as she is,” Grieg said of her, “I have no doubt that she will succeed in winning the hearts of the new world as well as she did it in her own country.” This was believed to be the only letter of introduction he had ever written.

In America, performing with the Pittsburg Orchestra (now known as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra), she rendered true the prediction of Grieg that she would win the hearts of the denizens of the new world.

At a concert at Carnegie Hall on April 21, 1907, Marta Sandal presented the songs of Norway’s greatest composer, her mentor. The New York Evening Post commented on her performance:

“A good sized audience heard the Grieg Monument Concert given yesterday. Mme. Sandal sang half a dozen of the Grieg songs, and justified the warm words of praise spoken of her by the composer. She has a clear voice of excellent quality, and sings with style and expression.”

Marta Sandal not only sang, but spoke. She was an engaging conversationalist and an adept public speaker. Addressing the Women’s Canadian Club in February, 1913, she demonstrated the spirit of what was then known as a “free-thinker.” Noting the 50-year struggle of woman there to attain suffrage, she pointed to the enfranchisement of women in Norway and, as quoted in the Morning Albertan, exhorted:

“...[G]o for your rights today. Do not wait 50 years more — not one — but get your rights now.” 

To read excerpts from a newspaper account of the speech,


Gudmund RörtvedtIt was on June 29, 1914, in Havre, Montana, that Marta Sandal was wed to Gudmund Rörtvedt, a farmer born in Erfjord, Norway. Largely self-educated, he was well read and, like her, progressive in his thinking. Both were conversationalists — and they enjoyed conversing with each other. One daughter recounts they would discuss “Disraeli over the dishes.” This marriage was to last.

The marriage produced four daughters. One died in infancy; the other daughters were (listed by their married names) Serene Berglund (1916-82), who followed in her mother's footsteps as a singer; Sylvia A. Grace (1918-2008), who sang professionally before marriage and went on to become president of International Television Corporation, an electronics firm; and Marta C. Noss (1926 - ), an educator. Appearing in a 1917 issue of a Spokane newspaper was a  photograph of Marta Sandal-Rörtvedt holding Serene, age 1 (with the caption referring to the child as “Milo.”)

On June 25, 1989, in his column, “The Scandinavian Heritage” appearing in the Minot (N.D.) Daily News, Harland O. Fiske wrote:


I was fascinated to learn from Clifford Rostvedt of Minot that he had an aunt, Marta Sandal Rortvedt (1878-1930), that had sung solos under Grieg’s direction. Unlike Grieg [who suffered from seasickness and never crossed the Atlantic], she crossed the ocean 13 times and apparently never got seasick....She was the only authorized ‘Grieg singer’ before the public and received high praise in London, Berlin and Chicago.

In her last years during the 1920s, she lived with her husband, Gudmund Rortvedt, in Heimdal, N.D. While her husband farmed, she organized young talent from surrounding communities into a choir. They gave many concerts, including a trip to Minot in 1928. Her daughter, Sylvia, writing of her mother said: “She was always a ‘lady.’ I might say she was not the kind of woman that was expected to ‘help with the dishes,’ though, if necessary, she could do menial tasks with her usual aplomb.”  

Marta Sandal-Rörtvedt died of cancer on March 2, 1930. A newspaper in Calgary made note:

For some time she seemed to have lived in retirement, till about three years ago when, as Madame Marta Sandal-Rortvedt, she sang over the radio….Since this proved to be her final appearance, it is touching to remember that she was most anxious for her growing daughters to hear her as  concert artist, her soprano notes being still very pure and clear and carrying well over the air, but a further recital on a public platform never materialized, and after lingering illness she died at Forest City, Iowa, U.S.A…..

Gudmund Rörtvedt survived his wife by 38 years, remaining devoted to her memory, and recounting often the triumphs in her career as a singer.

Solveig’s Song, from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, has been performed countless times through the decades, as no doubt it will be through the centuries. Solveig’s Song was Marta Sandal’s song. Every time it is sung, tribute is paid to that short, one-lunged genius who bestowed it on us, and every time it is sung, an effort is made to replicate what Marta Sandal accomplished before audiences on two continents inimitably and supremely.

See, also, the RÖRTVEDT Page

Please let us know if you have information on Marta Sandal. We have interest in purchasing recordings of her voice or correspondence between her and Edvard Grieg.

The e-mail address is great-norwegians [no space] ampersand [no space] (It's set out here in words to impede inclusion on spam lists.)


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