Updated: May 5
Bli hos oss
Stay with us, Lord Jesus.
It soon is evening and night is falling.
(For reasons of copyright, this cannot be fully printed here.)
Tr. Gracia Grindal 1997
I was in Fredrikstad, Norway, staying with Egil Hovland (1926-1913) and his wife
Synnøve, finishing the translation of his opera, Fange og Fri, (Captive and Free). Egil was in the living room playing a new tune to a text Eyvind Skeie had just written for the
millennium shift. Synnøve and I were sitting at the kitchen table talking. “The best, the
absolute best,” she said, taking a drag on her ever present cigarette, was “Bli Hos Oss.
Sååå vakkert!” It had been in another of Egil’s compositions, but it seemed appropriate
for the opera, a seven-scene depiction of the life of Hans Nielsen Hauge.
In the opera, it is sung by a group of Hauge’s friends standing outside his prison window
in old Christiania. A vesper hymn, the words came from the Emmaus couple, “Abide
with us, for it is evening.”
Hauge had been imprisoned by the state and religious authorities because he had been
holding religious meetings without a state approved pastor, breaking the Conventicle Law
of 1741. The lore about Hauge focused on this moment. When Hauge, weak from his
cruel incarceration, both physically and spiritually, heard them outside his window, it is
said, he went to the window with his candle and waved it. This, for them, signaled that
Hauge had heard them and was still able to respond. For Hauge it was a moment that
brought him back from near insanity. A Norwegian American, Wilhelm Pettersen, wrote
a book on Hauge entitled Light in the Prison Window. It was in our home library and I
read it through several times as a kid. I could not believe that such a fine man could be so
mistreated by both church and state.
Egil, who had grown up near Hauge’s birthplace, and raised in the bedehus (prayer
house) tradition, said that if Norway had been a Catholic country, Hauge would have
been canonized as a saint for his good works and his martyrdom. That is what drove him
to write the opera.
I had not yet heard the music. When I got home with the completed manuscript, The
Masterworks Chorale at Augsburg started rehearsing it. They got to “Stay with Us.” It
was a moment. Synnøve was right. Ravishing. It stopped us.
Egil and I worked together more during the rest of his life. I spent a couple of weeks with
him and Synnøve. As one who grew up in the bedehus, he knew the tradition of spiritual
songs and American gospel songs, which he loved. The tape playing in his huge 1979
Buick, big enough for his long legs, was a collection of gospel hymns Arnt Haugens
Reviderte by Arnt Haugen’s Quartet and Henning Sommerro played on an accordion with
a saxophone (see Hymn 1), but he also knew the high liturgical traditions of the church
and composed for them.
Egil studied with Aaron Copland, among others, and wrote many choral anthems. There
are a number of instrumental compositions among his works, a piano concerto that Eva
Knardahl (1927-2006) premiered. Egil’s hymns are his best known works. There are over
60 in the latest Norwegian hymnal. He played the organ at the Fredrikstad church for
most of his adult life. He and his friend and colleague Brit G. Hallqvist (1914-1997)
from Lund wrote many works together, many for children. She wrote the libretto for the
Egil was a bit of a mystic. One afternoon he drove me to a hill above Fredrikstad and
showed me where he would go and sit for a while every Easter in the pre-dawn light,
waiting for the sunrise. When the light broke over the hills, he would cry, “We won! We
This is not a hymn, but it fits our post Easter contemplations. “Jesus Christ, the world's
true light, shines where the darkness cannot overcome it. Let your light pierce the
darkness and fill the Church with its glory! Stay with us! Amen.”
The opera was performed as a church opera to remember the two-hundredth anniversary
of Hauge’s experience. (See Hymn Blog 20) For the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran
Free Church in 1997, the Masterworks Chorale under the direction of Peter Hendrickson
performed it in this country. It was a challenge. As producer I had to raise a lot of
money—a choir of over one hundred, and orchestra of over 60, but it was one of the
greatest privileges of my life. Egil came over for the rehearsals and the performances.
One in Willmar, Minnesota, at Calvary Lutheran church, which was packed, and another
at a sold out Ted Mann Theater in Minneapolis. We had a ball. People wanted to hear the
opera and learn more about Hauge. We should have performed it many more times. What
National Lutheran Choir
You can hear the anthem from the opera with The Norwegian Opera Choir and National
Radio Orchestra. It continues through the entire scene. If time is hanging heavy on your
hands, you can listen to the entire opera here—I have the libretto in English should
anyone want it via email.