Cultural History Encyclopedia

More information about this article

More information about this article


Published 28. September 1999

Last update 04. June 2019




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Paul Berstad - local singer and folk-tune collector

Paul Berstad (1908-1993) was an excellent local singer, and, in addition, he was an important source for the folk-tune tradition in the western part of Nordfjord.

Paul Berstad (1908-1993).

Paul Berstad (1908-1993).

Owner: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane.

Date: Ukjend.

Photographer: Ukjend.

Active singer for many years

Rolf Myklebust says about his singing that "his mellow voice was like that of a professional singer, but his way of singing was in the old folk-singing tradition."
Berstad proves that it is possible to combine simple folk tunes with more complicated compositions by Grieg, Händel, Bach and Mendelssohn. At the early age of 14, he organized a song quartet in his home. Paul Berstad started early to collect old folk tunes, stories and nursery rhymes, as well as hymns from the Nordfjord region. His first teacher, Zakarias Kvamme, was a keen collector of folk tunes, and when he became old, he asked Paul Berstad to collect everything that he might come across. For this reason, Berstad has saved much for posterity of nursery rhymes, folk songs and hymn tunes.

Song tradition from the parents and grandparents

Paul Berstad remembered from his school days that most people liked the new melodies for the hymns and songs. These were used both by choirs and played on the organ in church. However, in Paul Berstad¿s home, it was the old melodies that were used, if they wanted to add some extra solemnity to the occasion. Berstad also remembered well from his early childhood that all his four grandparents sang, either together or separately.

Most of the songs Paul Berstad knew he had inherited from his mother, Helga Berstad (1878-1973). His maternal grandmother's name was also Helga, born at Oppstryn. She was the daughter of Harald Kolbeinson Guddal, who often worked as a toastmaster. Paul Berstad's paternal grandmother, Johanne Berstad, was the daughter of the fiddler Rasmus Bortne. She sang all the time, and it was from her that Paul learned the Selje variant of "The reverse song", where names of all animals, places and things are taken from Selje.

Berstad frequently took the opportunity to pick up old songs and stories when he was out travelling, and he was a master at telling legends and stories, proverbs and doing impersonations.

Singer and fiddler

Most people think of Paul Berstad as a singer. However, Berstad is also interesting as an important source for folk tunes played on the common fiddle. His most important source was Hans M. Berstad (1869-1928), also known as "Berstadhaugen", from Selje, who had learned the tunes from Anders Skorge (1834-1905). Berstad's somewhat old-fashioned style of playing the fiddle may be due to the way Skorge played. In addition, we find interesting folk dances from Hallingdal in Berstad's repertoire.

In 1986, Paul Berstad received the first Folk music prize awarded by the Sogn og Fjordane Folk Music Association, for his valuable contribution to collect and promote folk song and music. The folk music archive in the County Archives has a number of recordings by Paul Berstad, as a singer, a fiddler, and as a story-teller.

On record

If you want to listen to the songs sung by Paul Berstad, they can be found on several records and cassettes, for example:

  • "Slik let det før" from the Music archive of Sogn og Fjordane, 1992.
  • The song book "Skumringstimen" with lyrics/notes and archive recordings from the County Archives of Sogn og Fjordane, 1998.
  • The NRK (The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) series of Norwegian Folk Music, 1995, CD no. 8. Folk music from Sogn og Fjordane, Møre og Romsdal.

See geometric position on detailed map at Fylkesatlas or on a 3D-map at Google Maps by clicking on the 3D-button down to the right at the Google-map.


Myklebust, Rolf: Femti år med folkemusikk.Oslo 1982.
Sæta, Olav:Norsk folkemusikk: Slåtter for vanlig fele. Bind 3. Oslo 1995.
Folkemusikk og folkemusikkutøvarar i Noreg. Bind 2. Oslo 1996.
Aarøen, Magne: Religiøse folketonar i Selje; og tolkaren deira. I Jul i Nordfjord. 1986.
Djupedal, Reidar: Om folkesongen i Selje. I Årbok for Nordfjord. 1984, 1985 og 1986.