"It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Anne Pedersdotter is the best opera by any Norwegian," wrote a critic when the opera was staged in 1980, eight years after its first performance.
And he was right. No Norwegian opera has hitherto achieved anywhere near the same standing as Edvard Fliflet Bræin's Anne Pedersdotter, whose theme is taken from the sixteenth century witch trials. On the basis of Hans Wiers Jensen's play about a young priest's wife, Anne Pedersdotter, Fliflet Bræin and librettist Hans Kristiansen managed to create a psychological study on a disturbing theme using religion, superstition and small town gossip as important ingredients. After a performance at the May Festival in Wiesbaden in 1981, the German press wrote, “An opera like an early Ingmar Bergman film: a witchhunt in a priest's home anno 1574, unyielding people, suppressed spiritual anguish, immense sexual frustration, secret paganism, a world in black-white-grey.”
First performed at the Norwegian National Opera in 1971, Anne Pedersdotter was an immediate success. It was Edvard Fliflet Bræin's first opera, a form that was close to his heart. Bræin was born in 1924 in the west Norwegian town of Kristiansund, known in Norway as “the town of opera”. Since the 1920s it has been famous for operatic productions, some of them big ones, performed by visiting professional artists in cooperation with local amateurs. For many years, the musical Bræin family played an important role in these productions.
As an eighteen-year-old, Edvard Fliflet Bræin started studying organ, composition and conducting at the Music Conservatory of Oslo. With a grant from the Norwegian Society of Composers, he also spent a year in Paris studying under Jean Rivier. He made his début as a conductor in Bergen in 1947 and his breakthrough as a composer at about the same time with the quartet The Merry Musicians and Concert Ouverture Op. 2, immediately arousing the attention of both musicians and audiences.
Edvard Fliflet Bræin's opus includes these symphonies, several overtures, works for soloists and orchestra, chamber music and a number of songs and choral compositions. Some of his works have achieved great popularity, and he was one of the most frequently played composers of his time. Concert ouverture, op. 2 and Concertino for flute and orchestra rapidly became part of the standard repertoire of Norwegian orchestras and his songs and choral works are regarded as gems of Norwegian vocal music. One of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation's most popular programmes of all time, a weekly gramophone concert based on listeners' requests, featured Ut mot havet (Towards the Sea) as a permanent fixture for many years. For many Norwegians, this title is synonymous with Edvard Fliflet Bræin.
From a stylistic point of view, Bræin stayed within the tonal sphere and was more concerned to be himself than to follow the style of the time. For him, the purpose of music was to express and communicate spiritual experience. On the other hand, he was not the type to engage in philosophical discourse on musicological topics. “All music is stew, it's just that mine is gifted stew,” he said at the first performance of his second opera Den Stundesløse (The Bustling, 1975), based on Ludvig Holberg's play about the extremely hectic Herr Vielgeschrei. This opera was also well received by press and public. In contrast with Anne Pedersdotter, this is a comic opera or, as the critic of a Stockholm newspaper concluded, “... unusual in musical drama: a comic comic opera!”.
Nevertheless, Anne Pedersdotter remains “the Norwegian opera”. After Bræin's death in 1976, it has been produced many times and presented on tours both in Norway and abroad. It has been recorded on CD and translated into English and German.