Johan Nordahl Brun worked in Bergen most of his life, and it was to this city he wrote the tribute song Jeg tok min nystemte Cithar i hænde [Holding my newly tuned sitar in my hands]. But he was born in Byneset in Trondheim, and he brought his Trøndelag state of mind with him to Bergen.
Johan Nordahl Brun was born in Høyem in Byneset in 1745. His father was previously a tradesman in Trondheim, but later turned to farming. When Johan was four years old the family moved to Lilleugla in Klæbu. In 1760 he was admitted to Trondhjems lærde skole [Trondheim Latin school], where Gerhard Schøning was his teacher. In the 1760s Brun was a private tutor in Trondheim and Klæbu, while he also did some studying in Copenhagen. In 1767 he passed the theological examinations.
In 1771 he was again in the Danish-Norwegian capital as the secretary for Bishop Johan Ernst Gunnerus. Here he had his literary breakthrough when he won the prize for the "best Danish tragedy" with the drama Zarine. In Copenhagen Brun was one of the kingpins in the Norske Selskab [an association of expatriate Norwegians], where Norwegian patriotism and national pride found strong expressions. Brun now wrote the song For Norge, Kjæmpers fødeland [For Norway, birthplace of warriors], characterised by the poet Henrik Wergeland as "Norway's Marseillaise", and immediately banned by the authorities. This is also the time when he wrote the drama Einer Tambeskielver, the first national Norwegian drama.
In 1772 he was appointed as the assistant pastor in his home district of Byneset, where his greeting to the parishioners was from Genesis 1: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee”. However, financial conditions forced him to change his calling, and disappointed, the family moved to Bergen in 1774. He would soon be the "leading personality" in this city. Here he remained for the rest of his life, initially as a vicar, and from 1804 as the bishop. In 1786 he wrote the Easter hymn Jesus lever, graven brast [Jesus lives, he burst the grave].
As a theologian Johan Nordahl Brun was a strong opponent of rationalism as he feared that the enlightenment of the people would topple society's social order. In the movement for the revival of Norwegian national pride, however, he was one of the leading lights.
Recommended reading: Johan Nordahl Brun. Bergen, Eide 1945.