The National Theatre in Christiania (now Oslo) was opened on 1 September 1899. Its first director was the son of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Bjørn. The opening ceremony featured music by the most prominent Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg, and words by the most famous authors, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Henrik Ibsen. The composer Johan Halvorsen became concertmaster of the National Theatre orchestra, most of the members of which created the Philharmonic Orchestra in 1919. The Theatre had to rely on a much smaller orchestra for many years; today, musicians, ensembles or orchestras are hired for individual shows.
Arne Nordheim received his first commission from the National Theatre in the autumn of 1957, writing incidental music to Solveig Christov's play Det hemmelige regnskap [The secret report], which had its premiere on 21 February 1958. The play's success resulted in commissions for music to three more plays, in 1960: Molière’s Don Juan, Euripides’ Medea (overture) and Bjørnson's Signurd Slembe. The last of the compositions raised the most interest: due to the lack of performers in the National Theatre ensemble, Nordheim pre-recorded the music and played it to the audience from the foyer via the speaker system in the orchestra pit. During the recording in the University Aula, he put microphones in unexpected places, foregrounding usually unheard sounds from the percussion and brass instruments, additionally controlling the sound and adjusting it on the console. The music to Sigurd Slembe was the first taped music in Norway composed solely for the theatre.