I was a flute teacher for thirty years before I moved to Norway. One of the pieces I taught was a solo by the Norwegian composer Ole Bull. It’s slow, beautiful, mournful … and it wasn’t until I moved to Norway that I fully understood the emotions behind the music.
I wrote a little about Ole Bull before, and I now live across the fjord from his home on Lysøen. But he also had a summer home on Osterøy at Valestrandsfossen. We stopped outside this home during our recent visit, which prompted me to think about the legacy of this Norwegian composer.
Highlights of Ole Bull’s life:
– Born in Bergen in 1810
– Child prodigy on violin
– Well known in his adult career and gave thousands of concerts throughout Europe and the United States
– Strong believer in the idea of Norway as a separate country, and played a key role in the development of a distinct Norwegian culture after independence from Denmark
– Co-founded the first Norwegian theater where the actors spoke Norwegian instead of Danish
– At his funeral in 1880, Bjørn Bjørnson, Norwegian stage actor and theater director, called Ole Bull “the (Norwegian) people’s first and largest super star”
Those factual bullet points I listed up there can’t convey the power of his music … but a personal experience can. Eight years ago I wrote about a concert in this Osterøy home that was part of the 2006 Bergen International Music Festival that we attended; the emotions of that concert are still so enjoyable to remember, and are the basis of my understanding of the Norwegian music of Ole Bull and Edvard Grieg:
Sunday, May 28:
My first concert (in Norway); music of Ole Bull and his contemporaries, performed on period instruments at Ole Bull’s home on Osterøy (which is only a ten minute drive from Kari and Henry’s home). It was an intimate gathering of perhaps fifty people. I sat surrounded by his instruments, paintings, photos, home furnishings, all within touching distance and all safe because the people respect the value of these instruments and collectibles and only use their eyes to examine.
I was lost in the music. For the first time, I heard a live performance on the Hardingfele and Harmonium. A solo that I have taught students over the years was presented with variations. The ensemble between the soloist and accompanist was excellent.
Jan and I were seated against a wall on a period-style couch – or maybe it was an original? I looked across the other concert-goers in their chairs, through the window opposite my seat, and saw the mountains and trees and colors of Norway with a light rain blurring the depth and dimension of the landscape. It was my first experience with Norwegian music in a Norwegian setting, and I was captivated.
It’s not possible to share my students playing his music … but I can share this: a violin performance by Annar Follesø, musically accompanied by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (Ole Kristian Ruud, conductor) and visually accompanied by the stunning images of Norway.
(Here is where Ole Bull’s summer home at Valestrandsfossen is located on the map.)