Two weeks ago I visited Lysøen for the first time to enjoy a concert in Ole Bull’s Lysøen villa. Before the concert I walked around outside, savoring the views. The made-made landscaping and nature-made wildness combine to create something very intriguing, don’t they?
After the concert we had the chance to take a short tour. It was fascinating! I’ve read about the inside of his villa, but experiencing it — especially after living across the fjord from Lysøen for a year and a half now — brought Ole Bull’s music alive for me in ways my first concert inside his home on Osterøy couldn’t.
Info from the Lysøen website:
Ole Bull’s house on Lysøen was constructed in the years 1872-73, and is quite unique in Norwegian architectural history. His “little Alhambra,” as he called it, is considered a high point of Norwegian historicism. With its onion domes and exotic ornamentals both exteriorly and inside the high ceiling of the music hall – all assiduously carved out of Norwegian pine – the villa emerges like a dream of a blue fairytale castle. The villa is open for guided tours. The tour takes you through the music hall, Ole Bull’s bedroom, the ancestors’ gallery, and the sitting rooms below ground … Welcome to Lysøen – where culture meets nature!
Historical facts below are all my words and interpretation, based on the tour and conversations with the tour guides; any mistakes are my own. (Also, much to my delight and surprise, I recognized the announcer for the concert, and also one of the tour guides, as a member of my very first Norwegian language class seven years ago. Det var hyggelig å se deg, Masha!)
The music hall, where the concert was held, was towering and intimate at the same time. Ceilings with ornamental decorations were both high and cozy, built with Norwegian pine trees from the island.
(Click on an image to open the carousel gallery.)
During the concert I sat next to an intriguing sideboard. The tour gave me a little history of that piece: Ole Bull had a special piano constructed, different than any others before or since. It was very expensive. And after two concerts, when it was time to re-tune the piano, it was discovered why one like it had never been envisioned or built before … it wasn’t able to be tuned! And so the very expensive piano was useless. He had it dismantled, and made a beautiful sideboard out of the wood. I had sat next to a piece of music history, with a photo of the original piano part of the display.
I enjoyed looking more closely at the instruments. Some were behind glass, others were out for a more detailed look, and one — his granddaughter’s piano — is used for the concerts. (Close-ups of two of his violins are here, along with observations from the artist Peter Sheppard Skærved.)
Other intriguing decorations and portraits from that era are displayed, as well as a painting by Theodor Søvig depicting Ole Bull’s funeral procession by ship from Lysøen to Bergen on August 23, 1880 (a 1978 gift to Lysøen by Vivi Mowinckel).
I’ve always found photos of the flag displayed inside the villa provacative, since it combines the Norwegian and US flags. What is its history? I knew that Ole Bull had spent a great deal of time in the US. At that time, Norway was not an independent country; any Norwegian flag had to have Sweden’s as part of it too. The New York Philharmonic Society presented Ole Bull with this unique flag created just for him … a thumbing of the nose towards Sweden, perhaps? 😉
I see the onion dome every day from my windows; it was interesting to look up to the inside of that tower!
I also enjoyed looking out the windows with their German stained glass … and, from the front windows, seeing our home sitting on top of the mountain across the fjord.
As a flutist, it’s a little surreal to live so close to this charismatic composer and violinist’s home — Ole Bull, who had such a connection to both the countries that I call home, and who found his musical inspiration in his culture and surroundings.
Yes, I’m inspired too.