The University of Wisconsin Press
History / Wisconsin History / Ethnic Heritage
Norway's Romantic Musician and Cosmopolitan Patriot
Einar Haugen and Camilla Cai
Norway's Ole Bull led one of the most remarkable lives of the nineteenth-century. Colorful and charismatic, he was a composer and virtuoso violinist who won acclaim from Moscow to Cairo to San Francisco and promoted himself and the culture of Norway with a flair that rivaled P. T. Barnum.
A child prodigy, Bull was admitted to the Bergen orchestra as first violin at the age of eight. He soon was idolized on both sides of the Atlantic for his superb improvisations and his ability to play the violin polyphonically. Though he was hailed as "the Paganini of the North," some critics labeled him a charlatan for his apparently magic tricks on the violin.
Bull counted among his friends the great names of his era: Schumann and Lizst, Emerson and Wagner. Longfellow and Hans Christian Andersen modeled characters on him, and he was in part the inspiration for Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
Although he spent most of his adult life abroad, Bull was a tireless promoter of Norwegian art and culture. His concert improvisations were rooted in his native slåtter (folkdance tunes), and he modified his own instrument using the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle as a model. By mid-century, Bull realized his dream of establishing a national theater in Bergen. He gave Henrik Ibsen a start in theater management, employed the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and promoted the music of Edvard Grieg. His attempt to establish a Norwegian colony, "Oleana," in the United States, however, failed through poor management.
The words of the poet Aasmund Vinje, "That surely would be a man to write a book about," have been taken to heart by authors Einar Haugen and Camilla Cai. In addition to providing the first comprehensive listing of Bull's works (with full descriptions of all known sources), analyses of his compositions and their influences, and reviews of his performances, this biography gives life once again to a fascinating and flamboyant figure.
Einar Haugen is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Scandinavian and Linguistics, emeritus, at Harvard University. Camilla Cai is assistant professor of music at Kenyon College, and Einar's daughter.
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LC: 91-50989 ML
256 pp. 6 x 9 50 illus.
Cloth $21.95 s
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