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Classical Notes

That's no Bull, Ole...

Posted at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2007 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

In Loring Park, at the edge of downtown Minneapolis there is a statue…not of some politician, or war hero, but of a man playing the violin. He is Ole Bull, considered by many to be Norway's first international star, and he was born 197 years ago today. (Heads up, Sons of Knute, time to start planning for the bicentennial!)

Robert Schumann once wrote that Ole Bull was among "the greatest of all," and that he was on a level with Niccolò Paganini for the speed and clarity of his playing. Without Ole Bull we may never have heard of Edvard Grieg. Bull played duets with young Edvard in the summer of 1864 and it was Bull's encouragement that got Grieg's parents to send him to conservatory. (Another heads up, 2007 is the 100th anniversary of the death of Edvard Grieg.)

Bull was a fervent Norwegian nationalist, and a leader of the "Young Norway" movement at a time when Norway was still under Swedish rule. He founded a Norwegian National Theater in 1849 to promote native drama and music. The theater was short-lived, but a writer he hired named Henrik Ibsen went on to achieve a few successes. Some have said that Ole Bull was the model for Ibsen's Peer Gynt.

Ole Bull's passion for freedom even led him to buy land in Pennsylvannia in 1852 and found a colony for fellow ex-pats called "New Norway." Unfortunately, this somewhat Utopian vision died young on the vine, but there still is a state park commemorating the place.

If you want some more regional perspective on this interesting character, a nice account of Ole Bull's 1868 Wisconsin visit can be found at this blogspot. Meanwhile, this site has some good stories involving Bull and a Leif Erikson monument, where the author says Ole was "an easy mark."