Norway's Ole Bull led one of the most remarkable and celebrated lives of the nineteenth century.
Colorful and charismatic, he was a composer and virtuoso violinist who won acclaim from Moscow to Cairo and from Canada to Cuba. He was associated with the cultural elite of his day, promoting himself and the culture of Norway with a flair to rival P.T. Barnum's.
A child prodigy, he was admitted to the Bergen orchestra as first violin at the age of eight.
He soon was playing to admiring audiences across Europe and in North America, idolized on both sides of the Atlantic for his superb technical skill in improvisation and his ability to play the violin polyphonically.
His remarkable home at Lysoen near Bergen with its music room...
On an island near Bergen, 60 degrees north and several thousand miles from Granada, stands this remarkable and fabulous villa in Arabic-Moorish style. It has arches, filigrees and a tower with an onion dome on top, making it deserving of the nickname “Little Alhambra”.
This beautiful and extraordinary structure on Lysoen (the Island of Light) was built as a summer residence for the Norwegian violin-virtuoso in 1873.
Ole Bull’s charismatic personality and musical excellence had a great influence on contemporary artists. He spent his summers relaxing on Lysoen, and often invited fellow artists and musicians.
Ole Bull also transformed his 175 acre island property into a fairy-tale kingdom by having romantic paths (approx. 13 km.), ponds and gazebos made by planting exotic trees and bushes in the native pine forest.
Ole Bull died on his island in 1880. In 1973 his granddaughter donated the villa and all it’s contents to the Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Ancient Monuments.
Concerts are given in the villa’s music hall during the Bergen International Festival and during the summer.
His success was marked by controversy, however. Though he was hailed as the "Paganini of the North", some critics labeled him a charlatan for his seemingly magic tricks on the violin.
He counted among his friends and admirers many of the great names of his era: Schumann and Liszt, Emerson and Wagner. Longfellow found in Bull a model for the musician in his Tales of a Wayside Inn. Hans Christian Andersen portrayed Bull as a veritable fairy prince in his "Episode of Ole Bull's Life," a characterization that in part inspired Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
Bull was able to realize his dream of establishing a national theater in Bergen. He gave Henrik Ibsen a start in theater management, employed the poet Bjornstjerne Bjornson, and promoted the music of Edvard Grieg.
The poet Aasmund Vinje's words "That surely would be a man to write a book about" have now been taken to heart by the authors of a book with a comprehensive listing of Bull's works, analysis of his compositions and their influence, and reviews of his performances.