Bull, Ole (Bomemann)

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Bull, Ole (Bomemann)

Bull, Ole (Bomemann), eccentric Norwegian violinist and composer; b. Bergen, Feb. 5, 1810; d. Lyso, near Bergen, Aug. 17, 1880. He was extremely precocious, and played the violin experimentally even before acquiring the rudiments of music. At the age of 9, he played solos with the Bergen Harmonic Soc. His teachers were then Niels Eriksen and J.H. Poulsen; later he had regular instruction with M. Ludholm. Ignoring academic rules, he whittled the bridge almost to the level of the fingerboard, so as to be able to play full chords on all 4 strings. He was sent by his father to Christiania to study theology, but failed the entrance examinations; instead, he organized a theater orch., which he led with his violin. In 1829 he played in Copenhagen; that same year, he was sent to Kassel to seek advice from Spohr. In 1831 he went to Paris, where he heard Paganini and became obsessed with the idea of imitating his mannerisms and equaling his success, a fantasy devoid of all imagined reality because of Bull’s amateurish technique. In 1833 he gave his first Paris concert but it was not until an appearance at the Paris Opéra in 1835 that he won a following. By then he had developed a personal type of playing that pleased the public, particularly in localities rarely visited by real artists. On May 21, 1836, he made his London debut. During the 1836-37 season, he played 274 concerts in England and Ireland. In 1840 he played Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata in London, with Liszt at the piano. On July 23, 1849, he announced the formation of a Norwegian Theater in Bergen, which was opened on Jan. 2, 1850. While he failed to impress most of the serious musicians and critics in Europe, he achieved his dream of artistic success in America; he made 5 concert tours across the U.S. from 1843, playing popular selections and his own compositions on American themes with such fetching titles as Niagara, Solitude of the Prairies, and To the Memory of Washington, interspersing them with his arrangements of Norwegian folk songs. He entertained a strong conviction that Norway should generate its own national art, but the practical applications of his musical patriotism were failures because of his lack of formal study and a concentration on tawdry effects; still, it may be argued that he at least prepared the ground for the emergence of true Norwegian music; indeed, it is on his recommendation that Grieg was sent to study at the Leipzig Cons. Characteristically, Bull became attracted by the ideas of communal socialism. In 1852 he purchased 11, 144 acres in Pa. for a Norwegian settlement, but his lack of business sense led his undertaking to disaster. The settlement, planned on strict socialist lines, was given the name Oleana, thus establishing a personal connection with the name of its unlucky founder. Oleana soon collapsed, but Bull earned admiration in Norway as a great national figure. Many of his violin pieces, mostly sentimental or strident in nature, with such titles as La preghiera d’una madre, Variazioni di bravura, Polacca guerriera, etc., were publ., but they sank into predictable desuetude.


J. Lie, O. B.s breve i utdreg (Copenhagen, 1881); S. Bull (his 2nd wife), O. B.: A Memoir (Boston, 1883; Ger. ed., Stuttgart, 1886); O. Vik, O. B.(Bergen, 1890); C. Aarvig, Den unge O. B. (Copenhagen, 1935); A. Bjòrndal, O. B. og Norsk folkemusik (Bergen, 1940); M. Smith, The Life ofO. B.( Princeton, 1943); Z. Hopp, Eventyret om O. B. (Bergen, 1945); Ola Linge, O. B. (Oslo, 1953); I. Bull, O. B. Returns to Pennsylvania (N.Y., 1961); E. Haugen and C. Cai, O. B.: Romantisk musiker og kosmopolitisk nordmann (Oslo, 1992; Eng. tr., 1992, as O. B.: Norway’s Romantic Musician and Cosmopolitan Patriot).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire