Ole Bull, violinist and considered Norway’s first “rock star”, had quite the flare for the dramatic and the mysterious. This last was why he was drawn to the island of Lysøen, where he built his last home.
How famous was Ole Bull in his day? Well, the hotel manager in Bergen would save Bull’s bath water, bottle it and sell it to Bull’s female fans, and Bull didn’t mind, as he absolutely loved any attention. He was constantly touring internationally, and knew how to promote himself before and during shows. He had a bottle of smelling salts, and when women would swoon at his concerts, he’d go to the prettiest ones and revived them, something considered a great honor among the female fans.
Ole Bull also composed some amazing music, incorporating Norwegian folk music into his melodies. He started Norway’s first Norwegian-language theater in Bergen in 1850, since Norwegian theater was still using Danish at the time and he gave Henrik Ibsen a job as staff playwright. Bull also promoted the culture of country folk, making him quite popular with them.
After a lifetime of touring he built an eclectic house south of Bergen, on the island Lysøen, using elements he’d seen on his travels. He had toured the world, and his house includes an Arabian balcony and a Russian onion dome. This house was his last home. He spent the last 8 years of his life here, and died in the music room with a view over Lysefjorden (the one in Hordaland, not the one in Rogaland with the Pulpit rock).
Being the showman he was, he always found a way to create a memorable performance.
So after my tour group and I had a quick bite and coffee in the café, a tour of the house, a lovely concert including music by Ole Bull’s protégé, Edvard Grieg, Harald Sæverud (another Bergen composer) and Ole Bull himself, we were encouraged to take the hike to “the cave” (Grotten), as long as we had good footwear.
Ole Bull would take his guests there. He had the paths around his house covered in white, crushed seashell so he could find his way in moonlight. We set off on one of these paths, steadily moving upwards, until the seashells ended, and we were on a regular trail, surrounded by blueberry bushes. Another tourist had found the season’s first blueberries and kept happily leaving the path to pick some. I did not join him, as by now the rain was coming down hard and my hands were busy holding my umbrella. I felt like such a city girl in that moment.
The pianist from the concert had a basket of delicious apples, offering us a snack at the cave. Her presence announced that we were at the spot, high above the fjord, where a large crack opened into the rocks. And then we heard the violin start to play from well inside the cave. Our violinist from the concert had run off ahead of us to surprise us at the cave. Great acoustics, and also a bit otherworldly.
That would have suited Ole Bull quite well. He had spent his childhood on Lysøen and knew of the local stories of mythical beings and ghosts living on the island. Many locals told him not to buy the island as it was haunted, but that was exactly what drew Bull to the place.
That hike, about 20 minutes from the house, was well worth the mud and rain and sweat.
The statue in town, with Ole Bull playing for the mythical waterfall being, the Nøkken, makes much more sense to me now. That’s exactly what Ole Bull would have done.
“Trolldom” is the Norwegian/Norse word for magic or witchcraft.
If you want to take a similar tour, check out “Enchanted by Ole Bull”