Ole Bull

Minnesota Fiddlers

by Walter Sigtermans

     In Loring Park, in downtown Minneapolis, there stands a statue of a violinist.  The statue was erected in 1896 by the Norwegians of Minnesota to the memory of the Paganini of Norway - Ole Bull.  For many years Norwegians gathered by this statue on May 17th to honour not just the fiddler, but the nationalist, and a man who kept his word, even in places as far from Norway as the Minnesota Territory in 1856.

Constitution day (May 17, 1936) Loring Park, Minneapolis [1]

     As the Napoleonic wars were coming to a close, the major belligerents signed "The Treaty of Fontainebleau" on April 11, 1814.  In that treaty, Denmark lost the territory of Norway.  On May 17, 1814 Norway declared itself an independent nation and approved their own constitution, but by June of that same year Sweden invaded Norway, re-instating their claims to rule Norway dating back to 1319.

      So, the 19th century found Norwegians with a constitution and a will to be an independent nation, if only they could be free of Sweden.  Long dormant Norwegian nationalism had been roused from it slumber.

      Norwegians had something to prove. During the time they had been ruled by Denmark they had been isolated from Europe.  Poets, writers, musicians and politicians began looking at the world around them and most especially at the example of the United States.

       Ole Bull was born in 1810 and was a child prodigy on the fiddle.  After getting high acclaim for his playing in Norway, he moved to Paris in 1831 where he made a deep impression on the Europeans, as well as Niccolo Paganini, Franz List and Fredrick Chopin.  He toured a great deal, including America in 1843, and began to get the idea of creating a Norwegian colony within the United States. 

        In 1852 he purchased seventeen square miles of land in the remote mountains of Pennsylvania which he named New Norway.  800 Norwegians arrived and began building the town of Oleana in a rugged landscape that looked very much like Norway.

       Within two years New Norway and Oleana failed.  The ground was not suitable for farming.  The land was too remote to trade with the outside world.  Without rivers or railroads a western city could not thrive.  Ole Bull weathered the losses, but many of the Norwegians he had encouraged to immigrate suffered severe financial hardships.

      Many of the refugees of the failed colony were some of the first Norwegians to come to Minnesota in the mid 1850's, and Ole Bull felt a responsibility to make good with his countrymen.   In July 1856, Ole Bull came to St. Paul in Minnesota Territory.  He played a benefit concert in the Territorial capital building to generate money for his Norwegian comrades. 

     The Norwegians of Minnesota never forgot, even after Ole Bull died in 1880.  A statue was erected to the great violinist in Loring Park in 1896, and Norway eventually won its independence from Sweden in 1905

      Every year on Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17th) the Norwegians would gather at the statue of their fellow patriot.

     In Norway, a "Reinlender" is a common style of music which is played for a partnered dance. The name suggests that the dance came from the area of the Rhine - either Germany or Bohemia. The same dance is known as "Rheinländer" in Bavaria. This specific tune, Ringnesen, is from western Norway, and would have been as familiar to the Wick family as it was to Ole Bull.

Click here to access the sheet music of  "Ringnesen Reinlender"

Click here to access the mp3 of Elmo Wick playing  "Ringnesen Reinlender"