The elaborate and historic home of Norway’s famed violinist Ole Bull has been suffering from a lack of serious maintenance for years. Finally, after desperate pleas for renovation from contemporary violinist Arve Tellefsen among others, the government has come up with some funding to keep Bull’s villa from literally falling apart.
“Ole Bull is one of the most important people in Norwegian cultural history,” Tellefsen wrote in an appeal published in newspaper Aftenposten in August. “His memory deserves to be taken care of.”
Bull lived from 1810 until 1880, and was his time’s version of a major musical celebrity. He performed internationally, started Norway’s first theater and even hired a young Henrik Ibsen to write plays for it. Tellefsen compared Bull to Ibsen’s own famous character Peer Gynt, who was preoccupied with being Norwegian but liked being abroad best. “Peer Gynt was egotistical and always had grand plans, and that can be said of Ole Bull, too,” Tellefsen wrote. While Peer Gynt tried conversing with the Sphinx in Egypt, he noted, Ole Bull climbed to the top of a nearby pyramid and played Seterjentens Søndag. So did Tellefsen, decades later.
Bull also became a wealthy man and built a lavish home at Lysøen outside Bergen, known for its onion dome and ornate woodwork. In 1973, Bull’s granddaughter Sylvea Bull Curtis turned over the mansion to the Bergen division of Norway’s volunteer historic preservation association (Fortidsminne-foreningen) and the home at Lysøen became a museum. It’s been one of the KODE museums in Bergen since 2007.
The 147-year-old mansion, however, suffers from age and a lack of adequate funding for building maintenance. Volunteer efforts over the years haven’t been enough to keep the building in good structural shape. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported in mid-July that its wood was literally rotting away, and that it was infested with mice and wood-eating insects that flourish in the damp climate and a building with poor ventilation. The newspaper cited a professional evaluation of the building’s condition that also uncovered structural damage in its foundation, severe cracks in pillars, beams and its ornamentation, both outdoors and indoors. The home’s water and sewage system is so old that it needs to be completely replaced.
Fixing all that and other problems is estimated to cost at least NOK 20 million. During the weekend, the government minister in charge of culture, Abid Raja, promised NOK 9.5 million to launch efforts to save the building. KODE director Petter Snare was relieved.
“It’s really fantastic to know that we can now save Ole Bull’s villa, which is one of the most important homes in Norway,” Snare told reporters at a press briefing in Bergen with Raja present. He called the new state funding “a good start.”
Raja also said that another NOK 10 million had been allocated in next year’s state budget, due to be presented to Parliament on Wednesday, for an additional building for Bergen’s theater, Den Nasjonale Scene, to provide space for workshops, rehearsal halls, storage and offices at a new location just outside the city. Raja called the current facilities inside the historic theater building from 1909 “unworthy.”
The theater is also getting another NOK 8 million in compensation for Corona virus containment measures that have forced cancellation of performances most of this year. The KODE museums were granted NOK 6 million as well, with more cultural allocations expected in the state budget that will be presented later this week.