My reconstruction of Ole Bull’s ‘American Fantasy’ on the 1647 Niccolo Amati. May 2015
Ole Bull/Peter Sheppard Skaerved-American Fantasy (Jordan is a hard road to travel, The Hazel Dell, Home Sweet Home, Arkansas Traveller, Pop Goes the Weasel + Capriccio from the Wesley Album, Recitativo from ‘Niagara’, Cadenza from Ganz Album)
Here’s the Fantasy, in Rehearsal at Lysøen 30-5 14
Ole Bull/Peter Sheppard Sk?rved-American Fantasy on ‘The Hazel Dell’ ‘Home Sweet Home’ ‘Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel’ ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, & including Ole Bull-Arkansas-the way it wouldn’t do, -the way it would do, Ole Bull ‘A Cappriccio ma moderato’( London 1837(Horsley Notebook London), and Ole Bull-‘Ganz’ Capriccio (Berlin 1839)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved(in the style of Ole Bull, and incorporating decoration from Bull fragments’-Dan Emmett/’Tucker ‘Jordan is a hard road to travel’Workshop recording. Deptford Town Hall 22 5 14
On 30th June 1857, Ole Bull gave a ‘Grand Farewell Concert’ in Madison, Wisconsin. The town would play an increasingly important part in his life, and he would become regarded as a true midwesterner , in later years.
The playbill for the concert advertises that, amongst the normal showstopping from his programmes, he would be playing a ‘Fantasia on American Airs’, including ‘Jordan’s a Hard Road to Travel’, ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, ‘Arkansas Traveler’, ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Yankee Doodle’. This piece had first appeared on a programme which he played th previous year in Bloomington, Indiana; it also, it seemed, included ‘Hazel Dell’. This work has not survived, just as the majority of works on popular ‘airs’ played by Niccolo Paganini do not survive. There is simple reason. Bull was an improviser, and never sought to publish the works which defined his stage appearances.
Working with the extraordinary materials which has been made available to me in Lysoen (LINK), I started to suspect that much of what I was looking at might be seen as aides-memoires for extemorary performance. It’s worth remembering that, today, a jazz player’s ‘chart’ would look like an unfinished score for a classical player unused to the needs of controlled improvisation. I also ran across the version that Bull made of ‘Arkansas Traveler’, which had been written by Colonel Sanford C. ‘Sandy’ Faulkner (1806–1874) ten years earlier.
Playing Bull’s ‘Arkansas Traveller’ at Lysoen. April 2013 (Workshop Recording)
I realised that I had to take the challenge , and try and work out the sort of ‘Fantasia’ which Bull had played. Of course, I can’t claim in any way that what I am doing is any more than my idea. However, I feel that I should try and understand what Bull’s improvising felt like, from inside, to see what happens if I try it.
So I have begun working with the other popular songs on the list, working with them in the violinist manner which Bull seems to be teaching me. At the moment, it’s just a case of seeing what happens. In addition, I am working with some of the fragments of cadenzas and ornamentation which I keep finding amongst Bull’s papers. This project has just begun to grow; I will play the resulting piece at the Bergen Festival next May.
May 31st 2015-a new discovery at Lysoen
Working through a huge pile of uncatalogued materials which has recently come back to Ole Bull’s home, Malene Skaerved and I discovered a sheet of paper in Bull’s handwriting, which sets the ‘Arkansas Traveller’ within a dramatic skit. It has always seemed likely to me that Bull conquered the new audiences away from the refined society of Boston, New York and Philadelphia with a combination of brilliance, chutzpah, and showmanship. This seems to be the proof!