Ole Bull and the Arkansas Traveller

Posted on August 24th, 2013 by


My reconstruction of Ole Bull’s ‘American Fantasy’ on the 1647 Niccolo Amati. May 2015

With Ole Bull's Amati and his bow, in the Nursery at Lysoen. 28 5  15

With Ole Bull’s Amati and his bow, in the Nursery at Lysoen. 28 5 15

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)

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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)

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The score of my very imaginative reconstruction of Ole Bull's 'American Fantasy', with the flag presented to Bull by the New York Philharmonic Society

The score of my very imaginative reconstruction of Ole Bull’s ‘American Fantasy’, with the flag presented to Bull by the New York Philharmonic Society

 

The Jakob Fjeld sculpture of Bull in Minneapolis accurately reproduces the violinist’s athletic stance, particulary bow hold to play ‘sul tasto’, and he is playing what appears to an F sharp on the A string (which is depressed) in third position. It would have been beyond Fjeld that he was was aiming at a Latin allusion, using ‘Fis’: I can’t resist it Semper Fi(deli)s. The other great sculptor of musicians, Dantan, covered his ‘charges’ with such word play.

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

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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.

Just a peek: Hubris-my imagining of Bull's 'American Fantasy', with some material from Bergen, Pierpont Morgan and British Libraries, and lots of help from Old Dan Tucker. I presented this research and reconstruction at Musikhögskolan i Malmö this week, as a run up to bringing it to Bergen very soon. 18 5 14

Just a peek: Hubris-my imagining of Bull’s ‘American Fantasy’, with some material from Bergen, Pierpont Morgan and British Libraries, and lots of help from Old Dan Tucker. I presented this research and reconstruction at Musikhögskolan i Malmö this week, as a run up to bringing it to Bergen very soon. 18 5 14

With the Jakob Fjeld statue of Bull in Loring Park Minneapolis. I(Photo Marius Skaerved)

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.

The poster for Bull’s July 1857 Madison Concert

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.

Bull’s version of ‘Arkansas Traveller’

Playing Bull’s ‘Arkansas Traveller’ at Lysoen. April 2013 (Workshop Recording)

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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.

Colonel Faulkner, the original ‘Arkansas Traveller’

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.

Bull’s score for ‘Arkansas Traveler’ along with my notes on G F Root’s ”Hazel Dell’ and ‘Old’ Dand Emmett’s ‘Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel’

 

New York City April 2014  'Pop Goes the Weasel'-the last one that I needed to put together seems to be taking shape...

New York City April 2014 ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’-the last one that I needed to put together seems to be taking shape…

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!

A dramatic sketch, in Ole Bull's hand, incorporating the 'Arkansas Traveller' seen at Lysoen 31 5 15

A dramatic sketch, in Ole Bull’s hand, incorporating the ‘Arkansas Traveller’ seen at Lysoen 31 5 15