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'Oleana : The Ole Bull Colony' by Paul W Heimel


This excellent book tells a very peculiar tale that combines two quintessential nineteenth century phenomena : the virtuoso musician and Utopian colonies in America.

Ole Bull died long before recording could have preserved his artistry, but this Norwegian violinist was renowned for his virtuosity throughout his life. Of the older school of musicians (rather like Henri Herz and Sigismund Thalberg), Bull mostly played his own compositions which were designed to impress the hearers with his dexterity and style. Yet, he must have been remarkable and kept his skills until late in life.

Thus, the man.

In the nineteenth century numerous, no hundreds, of attempts were made to establish colonies in America (or elsewhere under the same urge) that would become Utopias for the dispossessed workers of Europe and even America, become standards for culture and frequently express in action the ideals of the philosopher, prophet or guru figure that founded them. Perhaps the largest and still thriving community is that of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, who built their communities in one of the most desolate parts of the American West.

The fertile fields of America, its relative freedom, and the hopelessness of the situation in Europe, provided a perfect opportunity for such developments. The attempts ranged from the absurd, to the sane, to the tragic. Some were destroyed by the insanity of the leader (often of the guru type and prone to numerous excesses, chiefly sexual). Some were destroyed by circumstance, others just faded away. Almost all tell the tale of ideals lashed by reality.

Thus the colonies.

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Copyright © 21 February 2003 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Alberta, Canada


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