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Trond Eltun Hoped to Fiddle Way Out of Debt in America

Budstikken, May 1984

The best of Hardanger fiddle music from Valdres was enjoyed in America from 1876 to 1899, while the master musician, Trond Eltun, moved about the Upper Midwest playing and teaching. He was still giving concerts when he choked on a piece of meat at Hanley Falls, Minnesota in 1899 and died at the age of 76.Trond Eltun

Tunes that he played were such as Tomasklokkelatten, a Valdres visa "Kari o Mari statt upp no", "Baadne ditt graete", and "Smeddalslatten." Anders Skogstad, who often traveled with him, said that Eltun "set silken fingers" upon the strings, whereas some fiddlers set "ram's feet."

Knut Ellingboe wrote of Eltun, "I saw Trond Eltun only one time in America, although we were closely related. That time he came two Norse miles to see me. He was in a good mood and played many of his best slattar for me.

"His music was soft and sweet, like his nature, genuine, warm and friendly. His trills were unequalled. Valdreses in America came a long way to hear him."

Skogstad told that Trond had concerts all over Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Eltun played for his own enjoyment as much as for his listeners. Boye Ellingbo said Trond got so involved with his playing that he wept, tears trickling down his cheeks. As the saga of Trond Eltun has it in Valdres, he could lure a wedding procession right into a fjord, so great was the spell of his music.

Trond played for money, too. He had a wife, six children, and a farm he had bought, South Oye, in 1859 for 1200 dollars. Always he needed money, for his debts were great. He carried the mail, he peddled goods from his farm, he played at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Finally in 1876, Trond conceived the idea of going to America to play concerts, and to earn a lot of money in a short time. Then he would return to Valdres, pay off his debts, and all would end happily.

He did earn good money, often from $50 to $100 in a single evening. But the money got away from him. According to one source, he was robbed of $500 in Walcott, N.D. Said Knut Ellingboe, "Had he been as good a businessman as he was a fiddler, he could have returned home in a year with enough money to purchase the entire lower valley on the south side from Eidskroken to Steinjordet. Now I exaggerate a little, but not much."

Trond's demeanor was friendly and calm. He was a big man with a good build, blond hair and a ruddy complexion. Ellingboe remembers him as an unusually good humored man, like a brother to all.

Trond lived a wanderer's life in America, staying with relatives and friends, as well as with his son Johannes. The boy, his youngest son, was only twelve years old when he accompanied his father to America in 1876. He soon tired of the restless life of concerts, although he was a fine langeleik player and tenor singer.

Johannes chose to settle down in Northfield, where he worked in a general store and eventually became sole owner. Music continued to be a large part of his life, as he sang in the church choir and later in the St. Olaf college choir. In 1913 he accompanied the choir on a tour to Norway.

Unmarried, Johannes took under his wing his nephew Trond, son of his brother Johan-Henrik Eltun on Kvam. The young man came to America in 1895, and secured a medical education. He had a practice for many years at Velva, N.D.

Incidentally, the fiddler Trond, his son Johannes, and nephew Trond are all buried in Hawk Creek Lutheran church cemetery in rural Sacred Heart, Minnesota. Johannes died during the flu epidemic of 1917-1918, and the younger Trond died in 1913 aged 43. The elder Trond had preceded them in 1899.

Trond Eltun the fiddler was born January23, 1823 to Ivar from lower Eltun in Oye, Valdres, and his wife Anne. He was the youngest of five children. His only brother was Knut, born in 1817, and these two spent years together carrying mail for the Norwegian government, from Valdres to Land.

Hungry for knowledge, Trond won a reputation as one of the best pupils of Anfin Torkjilsen paa Strond'n. He became very adept at math and writing.

In 1845 Trond married Gjartrud Johan-Henriksdatter Sveji, born in 1824. Her father Johan-Henrik Sveji operated all of Sveji. She had an elder brother Lars Sveji and a younger brother Nils Strand.

Trond and Gjartrud were the parents of five children. Ivar went to America in about 1869, and married Gunhild Sylfesdatter of Laerdal. Johan-Henrik was born in 1850 and married Ingeberg Anfinsdatter from Kvame. He took ever his father's farm, but sold it later to Torstein Robele of East Slidre, who was a teacher in Oye. Johan-Henrik, like his father, was a fine fiddler, and was much respected in Vang.

The three daughters of Trond and Gjartrud were Ingeberg, married to Nils For; Anne, married to Andris Asbjornson on Hagastrondi (they went to America); and Marit who married Engebret Jonson Eilingbo. They lived in Haugo in Vang.

Trond was a good farmer, but the returns were poor. Te supplement his income, he carried mail (Storposten) between Tune in Vang to the glassworks in Hadeland, later only to Hov in Land. For this work Trond received $8 per week, later raised to $12. He and his brother Knut did this from 1849 to 1873. The job was difficult, over poor roads, up hill and down. It took two days from Tune to the glassworks or to Hov. This trip was made once a week, two days going and two days back. The regulation uniform was a thin cape, and the men suffered from cold. Later they were permitted to wear their own clothes, and then they chose warm vadmal, lined with sheepskin. On his trips Trond bought trade goods, such as tobacco and matches, which he sold at his farm.

No matter how busy he was earning a living, Trond always found time to play his fiddle. One of his fellow players was Ola i Hamris-broto. They admired each other's music and learned much from each other.

Another fiddler with whom Trond played often at weddings was Ola Strand paa Soyne. It was said that Strand was better at dance music, but for the lydarlatt there was no equal to Trond. He had learned much from Knut Oldre, also called Knut Nordland, and from old Anders Skogstad. He travaled to Sogn, and learned from those he met there. He gave concerts in Oslo (Christiania then) and in Lillehammer a number of times.

Once Trond played for Ludwig M. Lindeman, the hymn writer who used folk tunes. The latter tried to write the notes for "Tomasklekkelatten", but the written music fell short of the tune.

Ole Bull, the noted violinist, visited Trond and asked him to play. In appreciation, Bull gave Trond his picture, and asked him to play many more times.

Some of Trond's favorite tunes were "Nigardsen" with words "They promised me life, but I didn't get it"; "Grihamaren", about a huldre who tried to entice a young son of Grihamar; "Kasin", "Skraddar-Ivar", "Skjervin", "Sotebroke at Nertroste", "Latten so han Per grotte hunden sin mae", "Trumpen has Tomes Eltun", and "Jornsrengjudn." As one can see by the names these tunes were composed in the area.

When Trond was at Strand for the baptism of Gartrud Strand in 1873, according to Anders Grovs-Oydegarden, he played old tunes the entire night. He wept and played. Not only the local tunes, but more modern ones, were in Trond's repertoire. He had learned waltzes from the gypsy Karl Palm, an excellent fiddler who traveled about Valdres.

As Ole Bull said the first time he heard Trond Eltun play, "It is a great loss that such fine music should die."


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