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The Bournonville Festival

A Visit to Bournonville's House

by Cassandra

June 2005 -- Fredensborg, Denmark

To mark the 200 years since Bournonville’s birth, his country home has been opened to the public for the limited period of approximately three months. This is a one-off occurrence unlikely to be repeated, so on my last day in Denmark I made my way to Fredensborg to take a look at the house where the great man lived.

The homes of great artists have always fascinated me; from the tourist filled birth house of Mozart to the more modest home of Beethoven, where I was the only visitor, to the unexpectedly affluent Paris town house of Gustave Moreau (that artist never starved in a garret) and to the unpretentious flat of musical maverick Scriabin. They all seem somehow to have left a little of themselves behind.

On arriving at Fredensborg, my friends and I were surprised to discover that it is a popular town with a tourist industry due to the fact that Fredensborg has a castle that is the summer home of the Royal Family, a kind of Danish Windsor. Bournonville’s house is very easy to find, just walk up to the castle and turn left.

On asking directions, a friendly Danish lady who happened to live almost next door invited us to follow her as she pushed her pram up the hill and in five minutes we were standing in front of the pretty white house that Bournonville made his family home in 1854. We were bang on time too, as it was exactly the opening time of 11 o’clock and the front door was immediately opened by the house’s owner, Mr No Widding, whom we assumed at first to be the curator.

The house is an attractive two-storey building with a red tiled roof and a small front garden with neat flowerbeds and low hedges. Inside most of the ground floor is open to the public and a specially assembled array of articles and documents that belonged to Bournonville are on display, the majority generously loaned by his descendents that still live in Denmark and Sweden. The rooms on show are the entrance hall, sitting room, library/study and a garden room, much like a modern conservatory, that looks out over a tree filled back garden that slopes downwards from the house.

Of course the documents and the labelled exhibits were all in Danish, but we were kindly issued with a summary of the rooms in English together with a description of Bournonville’s day to day life in the house with his extended family. It seems that Bournonville loved having visitors, often playing his violin by way of entertainment and kept open house inviting all the celebrities of his day including his contemporary (and fellow birthday boy), Hans Christian Anderson.

Of the many exhibits in the house I was particularly drawn to a beautiful gaming table that belonged to Bournonville’s father, Antoine. This superb example of 18th century furniture transformed from gaming table to more respectable writing desk in the twinkling of an eye: a tribute to the imagination of the consummate craftsmen of the past. The books on display proved that Bournonville was very well read, with his well-worn volume of Shakespeare having pride of place on his bookshelf. Of particular interest was a small collection of artefacts that are the results of a little do-it-yourself archaeology that the house owner had carried out, finding all sorts of discarded odds and ends from torn pieces of old wallpaper to discarded shards of china.

After our look around the house, we spoke to Mr Widding, who explained that he wasn’t the curator, but the owner. It seems he had worked in the theatre as a young man and had developed a deep love of ballet and opera. When Bournonville’s house came on the market he had jumped at the chance to buy it and has nobly thrown open many of the rooms of his home (and although he didn’t say so, must have suffered greatly in the disruption of his daily routine) in order that the public can get closer to Bournonville by experiencing the unique atmosphere of the house.

There were also one or two items of Bournonvilleana on sale in the house, mostly books in Danish and then I spotted something I simply couldn’t resist: A bottle of red Chateau Bournonville. I’m keeping it for a special occasion.

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