The Berntsons


One Norwegian American family, three generations of musicians,
over one hundred years of traditional Scandinavian music making

 

Eleanore's bio    Karl's bio    Buy the CD    Berntson Band 2008 Tour

It all began around 1900 when Norwegian immigrant Bernt Berntson Bradskerud purchased a violin in a northern Wisconsin logging camp and gave it to his son, Bennie. Then ten years old, Bennie began playing his violin, learning Scandinavian folk tunes from fiddlers in his rural Wisconsin immigrant community, especially his musical uncle and cousins. For the next thirty years Bennie played all night long at house parties and community dances that featured the Scandinavian waltzes, schottisches, and square dances which became the backbone of the repertoire for the Berntsons. 

In the 1930’s, ‘40’s and 50’s, Bennie Berntson’s son Maurice, playing guitar, and daughter Eleanore, playing the pump organ, joined the family music circle. Cousin Benny Smith played banjo, cousin Jimmy Severude played violin and the Berntson family band was frequently augmented with local fiddlers and friends who joined in on cold winter evenings. The addition of Eleanore’s pump organ, playing melodies as well as chording, blended with the violins to produce a strikingly warm, rich sound. Maurice further enhanced the mix by playing the violin melodies on the guitar, a unique twist to traditional Norwegian folk music instrumentation.

In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s Eleanore’s son Karl began playing the family music and a second guitar was brought into the musical picture. While Maurice played the melodies on his guitar, Karl provided a bass line and chording on his guitar. At full strength the Berntsons could feature several fiddles, pump organ, banjo, and two guitars. The music has come a long way from Bennie Berntson’s solo fiddle in the early 1900’s.

The Berntsons features the same traditional song repertoire which has been played now by three generations of Berntson family musicians. Similarly, the same exact instruments are used....the 1916 Beckwith family pump organ, the 1920’s B & D tenor banjo, and the late 1930’s L 5 style guitar are all played on this CD. The very violin which Bennie Berntson first learned to play as a young boy in 1900 can be heard on “Bennie’s Waltz.” And, just as in the old days, in addition to the mix of older and younger generations of Berntson family musicians, there are new friends and neighbors who have dropped in to play....in this case, violinists Loretta Kelley and Andrea Hoag. The Berntsons are alive and well and heading into their second century of music making.

Eleanore Berntson Lundeberg has at the time of this recording been playing this same repertoire on the same 1916 Beckwith pump organ for seventy two years. She has transcribed scores of the old Scandinavian folk tunes which she learned from her father, preserving this rich trove of music for future generations. 

Karl Fredrik Berntson Lundeberg is a CBS/Sony recording artist, a piano player and an award winning composer who owes any musical success he has had in the world to the early experiences of learning and playing guitar with the Berntson family as a young boy. 

Andrea Hoag has studied with Päkkos Gustaf and Nils Agenmark and is a graduate of Malungs Folkhögskola (Sweden). She is known across the U.S. for her playing in American as well as Scandinavian folk fiddle styles. Andrea and Loretta are 2007 GRAMMY nominees for Best Traditional World Music Album. They have been heard on NPR’s All Things Considered and Performance Today. Loretta Kelley is America’s foremost player of the Norwegian hardingfele (Hardanger violin). In Norway, she has performed on the Norwegian State Radio and consistently places high in Norwegian fiddling contests. She regularly tours the US, Canada, and Norway.

Maurice Berntson is the musical encyclopedia for the Berntsons. His knowledge of hundreds of folk tunes which he learned over the course of eighty some years is the source from which the Berntson repertoire lives. His photographic memory of all the details of this music has been essential in the making of this recording.