Born in Bergen, Norway, his father wished him to be a minister, but he liked a musical life better. When four or five years old, he could play on the violin all the songs he heard his mother sing, and when eight he played the first violin in the Bergen Theatre.
At eighteen he was sent to the University of Christiania, but failed his examiniations.
After living for a while in Germany, where he pretended to study law, he went to Paris, and fared hardly for a year or two. He was eventually successful in giving concerts, became famous, and made a fortune.
He visited the United States several times, and played with great success. In 1852 he bought a large tract of land in Pennsylvania, and founded a colony which was called Oleana in his honor; but it was soon to be given up, and he went back to his concerts.