This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

30 January 2015

In earlier times folk music was typically associated with primitive musical instruments. It was simple tunes played by country rustics on crudely constructed instrument, since provincial musicians could not afford anything sophisticated. However this was not true for some traditional music where musical craftsmen developed elaborate designs to ornament their native instruments. The beautifully decorated string instrument that this young man holds is not a violin but an instrument from Norway called the Hardingfele or Hardanger fiddle.

Hardanger Fiddle
Source: Wikimedia

The Hardanger fiddle shares the basic shape of a classical violin but adds 4 or 5 additional strings that are not touched by the bow or fingers. Instead these strings run under the fingerboard and resonate according to the tones made by the 4 main strings. This produces a characteristic ringing sound which adds a kind of amplified chorus effect to the music.

The pegbox of the Hardanger fiddle, besides being larger for the 8 or 9 strings, is also carved into a different shape from the usual spiral scroll found on violins. It is typically a representation of either a dragon or the Lion of Norway, the symbolic animal on the coat of arms of the Norwegian Royal Family.

The pegs and fingerboard are embellished with inlay of Nacre, also known as Mother of Pearl, and the body is covered with a stylized floral motif made in ink called rosing.

Though the patterns are derived from Scandinavian folk art, the artistry in the luthier's craftsmanship puts this string instrument at a level of refinement that I think has no equal and gives it one of the most beautiful ornamental design of any musical instrument.      

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Norwegian dogs are good too.

These two young men have posed in an unknown photographer's studio in some unknown location with an unknown black dog. The small photo has no marks for any identification of date but I would speculate it is circa 1900-1910.  Were they brothers? Maybe. But surely they were from Norway.   

The sound of the Hardanger fiddle is not exactly like a violin. Fortunately YouTube provides us with an excellent demonstration of its wonderful tone along with a closeup of the instrument. The artist is is Sindre Vatnehol playing a dance tune called a Rull or twirl originally performed by the celebrated fiddler Severin Kjerland from Voss, Norway.

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This second small photo shows another musician with a Hardanger fiddle and his pose shows off the decorated instrument for best effect. In the first photo it is partly hidden, but both fiddles have a pair of tasseled ribbons tied to the lion's head. This decorative device may have been required when the Hardanger fiddle was used to lead a wedding procession.

This musician may date from around the same time as the two men in the first photo. But he is definitely Norwegian as the back of the photo has an imprint for the photographer, Hilda Julin of Gjøvik, Norway which is about 80 miles north of Oslo. While female photographers are not uncommon, it adds a special quality to the photo for me as I have not previously had one in my collection. 

This second video on YouTube gives another view of the Hardingfele with some very fine playing from a musician who evidently has a new instrument. His Hardanger fiddle has 9 strings. The extra sympathetic strings can be tuned to several arrangements of pitches to suit different song and dance melodies. 

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The great Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907) wrote many beloved compositions that used the folk tunes of Norway. The opening phrase of the prelude Morgenstemning in his incidental music for Ibsen's Peer Gynt is derived from one kind of tuning for the sympathetic strings of the Hardanger fiddle.

This last video comes from the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo. Though the Hardanger fiddle is not easily seen, it accompanies a couple dancing a Hallingdans. {On closer inspection the musician may only have an ordinary violin, but the dance tune is still appropriate.}

Norwegian wood. Isn't it good? 

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Here are two examples of Hardangersøm or Hardanger embroidery which was a traditional Norwegian pattern work on white thread material. My thanks to Liz Needles and boundforoz for recognizing this connection to the decorative design on the Hardanger Fiddle.

Isn't it good, Norwegian embroidery?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link and you might get a bird's eye view of Norway.


Liz Needle said...

Another fascinating musical post. I do enjoy your informative writing and pictures. Hardanger embroidery originates in Scandinavia. There must be a connection there.

Bob Scotney said...

Having heard a Hardanger fiddle live in Norway I listened to these videos time and time again. Never made it to the Hardanger area though.

Postcardy said...

I never saw a Hardanger fiddle before. They are beautiful.

I wonder whether female photographers were more common in Scandinavian countries. Almost my only old studio photo is one made by a Swedish woman--on Sepia Saturday here:

Barbara Rogers said...

A beautiful instrument...and you are right about the wood, a craftsman made it into a piece of art. Dance was cute.

La Nightingail said...

As usual, your post is not only musically fun & interesting, but informative as well. What a gorgeous instrument & the sound is a little different. I especially like its name - Hardanger - as I'm writing a Viking novel wherein the characters live along the Hardanger Fjord. Unfortunately this instrument had not yet been created in that time period else I would have featured it somehow.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to see the picture of the Hardanger Fiddle and quite amazing too as the repeated pattern is so similar to Hardanger embroidery which flourished in Norway and is still worked around the world Threads are drawn from the fabric and the material is then reworked in a geometric pattern with a matching thread.. Unfortunately I can''t post a picture here of an embroidery very similar to the Fiddle.

Unknown said...

Love the sound of that Hardanger fiddle -- those understrings act like a drone! Very, very nice.

Jofeath said...

I'm a big fan of folk music, but am not sure if any Norwegian groups have ever made it out here to something like our National Folk Festival. They do attract a wide range of international as well as Australian musicians, although these days there is way to much of what I consider to be non folk music on the lineup.

Wendy said...

What beautiful instruments AND embroidery. Unfortunately I can't hear the music -- my computer is set up in temporary quarters as my office is undergoing major surgery. I'll try to remember to come back.

Joan said...

Truly an artful post. The fiddles were lovely both visually and in sound, as were the dancers. Also loved the embroidery -- an art form of my grandmother's day.

Helen Killeen Bauch McHargue said...

The Hardanger fiddle sounds luscious and looks great. Seems they're pretty much made to order these days and very expensive. Every time I read one of your posts I want to start taking music lessons again.


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