Fiddlespel: Dance Music of Scandinavia

Traditional music from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.

In Scandinavian countries, fiddle music has been played for couple dancing and ceremonial occasions for centuries. Most of our tunes come from Sweden, where each village or region has its own repertoire of tunes and dances. On this recording, we play many types of polska, a family of couple dance tunes in 3/4 time, although the three beats are not always equal in length. In the nineteenth century, waltz, polka and schottis were added to the fiddler’s repertoire throughout Scandinavia. Early in the twentieth century, the Swedes especially developed a rich tradition of two fiddlers playing in harmony.

Fiddlespel grew out of Laurie and Sarah’s experiences as leaders of the Daughters of Sweden Spelmanslag (fiddler’s group) in Ithaca, New York. In Swedish and Norwegian, spel means to play music. We hope that Fiddlespel will conjure up some of the magic associated with Scandinavian folklore and fiddle music.
"...infused throughout with Hart and Cummings' beautifully interweaving melodic and harmonic lines...a broad collage of timbre and mood... Fiddlespel prevails in rendering its songs with virtuous precision."
--Jon Ulrich, Ithaca Times

"I was really impressed to hear your final product. You folks are clearly thoughtful listeners and players and have pulled together a very nice collection of music."
--Matt Fichtenbaum, fiddler and nyckelharpa player, Boston

About our instruments


The nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) is a Swedish folk instrument dating to the 14th century. The nyckelharpa tradition survived into the 20th century in the hands of a few hardy players in Uppland, even when it had died out in the rest of Sweden. Now the nyckelharpa is enjoying an enthusiastic revival, and there are thousands of players in Sweden and abroad. Laurie plays a chromatic nyckelharpa, a type invented in 1925 in Uppland. It has one drone string, three melody strings, and 12 understrings, several of which ring sympathetically when each note is played. The instrument is held horizontally and played with a short, wide bow. Different notes are obtained by fingering wooden keys which depress wooden tangents against the melody strings, as on a hurdy-gurdy. The strings are tuned C G C A (low to high), a fifth lower than the violin. The traditional repertoire has some overlap with that of the regular fiddle.

The Hardanger fiddle, or hardingfele, is the folk instrument that has been used for dancing in south-central and western Norway in an unbroken tradition from the 17th century to today. It is usually played unaccompanied, solo, and the repertoire is structurally, rhythmically and melodically unique in the spectrum of world music. The music is passed on aurally, but as Dave Golber writes, “there is a certain strictness and seriousness that is more akin to ‘classical’ music than what we usually call ‘folk’.” The instrument itself resembles a violin in shape, but is ornately decorated with mother-of-pearl and bone inlay, ink drawings of roses and a mythical creature’s head on the scroll (with the tongue sticking out!). Laurie plays a hardingfele tuned B E B F# (low to high), a step higher than the violin, with five resonant understrings tuned to ring sympathetically with the upper strings. Many thanks to Jeane Bennett-O’Dea for the loan of her hardingfele for this recording.

The brač is a Serbo-Croatian instrument resembling a small five-stringed guitar. It is the alto member of the tamburitza family, a group of instruments used for traditional dance music. It is often used to play lower harmony parts to a lead melody. Like the bouzouki to Celtic music, the brač lends itself well to Scandinavian tunes.

The harmonium (pump-organ) we used was made in the late nineteenth-century by Mason and Hamlin. Many thanks to Tim Findling for the loan of his harmonium.
KatariinasBridal-MarchTrollspolskaJosefinsClick on the triangle above to hear 4 short excerpts from the CD.

Laurie Hart - fiddle, nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle
Sarah Cummings - fiddle

with special guests
Mia Boynton - guitar, brač
John White - piano, pump-organ

Produced by Laurie Hart & Sarah Cummings
Recorded by Will Russell at Electric Wilburland Studios,
Newfield, NY in 1999
Photo of Mia by Bill Mutch
Photo of John by Sarah Cummings
Other photos by Kathy Morris

Annotated Track List

Included below in bold are suggestions for which traditional dances go with which tunes (if not obvious from the title). We’d like to hear from you if you have other suggestions!

1. Gift-giving Tune from Bergsjö, Hälsingland, Sweden (Bergsjö Skänklåt) by Fredrik Lindh, from; LH, SC, for dance snoa

2. Polska från Östra Ryd, Östergötland, Sweden, efter Magnus Gustafsson / Slängpolska från Tryserum, Småland, Sweden, efter Fredrik Andersson; LH, SC, guitar, for dance slängpolska från Småland

3. Polska från Kumla, Närke, Sweden, efter Zuaw / Örbyhuspolskan från Uppland, Sweden, efter Knypplans Pelle Petterson; LH (two nyckelharpas), for dance bondpolska (farmer’s polska)

4. Polska från Delsbo, Hälsingland, Sweden, efter Carl Sved; SC, LH, piano / Eklundapolska #3 from Uppland, Sweden, by Viksta-Lasse (Leonard Larsson); LH, SC, piano, for dance Bingsjöpolska

5. Bridal March from Valdres (Bruremarsj frå Valdres), Norway, etter Arne Anderdal; LH (Hardanger fiddle)

6. Trollspolska (troll’s polska) från Boda, Sweden efter Folke Stenback; SC, LH, harmonium, for dance hambo

7. Welcome to the East India (Ostindiens velkomst) from Fanø, Denmark; SC, LH, brač, for dance sønderhoning

8. Rättvikspolska from Sweden, efter Säbb Anders; SC, LH

9. Katariina’s Polka from Finland; SC, LH, guitar

10. Grandma’s bridal polska (Farmors Brudpolska) from Älvdalen, Sweden, efter Gyris Anders; LH, SC, piano

11. Watch the TV (Se på T. V.) from Ore, Sweden, by Ola Bäckstrom; LH (nyckelharpa), SC, guitar / Please Sit Down (Istukaa) from Finland; two nyckelharpas, guitar, for dance schottis

12. Bridal march (Brudmarsch) från Öje, Sweden, efter Lina Löf; LH, SC, harmonium.

13. Waltz from Uppland (vals) from Uppland, Sweden, efter Gås Anders; LH, SC, brač.

14. April Polska by Bill Garrison from Spencer, New York; LH, SC, for dance stigvals or stegvals

15. Halling etter Ola Mosafinn from Voss, Norway; LH (Hardanger fiddle), for dance Vossarull or Vossarudl

16. Inner Peace (Innersta Friden), polska från Gimdalen, Sweden, efter Arvid Brännlund; SC, LH, harmonium, for dance senpolska

17. House-renovation polska (Husombyggnadspolskan or Ombyggnaden), a sixteenth-note polska from Rättvik, Sweden, by Pers Erik; SC, LH, brač, for dance Bingsjöpolska

18. Summer waltz (Sommarvals) from Sweden, by Ale Möller; SC, LH, piano / Josefin’s baptism waltz (Josefins Dopvals) from Sweden, by Roger Tallroth; LH, SC, brač, piano.

Total: 61 minutes

Laurie and Sarah alternate between playing melody and harmony (or “second tune”, as they call it in Swedish) on this recording. In the list above, the melody player’s initials come first, followed by those of the harmony player and the accompaniment instrument.

In the titles of tunes, “från” or “frå” means “from”, and is followed by a place name. “Efter” or “etter” means “in the style of”, and is followed by a fiddler’s name.

All tunes are traditional and played on regular fiddles unless otherwise indicated.

Many thanks to Andrea Hoag, Bruce Sagan, Loretta Kelley and Lotta Franzén for their teaching and inspiration.