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.