B) About Norwegian folk music
Aksdal and Nyhus (1993) provide a comprehensive introduction to Norwegian traditional music. They describe how Enlightenment-era thinkers such as Rousseau and Herder imagined remnants of a “national golden age” that still existed within every man (women don ́t seem to be mentioned a lot) in the shape of “folk poetry” and “folk music”. This interest-from-a-distance led scholars to collect and preserve cultural expressions from rural environments, and composers to assimilate - or steal, depending on the eye of the beholder - musical elements. Later on, this cultural capital was also used for nation-building purposes, as in the case of Norway.
Since World War II, the interest has shifted from the nation-building unification project towards regional and dialect-based differences within Norway. There was, and is, a need to distance folklore from the temporary monopolization of national symbols by the national socialists. However, the local interest in prominent musicians, knowledge of tunes, lineage of traditions and dialects within and outside music all seem to have much older and more positive roots in Norway than the unspeakable horrors of the 1940s.
It is generally believed that left to the free market, the indigenous strands of traditional music will be eradicated over time, and that organizational discourse is vital to keeping tradition alive. This sets tradition and traditionalism apart as an activity, as different from a mere descriptive term. According to Aksdal and Nyhus, this is the reason musicians in this field are occupied with questions of age, lines of tradition, and continuity.
The earliest unequivocal reports of fiddling in Norway stem from the late 1600s, and in the following century it gained massive popularity. The idea of sympathetic strings gradually emerged towards the end of the 17th century. Religious revivals, as well as competition from the accordion, threatened the fiddle ́s existence towards the late 1800s, and contests were initiated to help preserve the tradition. Interest remained low until the 1970s. The oldest Hardanger fiddle in existence is the 1651 Jaastad fiddle from Hardanger itself, and the sympathetic strings may be an influence from Scotland by way of England from India. In the late 18th century, most of southwestern Norway was hardanger fiddle territory, and the builders in the Telemark region in the south began building their own variants around this time as well. The first half of the 1800s is considered a golden age for the dissemination and perfection of the Hardanger fiddle and its music, and the mythical fiddler Myllarguten introduced the instrument to the bourgeoisie in Christiania (now Oslo) in 1849, heavily promoted by classical virtouso Ole Bull. After 1860 the modern Hardanger fiddle, with a violin-like shape and four, later five, sympathetic strings became the norm under the production standards of the Helland family. In Setesdal, the common practice for a while was to modify regular fiddles instead of importing Hardanger ones, and some fiddlers even sang while playing.
As a result of national romanticism and organized concerts by virtousos during the first half of the twentieth century the Hardanger fiddle became widespread all over the southern half of Norway. At the time of writing, there seems to be a rough geographic division between the two types of fiddles, with the Hardanger fiddle dominating the southwest.
Flutes, goat's horn, local reed instruments such as the Meråker clarinet and willow flute (which follows the partial scale and has a big effect on tonality) have also had an important role in shaping the music which forms the background here. A local specialty in my region is the presence of flat keys (some tunes are in Bb or Eb), which can be explained through the presence of military wind bands - and open-minded, multi-tasking musicians - in the Innherred region since the 1750s.
The main figure in the Innherred region was Hilmar Alexandersen, who lived for the greater portion of the twentieth century, and whose effortless and pitch- perfect playing drew on old dance tunes as well as entertainment music from Europe. Alexandersen was a typical master musician in that he commanded both regular and Hardanger fiddles, as evidenced on the compilation "Hjartespel" (1994). Many of the older tunes in our local repertoire have traveled back and forth between Sweden and Norway, and the mythical fiddler Lapp-Nils (of Sápmi descent) is mentioned often as a historical source for common tunes. He is the reason why I talk about "Norwegian" and "Scandinavian" folk music synonymously - and he appears to be the only famous Sápmi musician in a historical picture where his ethnic group has been gravely underrepresented (Roemke, 1994).
You will hear many other dance rhythms in Norway than the ones I work with here, such as Gangar, telespringar, mazurkas, and waltzes. Lullabies (bånsuller), slow tunes borrowed from traditional singers (visetoner) and some religious songs appear all over the country.
The tunes are often named after certain musicians (“Sprengar etter Johannes Brekken”, for example), or they may be linked up to areas where they have been used (“Bruremarsj fra Brekstad”). With few exceptions, they consist of two or three eight-bar sections that are repeated. Some halling tunes have uneven time signatures, because this particular form of mostly individual dancing is based on pulse rather than periods. Some regions have beats of uneven lengths - it is a common perception, for example, that many pols tunes from the Røros area have a “prolonged” second beat, but not everyone agrees that this is what the performers feel themselves when they ́re playing.
In the following four examples, you will see and hear examples of the basic dance rhythms that I base my work on. The tunes don't have any identified composers that I'm aware of.