Quite long ago, from approximately 800 to 1050 A.D., Vikings set sail from Scandinavian nations such as Denmark in their new-fangled ships and landed– raiding, or at least trading–in ports throughout Europe and the Baltics. Vikings of the age were rough men, ship-hardened and world-weary. In their early days they were also very rough on Christians, going out of their way to burn church buildings or destroy monestaries, in response to the harsh incursion of Christianity into their previously pagan lands. Within several centuries, though, the Church had converted many vikings to Christianity and the vikings essentially became Crusaders.
At the time to call someone a “viking” would very much like calling someone a pirate. The term “viking” was a verb that meant something like, “to commit an act of piracy.” On the other hand, Vikings were not the foul and brutish barbarians we find in contemporary caricatures. Today we often use the term “Vikings” to refer to the bulk of the people who lived in Scandinavia during the viking era. Learn some very basic viking history. (Really, what is a viking?)
The VikingAnswerLady, responding to a question by “Skald With Nothing to Sing” about Viking songs, provides a definitive overview of the history and characteristics of Viking music, from Roman historians’ mentions of the Germanic peoples’ epic songs, through writing of early Christians that Scandinavian Viking-era songs were “numerous and obscene,” to a contemporary attempt to recreate the melodies of Viking music. In
the course of her response The Viking Answer Lady introduces us to several archaeologically-unearthed Viking instruments, such as:
For an idea of how the Vikings may have used these instruments, listen to the Viking Lady website’s recreations of songs that may have been similar to those the Vikings sang, such as:
— “Drømde mig en drøm i nat,” a melody sourced to about the year 1300 (performed on the lyre)
— “Nobilis humilis,” a twelfth century gymel: a song in two parts (sung)
— “the Vôluspá Tune,” an early Icelandic melody (performed on bone flute)
For more information about anything relating to the Vikings, visit The Viking Answer Lady’s awesome, awesome site.
Danish folk ensembles may well feature the occasional accordion or guitar, but at the heart of Danish folk music there’s always a fiddle. Unlike fiddlers found in other Scandinavian countries, Danish fiddlers most often fiddle in bunches, and they fiddle fast and furious. For example, watch Danish fiddler Harald Haugaard and his co-teachers from his 2011 international Fiddle School fiddle a crowd into a frenzy.
Danish folk music experienced a revival in the ’70s, similar to the folk revival in the U.S., when contemporary artists revived and reinterpreted traditional songs, celebrating and simultaneously advancing ancient traditions. Today ensembles like HAUGAARD & HØIRUP (read some of what Haugaard and Høirup think about Danish folk music) and Danish-Swedish folkies HABBADAM keep that the tradition of reinventing traditions alive. Many contemporary Danish musicians alsoÂ draw upon Danish folk music themes, weaving them into forms such as rock (watch Danish folk-rocker LARS
DANISH CLASSICAL MUSIC:
Once upon a time, the most important classical music fan in all of Denmark was clearly the king. In 1448 King Christian I engaged a permanent trumpet corps. By 1519 the Danish corps had added vocalists and an instrumental ensemble. The monarchy supported the
development of national Danish cultural institutions such as the Royal Danish Orchestra, which grew out of King Christian’s trumpet corps, and the Royal Danish Opera.
The best-known Danish classical composer was CARL
NIELSEN, who lived and created at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century. In the mid-19th century most Danish classical composers had joined other European “Romantic Era” composers in creating music that was increasingly “nationalistic,” meaning that it drew inspiration from local folklore traditions and intertwined with the development of strong national identity. Nielsen returned the focus to more universal compositions,
placing emphasis on musical form and function rather than local pride. Listen to Nielsen’s Symphony No. 1.
Scandinavians, and especially Danes, not only somehow feel an affinity for Jazz–clearly an
African-American-originated art-form–but also have such a clear, demonstrated ability at composing and performing it. In the early ’20s American big band leader Sam Wooding
had become an expatriate in Europe and led the backing orchestra for the “Chocolate Kiddies,” an all African-American collection of performers that toured the continent extensively, and very effectively, introduced countries like Russia to Duke Ellington and big band jazz. In 1925 Wooding and his orchestra performed in Copenhagen and wowed the crowd. Though there had been a few earlier jazz rumblings in Denmark, Wooding’s visit inspired a generation of young Danish musicians to drop their lurs and learn the trombone.
Since then, the Danish jazz scene has been hopping. When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II most of Denmark’s jazz musicians escaped to Sweden, where they played openly and often, ushering in what has been called Scandinavia’s “Golden Age of Jazz.” After the War the Danish jazz scene revived and Copenhagen became its hub, so much so that American saxophonist Stan Getz became an expatriate there in the 1950s. (Why did Getz choose Denmark? Downbeat tells us.) Today the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is among world’s most respected and Danish jazz musicians like Vietnamese-Danish double bassist CHRIS MINH DOKY are influential on the international jazz scene. Watch the Chris Minh Doky band perform in Copenhagen in 2010.
DANISH ROCK and POP:
Today Danes certainly know how to rock, or at least how to pop. Danish pop stars like THOMAS HELMIG and MEDINA have become popular throughout Europe. (Watch Thomas Helmig perform “Nu hvor du har brændt mig af.” Watch Media perform “Ensom” and “For Altid” unplugged.) Denmark is also a strong competitor in the Eurovision continent-wide song contest, and it has even won the main prize twice–in 1963, with Grethe and Jørgen Ignmann’s “Dansevise” in 1963 and in 2000 with the Olsen Brothers’ much less groovy English-language “Fly on the Wings of Love.”
Je M’appelle Mads, “Hyldest til Danmark” Je M’appelle Mads is a pop duo best known in
Denmark for its Friday night music and comedy show, “Bonjour og Go’daw.” The music of Je M’appelle Mads is silly and fun and their videos are extraordinarily ludicrous. Watch the video for “Hyldest til Danmark” (which, while comparatively tame, still contains the smallest, and we think inoffensive, hint of nakedness), and you’ll see what we mean. Last.fm says about Je M’appelle Mads: “The duo sings i danish,” says Last.fm, “and is not widely known, although they have some obvious hits.” Well, we like them a lot. How could we not?