NORWEGIAN FOLK MUSIC is as closely intertwined with the folk music of Denmark as the history of Norway is intertwined with that of Denmark, which is quite intertwined. (You knew Denmark ruled Norway from 1380 until the early 1800s, didn’t you?) As in Denmark, the primary instrument in Norway’s folk music is the fiddle; in Norway, the most distinctive fiddle is the Hardanger. (Learn everything you’d want to know and more about the Hardanger fiddle.) Some cool Norwegian traditional instruments include:
- bukkehorn (goat horn)
- harpeleik (chorded zither)
- langeleik (box dulcimer): (Ingvild plays “Bjørnen Sover” on the langeleik)
- lur (an older, trumpet-like instrument)
- seljefløyte (a willow flute)
- Norwegian harp
Beyond Danish-inspired Norwegian folk, Norway’s folk music generally is either “North Germanic” or “Sami.” North Germanic Norwegian music focuses on two kinds of songs:
— kvad (ballads), like the ballad “Lillebroer og storebroer” (“Little brother and big brother”)
— stev (improvised songs), like this one performed by Sondre Bratland and Kirsten Bråten Berg (the singing starts at 0:17).
There are several kinds of North Germanic folk songs, like skillingsviser, which are old printed ballads, such as “Hjalmar og Hulda.”
“Sami” music is the music of the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia. We’ll learn about them next week when we explore the music of Sweden and Finland.
The main man of NORWEGIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC is violinist and Romantic-era composer OLE BULL (1810-1880), who wrote in the Norwegian “nationalist” style featuring Norwegian folk melodies and themes. [Learn about the life of Ole Bull, including the tale of his failed communal socialist “New Norway” farming community in Pennsylvania | Watch dashing young violinist Charlie Siem perform Ole Bull’s “Cantabile doloros e Rondo giocoso” at Abbey Road Studios, backed by the none-too-shabby London Symphony Orchestra] Another Norwegian Romantic era composer who embraced Norway’s national folk music was EDVARD GRIEG. His “Opus 38 No. 4 (‘Halling’)” is particularly enjoyable.
(We’ll learn about the halling dance below.)
In recent years, Norwegian popular musicians have demonstrated their respect for American music by fusing Norwegian rhythms and melodies with genres invented in the U.S. such as blues, country, jazz and hip hop:
The top guitarist in the contemporary NORWEGIAN FOLK-BLUES scene is KNUT REIERSRUD, who bases his acoustic songs on traditional Norwegian music. Sometimes when Reiersund plays electric blues he tunes his Stratocaster guitar to simulate a Norwegian langeleik, calling it a “Hallingcaster,” which is a pun that refers to the halling,
a gymnastic form of Norwegian folk dancing. (Patience! Didn’t I just way we’ll learn a bit about the halling dance below…?)
One of the most popular acts in the realm of NORWEGIAN COUNTRY is HELLBILLIES, who write most of their songs in a traditional dialect of Norwegian from Hallingdal. Watch them perform “Sur Som Rognebær.”
NORWEGIAN FOLK/METAL rockers GÅTE blend Norwegian fiddle with heavy metal electric guitars. (Watch Gåte perform “Følgje” live in 2003.)
One of the main figures in NORWEGIAN JAZZ is JAN GARBAREK, who is known for blending jazz with global music, as in this 1990 performance with India’s Zakir Hussain, Shankar and Trilok Girtu, and this performance alongside a Brazilian instrument known as a berimbau (Garbarek comes on at 2:54). Lovers of Norwegian music, never fear! Garbarek has also brought jazz to Norwegian music in his recordings with traditional singer, AGNES BUEN GARNÅS. This YouTube video of the Garbarek/Garnås recording of “Margjit og Targjei Risvollo” includes the lyrics in Norwegian if you want to sing along.
NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL:
Like your heavy metal dark and anti-Christian? If so, you’ll love Norwegian black metal. There is very little about Norwegian black metal that isn’t just grown-ups, so if the kids are looking over your shoulder while you’re reading this…let’s just say Norwegian black metal is full of furious, heavily distorted guitars, raspy, shrieking, vocals and lots of lyrical and visual imagery related to death. Several Norwegian black metal musicians are not only known for practicing Norse Paganism or Satanism, but for putting their anti-Christian “critiques,” which harken back to the anti-Christian crusading of the early Vikings as mentioned above, into practice by actually burning down churches. There has also been
a lot of violence in the Norwegian black metal scene, sometimes directed against Swedish black metal fans, at other times targeting people with different religions or sexual orientations. Despite all this hatred, does Norwegian black metal have any endearing qualities? For one answer you may ask WikiHow, which, in its article “How to be a
Christian fan of Black Metal,” suggests Norwegian black metal has enough in it to like that such a thing is possible: “Remember, it’s ok to have friends that think differently than you. Have Christian, atheist, satanist and pagan friends. Its easy to do as long as you do not judge.”
In class we’re going to listen to:
— Mari Boine:, “It Sat Duolma Mu!” Mari Boine is Norway’s best known Sami vocalist. Her otherworldly “joik” vocals and her outspoken support of the Sami people have made her a formidable artistic and political presence in Scandinavia. We’ll learn more about Sami music and joik next week when we explore Sweden and Finland.
Learn about Mari Boine at her page on MySpace: “Music can confuse you. But it can also make you feel happy, uplifted or enriched. And maybe even more whole. Mari Boines music has this effect.” | Watch Mari Boine perform “It Sat Duloma Mu!” live | Get a sense of Mari Boine’s substantial vocal abilities as she performs “Goaskinviellja“