Norwegian Folk Music

Unlike many other European countries, Norway has an unbroken folk music tradition. Since folk music has been passed along continuously from generation to generation, there has been no need for a folk music revival. The arenas in which folk music has been presented, however, have changed over time. During the past 10 to 15 years the level of professionalism has increased, and today the Norwegian folk music community features a number of extremely accomplished emerging performers.

Norwegian folk music, both vocal and instrumental, is usually performed by soloists. Instrumental music is most commonly played on the fiddle or on the Hardanger fiddle, which is considered the national instrument of Norway. The Hardanger fiddle is a violin with four or five sympathetic strings. It is beautifully decorated and is constructed somewhat differently from an ordinary violin. Experts disagree on whether the Hardanger fiddle evolved from the violin or from medieval string instruments. Other traditional folk music instruments used in Norway include the Jew’s harp (munnharpe), various flutes, ram’s horn (bukkehorn), wooden horn (lur) and Norwegian zither (langeleik). Some of these instruments have very ancient origins. While some of the Norwegian folk music is also very old, a large portion of the repertoire stems from the 1800s. The instrumental repertoire is usually divided into the more recent types of traditional, Central-European-influenced dance music (gammaldans), such as waltzes, reinlenders and polkas, and the older types (bygdedans) such as springar, gangar and lyarslått (known internationally by their Norwegian names). The use of drone strings in the Hardanger fiddle tradition, combined with the large number of tunings used, gives the music a rich variety of tonal harmonies. This has served as an inspiration for a number of Norwegian composers, including the well-known Edvard Grieg.

Two national competitions are arranged each year. The National Folk Dance Music Festival is a gammeldans competition, while the National Contest for Traditional Music encompasses the older bygdedans fiddling and singing tradition, folk dancing and mastery of older folk music instruments. Other major venues where folk musicians and audiences convene include the Førde Folk Music Festival, the Telemark International Folk Music Festival in Bø and the Jørn Hilme Festival in Valdres.

Among Norway’s most prominent folk musicians are Hardanger fiddlers Knut Buen, Hallvard T. Bjørgum and Annbjørg Lien, violinist Susanne Lundeng, and vocalists Agnes Buen Garnås, Kirsten Bråten Berg, Odd Nordstoga and Øyonn Groven Myhren. Popular groups include Majorstuen, Kvarts, Tindra, Dvergmål and Utla.

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