Last week, I shared a few memories from a wedding that we attended in Norway last summer. One of the most beautiful and memorable parts of the wedding was the music. As I mentioned in the last post, processionals are traditionally led by a fiddler, and in this particular part of Norway, the customary instrument is a local variant known as the hardingfele.
In typical Norwegian style, the hardingfele is sumptuously ornamented to an extent not seen on the common violin. The fingerboard, tailpiece, and purfling are inlaid with a geometric design of bone and mother-of-pearl. The soundboard features delicate florid kolrosing, and peg box is often topped with a dragon carving in lieu of the familiar scroll.
Though outwardly attractive, the soul of the hardingfele resides not in the baroque Scandinavian styling, but in the four understrings that run inconspicuously beneath the fingerboard. Due to the extra strings, the hardingfele can be recognized at a distance by its eight tuning pegs, rather than the conventional four. When played, these strings resonate under the influence of the primary strings and impart a richness to the music that seems perfectly suited to the simple melodies of Norwegian folk music.
Compare the vibrant self-harmonizing effect in the wedding processional (which was played on a hardingfele):
to the more formal and reserved melody of the recessional (which was played on a regular violin).
Both are beautiful, of course, but I’ve come to appreciate the simple regional traditions that add color and complexity to the tapestry of human culture. If there was a pervading theme to my trip to Norway, it was my continuous amazement at their dedication (and success) in weaving ancient tradition with modern culture. Their country may rank near the top of the list in modern infrastructure, internet access, wages, and quality of life, but they also cling dearly to their cultural inheritance. Old buildings are unquestioningly preserved and maintained, slöjd is still taught in elementary schools, traditional food and dress and folk music are alive and well.
During my visit, I constantly felt as though the past was a part of the present, rather than some harsh, distant era. I think as Americans, we have stronger reasons to keep our past at an arm’s length, because some of the uglier episodes of our history (segregation, slavery, and the near-annihilation of Native American culture, for example) have not been seasoned by the centuries as they have in Norway (e.g., Viking culture). My recent visit to the Aiken-Rhett House was impressive, but I could never fully escape the reality that the massive home was built and maintained on the backs of slaves. Nor would I want to forget. I suppose also that the simple lack of a cohesive national identity – we are a nation of immigrants, after all – contributes to a widespread indifference towards our past. After all, my past is very likely not at all similar to your past. Perhaps another thousand years of existence will give us the perspective that we need.
Okay, that was a rather long aside in a post that is ostensibly a discussion of a fiddle. Let’s get back on track, because there are a couple more notes I wanted to include: The fiddler at the wedding is Øystein Rød, who is not only a good friend of the bride; he has also been named the best fiddler in the country! He actually wrote the music for the processional. The song is called “Gledden” (“Joy”, in English). I’m including another version of him playing this song, since the sound quality is much better. The passion and precision of his music is breathtaking. I think it’ll be worth 3 minutes of your time to listen.