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What You Should Know About The Hardanger Fiddle

What You Should Know About

The Hardanger Fiddle

by David Golber

Previously published in American Lutherie #36, 1993 and The Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Three, 2004

Someone has walked into your shop with yet another weird instrument. This time, it’s sort of like a violin, but it has a whole lot of pegs, the top is carved funny, it has pearl and bone inlay, and it’s decorated with flowery drawings. He says his grandfather brought it from Norway in 1890, and he wants you to put it in playing condition.

Well, it’s a Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele in Norwegian). The instrument originated in the area around the Hardanger fjord, whence its name. It is distinctly Norwegian; in fact, it is played in only about a quarter of Norway, the western and south-central areas. The oldest instrument found has a date of 1651. The musical tradition is still very much alive, and continues unbroken up to the present.

Beginning in about 1850, there was an absolutely enormous emigration from Norway to America — something like a third of the population. Those who played fiddle of course brought their fiddles with them. In addition there were tours by professional players who performed for their emigrated countrymen and then returned to Norway. But the instrument and the music died out in America. The children of the immigrants rarely learned to play, and father’s fiddle lay in its case in the attic, or was hung on the wall like an icon of a lost era. Now there is something like a revival here in America, not only among the descendants of the immigrants, but also among those not of Norwegian ancestry who have discovered the music.

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