July 21, 2008
This week, I am very happy to present another guest post, this time from psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and musician Tony Klein of Uppsala, Sweden. Tony has also produced a fantastic collection of vintage, hard-edged Greek music titled Mortika, available in the US through CD Roots. He’s been a supporter of Excavated Shellac since its inception, and I always appreciate his opinions and musician’s input. When he sent me this piece, words failed me. It was a joy to work on, and it is an absolutely breathtaking piece of music. – JW
Here is one side of a rare disc featuring Signe Flatin Neset (11th December 1912 – 20th July 1975), who in her time was considered to be one of Norway’s best Hardanger fiddlers. Born in Sejord in the part of Western Norway known as Telemark, she was the daughter of fiddler Kjetil Flatin, and married to fiddler Leiv Neset. She was already travelling round the country playing concerts with her father by the age of 14, and first played on the radio in 1934. At the mature age of 47 she was the first woman to take first prize in the national folk music contest ‘landskappsleiken’, and that record remained unbroken for thirty years after her death. She apparently recorded over a hundred tunes, both for Arne Bjørndal’s collection in Bergen, and for Norwegian national radio, NRK, but strangely, there appears to be only one single tune played by her currently available on CD, “Floketjonn” on the CD Folkemusikk Frå Telemark.
The Hardanger fiddle, known in Norwegian as the ‘hardingfele’, is a folk violin mainly associated with Western Norway. There is some controversy over its age, and the earliest known example is dated by some as 1651 (there is an excellent picture of this fiddle in both the later editions of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians). It has four playing strings like the normal violin, has a flat fingerboard and a rather flattened bridge to facilitate drone playing, and is usually heavily decorated. The main feature which distinguishes it from the conventional violin is the group of four or five sympathetic strings running under the fingerboard and bridge, which is a feature it has in common with the baroque viola d’amore. Further, compared to the normal violin it is usually narrower, with deeper ribs and a more arched belly and back. The form of the instrument was gradually modified to resemble the violin, much due to the work of Eric Johsen Helland (1816-1868). Nowadays it is mostly played at the chin with a chinrest; originally it was mainly held at the chest.
There are apparently over 20 known tunings. The most usual is a-d’-a’-e” (melody strings) and d’-e’-f#’-a’ (sympathetic strings). Folksongs, ‘slåtter’ (a generic term for folk dance tunes) and bridal marches are its staple repertory.
Particularly in Signe Flatin’s area of origin there is a special kind of tune based on the repetition of two-bar phrases. Our tune seems to be of this kind. Its title, Skuldalsbruri, means ‘The Bride from Skuldal’. This is the title of a ballad which may date from the 18th century and has a familiar, gruesome story: betrothed against her will to a young man of dubious repute, the bride stands up in the boat and declaims a verse in which she lists her fiancé’s misdoings, whereupon she throws herself overboard and is gone forever. The famed fiddler Myllarguten is said to have created the tune based on the verses.
This disc was one of five 78s of Hardanger fiddle which I stumbled over at the weekly open-air flea market on Vaksala Torg in Uppsala, Sweden, about 15 years ago. Had I been looking for them I supposed they’d never have shown up! I’m happy to be finally able to share some of this fascinating music on Jonathan’s excellent website.
Thanks to Google Books and to two angels, Jessica and Sofia at the Västerbotten Museum in Northern Sweden, who gave me access in no time at all to the relevant page in the International Catalogue of Recorded Folk Music, published in 1954, Jon and I were able to date this recording to 1947, when Signe Flatin was 35 years old.
Issue Number: GN 981
Matrix Number: CN 1606
Confirmed that this recording was made in August of 1950, in Oslo. Thanks to Bill Dean-Myatt for the information. – JW