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Norwegian Traditional Music
It is a complex task trying to completely describe Norwegian traditional music. The question of what constitutes traditional music has long been discussed inside and outside of folk music circles and opinions are extremely different. Also, traditional music in Norway is very different from area to area, with many local specialized dialects. Not many European traditional music genres have as rich a variety of dialects as the Norwegian ones. However, two concepts can be mentioned that are distinctive characteristics for most Norwegian traditional music:
Anonymous originator. A piece of instrumental traditional music in Norway is called a slått (plural: slåttar). Usually only older tunes for bygdedans (see below) are called slåttar, although this term may also be applied to newer runddans pieces (see below). Usually the actual composer of a slått or of a song melody in its original form is unknown, although the lineage of a slått or of slått variants is very often traceable back through several generations of fiddlers who were responsible for its transmission. Even though most slåttar were composed anonymously, there are many tunes that were composed in the last century and particularly today by known fiddlers. As a living tradition, new tunes are continuously being composed that are identical in style to the old traditional tunes.
Aural transmission. Traditionally music has been transmitted from generation to generation by aural transmission (by ear), or in other words directly from the teacher to the student without the use of written notes. This is still the predominant method for learning the older slått music, both privately and in music schools. However, many traditional musicians can also read music and play or sing from written music.
The different bygdedans (literally: "countryside dance") dances are classified according to whether their basic rhythm can be classified as 3/4 time, or as 2/4 or 6/8 time. Bygdedans have many variants, and have different names in different parts of the country. Bygdedans are improvisatory dances where the dancer is free to choose from among a repertory of figures and stylistic mannerisms that are appropriate for the dialect.
Runddans. ("turning dance") Runddans are a group of couple dances which came from the European continent, but which have developed their own local variants in Norway
Vals. The vals (waltz) is in 3/4 time. In some areas of Norway such as Gudbrandsdal this dance has existed for a long time, perhaps since the 1700's.
Reinlender. The reinlender (schottische) is in 2/4 or 4/4 time.
Polka. The polka is in 2/4 time, but has much faster tempo than the reinlender.
Masurka. The masurka (mazurka) is in 3/4 time. It is similar to the 3/4 time bygdedans called pols. In areas where the pols dance is very popular, such as Røros, very little masurka is found in the repertory.
The dominant genre in Norwegian traditional music is slått music for fiddle or Hardanger Fiddle to accompany couple dancing. This slått music, together with the vocal tradition (see Vocal traditions), constitute the primary repertory of Norwegian traditional music. Norwegian couple dances and their music can be divided into two different types: the older bygdedans (literally, "country dance"), dances that dominatedin Norway prior to the 1800's, and later the runddans ("turning dance"), newer dances which generally came to Norway from continental Europe during the 1800's. Music for bygdedans is as a rule played by a solo player on either regular fiddle or Hardanger fiddle, although groups of musicians can be used (particularly all-fiddle or all-Hardanger Fiddle ensembles), as well as other solo instruments such as two-row accordion, langeleik (dulcimer), munnharpe (jaw harp) and seljefløyte (willow flute). Music for runddans is usually played by an ensemble consisting of instruments such as fiddle, bass, guitar and accordion, for example, although solo fiddle or accordion is also frequently used.