Norwegian Traditional Music

Folk music in Norway is a living tradition. It has been passed down by ear for hundreds of years, up to the present day. The old scale system that gives the music its special lasting quality is still in use, and the many different asymmetrical rhythms of the springar dances that evolved to become specialized dialects particular to their areas, are still carefully maintained and passed down by fiddlers and dancers today.

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.


Traditional dance

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.

 3/4 time. Bygdedans in 3/4 time is called springar, pols, springleik, rundom, springar, or springdans, among other names. Within this general dance type are many distinct dialects, some of which differ only in very subtle ways while others have marked differences. One of the most pronounced differences can be heard and seen in the variation in rhythm and stress between the various dialects of the springar. The five major areas where the springar is danced and played (Telemark, Valdres, Hallingdal, Numedal, and Western Norway) each have their own distinctive 3/4 rhythm that differs from the others both in the relative lengths of the three beats and the location of the stressed beat. These differences are so marked that it can be difficult if not impossible for a dancer from one area to dance to the springar music from another area.

 2/4- og 6/8-time. Bygdedans in 2/4 or 6/8 time can be danced either as a couple dance, in which case it is called gangar, rull or bonde; or as a solo dance where it is called halling or laus. The gangar, rull and bonde are danced in areas that also have a springar dance tradition, with the exception of Setesdal, which has a gangar dance but no springar. The gangar dances of Telemark and Numedal and the bonde ("bound" or "joined," meaning that the dance is done as a couple rather than by an individual) have figures that are nearly identical with the springar traditions from the same areas. The halling or laus is an extremely popular dance that is done in nearly all parts of Norway and has dozens of local variants. In it the dancer, usually a man, shows his strength and grace by performing various acrobatic feats and kicking a hat held on the end of a stick as much as a meter over the dancer's head. There are also a few women who are known as accomplished halling dancers.

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.


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.

 


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