Norwegian Wood: The history of the Hardanger fiddle


Regarded as Norway’s national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle is the product of a long evolution beginning in medieval times. Wiebke Lüders presents a history of the instrument’s development, profiling some of the most notable artisans

There is a long and noble tradition surrounding the making of the Hardanger fiddle. Beginning with the earliest known surviving instrument, dated 1651, the fiddle made its way in the 18th century out of the Hardanger region and into the folk music and instrument making traditions of other areas throughout Norway. Often beautifully decorated, this musical instrument with resonance strings is currently gaining great popularity among folk aficionados all over the world.

The earliest extant Hardanger fiddle was very likely made by the lawman Ole Jonsen Jaastad (1621–94) who came from Ullensvang in Hardanger, western Norway. In the 1990s a Hardanger fiddle documentation project, led by Bjørn Aksdal, attempted to use radio-carbon dating and dendrochronological analyses of the wood to pinpoint the exact date of its creation. Though these tests proved inconclusive, there is nothing that speaks against the fact that the date 1651 on the label might be correct. But there is also a rather small wooden fiddle case from Voss, dated 1512. This could provide proof that there were small fiddles in western Norway as early as the start of the 16th century…

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