Myth and reality of the Hardanger fiddle and Myllarguten
December 16, 2015 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Norwegian legends and fairy tales are full of references to subterranean or supernatural beings, many of which have the fiddle as a symbolic attribute.... Even today, some people believe that anyone hoping to become a real fiddler must be apprenticed to Fossegrimen.... The Hardanger fiddle is inextricably linked to such legends, and it is the folk tunes which have kept them alive.
And Targjei Augundsson is at the crossroads of legends and folk tunes, whose skill with the fiddle is said to have come at the price of his soul from a deal with Fossegrimen, making him something of the Norwegian predecessor to Robert Johnson.

"Folk dances such as the gangar and springar are almost unthinkable without the fiddle," and it was folk music that made the Miller Boy (Myllarguten) famous. Despite being born at the beginning of the 1800s, after centuries of folk music history, Augundsson, the father of Norwegian folk music brought it all together (Google books preview, good 2 page biography) and elevated folk music to another level. Part of this was his skill and training, and partially due to his competitive nature. His fame would have remained regional if it were not for Ole Bull, a classically trained Norwegian violinist who sought out traditional music to incorporate into his pieces.

Their meeting was one of chance (Google books preview), as told in the poem Møllergutten by Johan Sebastian Welhaven (Google books preview with free PDF or EPUB download). Bull touted Myllarguten as a national treasure and laid the way for Augundsson to be the first fiddler to play concerts in Norway, but his fame faded, as sophisticated city audiences could understand any of the music he played (Gbp) and considered it too common for their refined tastes. Due to financial mismangement and lack of skills beyond fiddling, Augundsson died a pauper, nearly forgotten in 1872 (Google auto-translation of Norwegian Wikipedia article).

What's all that about Fossegrimen now? Well, of the varied mythical creatures of Norwegian and Scandinavian folklore, Fossegrimmen, or just Grim ("Foss" is Norwegian for "waterfall") is a neutral creature who appears as a man who plays the fiddle in the river or under a waterfall. He'll teach a person to play the fiddle if they bring him some stolen meat (by some accounts, you throw the offering into the gift over the falls and Grim would give you the gift of music in your sleep). But if you don't bring him a good enough offering, he'll simply teach you to tune the instrument (compared to the related Nix, who would "teach you to be silent" for such unsuitable gifts, learning to tune an instrument seems quite polite).

Anyway, there are legends that Targjei Augundsson, the Miller Boy, sold his soul to Grim for his fiddling skill. Want to hear his music? Well, unlike Ole Bull, who was also a composer as well as fantastic violinist, Myllarguten didn't write down his music, and would often improvise, even extending regional dance songs to allow the dancers to continue longer (one could consider this an early variant of the extend dance remix, but I digress). Still, there are tributes to his style and memory, such as Myllargutens bruremarsj (Myllarguten's bridal march) and Myllargutens No.1, Springar, as well as some whole albums of works, such as Myllargutens Draum and Myllargutens Minne (YT playlists) by Norwegian fiddler, composer, folklorist and publisher, Knut Buen, playing a traditional Hardingfele (see also: almost 30 different tunings for the hardanger fiddle).
posted by filthy light thief (16 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Notes: I would love to find a translated copy of Møllergutten by Johan Sebastian Welhaven, or even a Norwegian version of the text I could run through auto-translation, as it mention Fossegrimen. Otherwise, the Listverse article on 10 creatures in Scandinavian folklore has the same phrasing as I've found elsewhere in reference to the legend of Myllarguten selling his soul for his skill. Apparently, Norwegian myths don't get as much attention in English as I hoped they would.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:59 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hardanger fiddle music is one of those musics of which every song can sound basically the same and I Am OK With That. Throw in some mouth harp now and then as a palate cleanser. Thanks for this post.
posted by drowsy at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2015


My wife's family owns a beautiful Hardanger fiddle and she was taking lessons for a while (she stopped when we got busy after our first kid was born). It isn't the most pleasant instrument to hear someone learn how to play. We also used to get the journal of the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America.

I didn't realize it was Fossegrim who played the fiddle. For some reason, I thought it was Huldra, but I see after some googling that they are the ones with cow tails. .

Finally (I'm putting all my reactions to this post in one message), I'd like to point out that there is a statue of Ole Bull in Loring Park in Downtown Minneapolis. It's the statue near the dog park.
posted by Area Man at 2:51 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's a Norwegian Wikisource copy of Møllergutten where you don't have to decipher Fraktur. Google translate does only so-so on it - is it in Bokmål or Nynorsk, or even Bergensk, I wonder.
posted by larrybob at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, translating from Danish rather than Norwegian works a little better. Norwegian wasn't having much luck with the verb "sad" in the first line - the past-tense Norwegian word for the past-tense of "see" is "så," but the Danish past tense of see is "sad."

(Denmark ruled Norway in the 18th century, but lost it to Sweden in 1814.)
posted by larrybob at 5:03 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


And Targjei Augundsson is at the crossroads of legends

I see what you did there.
posted by TwoToneRow at 5:08 PM on December 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved follows the tracks of Ole Bull in Bergen, Norway. He refers to the water-spirit as anøkk, which is a pretty unusual alternate spelling of the Norwegian word "nøkk" for a nix or nixie. There's a nice retelling of Bull's narrow escape from a riverboat collision in America; subsequently he ran into an American fiddle player in the woods and had a musical duel with him.
posted by larrybob at 5:28 PM on December 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


What's all that about Fossegrimen now? Well, of the varied mythical creatures of Norwegian and Scandinavian folklore, Fossegrimmen, or just Grim ("Foss" is Norwegian for "waterfall") is a neutral creature who appears as a man who plays the fiddle in the river or under a waterfall. He'll teach a person to play the fiddle if they bring him some stolen meat

Aha!

'More fiddle music from the Devil; I wonder what's going on there?' I thought as I read the part of the FPP on the front page -- and here's my clue.

The Grim is in the waterfall because the waterfall is the source of the white noise which allows a person to hear the music going on in their heads as coming from the outside the way schizophrenics as well as many normal people hear voices in white noise.

Even the stolen meat may have its role to play, because I believe there's reason to think that voice in the white noise is also the voice of the conscience/deity a la Jaynes.
posted by jamjam at 6:17 PM on December 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hell yeah hardanger fiddle! This is where I get to link to Valkyrien Allstars who are an amazing modern Norwegian folk group, focussed heavily on hardanger fiddle and violin.

Actually, translating from Danish rather than Norwegian works a little better. Norwegian wasn't having much luck with the verb "sad" in the first line - the past-tense Norwegian word for the past-tense of "see" is "så," but the Danish past tense of see is "sad."

No, the Danish past tense of "see" is "så". "Sad" is the Danish past tense of "sit"
posted by Dysk at 12:18 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


My niece is a great fiddle player, and she plays with a Scandinavian folk group. I will pass this post along to her dad.

It's cool to see the mythic elements of this story: my family has some Norwegian heritage, and growing up in Minnesota there were fewer specifics of the culture around than there were of, say, German or Irish culture.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:39 AM on December 17, 2015


Due to our history, written Norwegian is pretty close to written Danish, maybe closer than to colloquial Norwegian.

But Google Translate fails quite badly on the poem, even when specifying Danish. I had an idea that I would quickly translate it for you, but after struggling with the first verse for a while I realize it's not as easy as it seems...
posted by Harald74 at 5:48 AM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh plays a hardanger with Irish music. Here's a clip together with Mick O'Brien on uilleann pipes. Here he is with wonderful modern band The Gloaming.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


All those posts and comments I've made -- which I would link here, were I not here via phone -- beating the dead horse about how Robert Johnson never went to the crossroads and now this. Flt, you disappoint me.
posted by y2karl at 12:31 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, never, according to all who ran with him, did he sell his soul to the Devil. All of whom, Johnny Shines, Robert Jr. Lockwood, et al, were adamant on the topic.
posted by y2karl at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Due to our history, written Norwegian is pretty close to written Danish

Bokmål, yes. Nynorsk, oh hell no.
posted by Dysk at 12:43 PM on December 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


y2karl: All those posts and comments I've made -- which I would link here, were I not here via phone -- beating the dead horse about how Robert Johnson never went to the crossroads and now this. Flt, you disappoint me.

Sorry, I now stand informed and entertained. Here's a great comment from you on this topic, in further penance for my error.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on December 23, 2015


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