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).
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