Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle

by David Brown

The Hardingfele, or Hardanger Fiddle, is a special member of the violin family and is considered the national instrument of Norway. Outwardly the Hardingfele looks like a particularly ornate violin, with its inlays and carvings and designs; upon closer examination one sees more crucial differences, notably the additional sympathetic strings under the main playing strings.

The strings are different, softer than the modern orchestral violin strings, and the bridge is rather flatter, since the playing style is based on double stops and open string drones. Many tunings are used, and regular GDAE violin tuning is only one of various tunings and by no means the most common! More frequently used are ADAE or AEAE; to top it off, the whole Hardenfele is often tuned higher so that the A string actually sounds B flat or B natural.

The 4 or sometimes 5 sympathetic strings are tuned to written (B) D E F# A; of course these must be adjusted to match the real sounding pitch of the main strings.

As mentioned before the Hardingfele is more intricately ornamented than most violins; commonly the peg head, instead of the violin scroll, has a carved lion's head or dragon head. Bone or ivory inlay is also often seen, as is a sort of drawn-on design called rosemalling. Rosemalling is found on the body of the Hardingfele, usually in some sort of floral pattern.

Music for the Hardingfele is traditional and includes forms such as springar, waltz, halling, mazurka, pols, wedding marches, and more. The playing style is mostly simple polyphony consisting of melody and drone notes, changing to fit the harmonies , with the rare monodic lines for contrast. Bowing techniques are used to enhance the dance rhythms inherent in many tunes.


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