Swedish Bagpipes

excerpts from John Creager

A Short History of the Bagpipe

The Bagpipe is an instrument with a strong and ancient tradtion in Sweden is certainly not common knowledge. Scotland and Ireland are the countries most strongly associated with bagpipes. In fact, the bagpipe is much more widespread than this. In different variations, it is found in large areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa. It is, quite simply, one of the world's more common folk instruments.

The instrument's earliest history is in Asia, where it may have been played as a sort of primitive accompaniment, with a drone, but without a melody pipe. Through migration, trade and war, the instrument gradually made its way to Europe.

The first clear evidence of the bagpipe in Europe is a 9th century woodcut in the cloister of St. Blasien, in the Black Forest, in Germany. Two bagpipers are pictured with an instrument of an early type, which consists of a blowpipe, bag and chanter and lack a drone pipe of any sort.

During the middle ages, the bagpipe became increasingly common in Europe. From the mid-13th to the mid-14th centuries, there appeared a great variety of bagpipes. These were made and decorated with impressive workmanship. During this period the drone pipe was introduced.

The Bagpipe in Sweden

The first known depiction of bagpipes in Sweden dates from the first half of the 14th century, in the Martebo church, in the island of Gotland.

There is richer documentation of the bagpipe in Sweden from the 15th century, mostly in the form of church paintings. It is during this period thaqt the instrument first spread througout Sweden, presumably with wanderng minstrels from the continent.

The foremost chronicler of the late middle ages, Olaus Magnus, describes the bagpipe in his work on the Nordic peoples as a dance insturment and a herdsman's instrument. These associations were true of the bagpipe in most of the cultures where it occurred.

Judging from the documentation which exists,the bagpipe flowered in Sweden during the late middle ages and through the mid-17th century. After that, as with many of the older folk instruments, it began to lose favor in most areas of the country. With the introduction of the fiddle and the influence of a newer musical style with a milder sound, there was no longer a place for a "rowdy" instrument like bagpipes.

From the 1800's on, there was a renewed interest in the bagpipes, in various parishes around Vasterdalalven. Most of the preserved pipes of this era have only one functional drone. Some, however, have a second, shorter, "dummy" drone.

The Swedish bagpipe also had several names, from the different areas in which it flourished: dramba, koppe, posu and balgpipa.

The instrument survived longest in Jarna and seems to have been strongest there even in earlier times. The Jarna lads were, among other things, known for having bagpipers with them in their log-floating work on the Vasterdal river. Two women are also named as pipers in Jarna, Or Anna and her daughter, Hol Britta.

The renewed interest in folk music, in the 1940's, also brought an interest in the older Swedish fok instruments. Since the end of the 1970's Leif Eriksson and Per Gudmundson have been working together and making bagpipes whch are played by musicians throughout Sweden.
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