The Nyckelharpa

Excavated Shellac

sellin1From the Great Steppe, we now travel to the middle of Sweden, to a small village about five miles outside the city of Örebro called Tysslinge. In the previous entry we focused on the morin khuur of Mongolia, and now we’ll pause for a little rumination on one of the most dignified and fascinating stringed instruments of Europe, the nyckelharpa.

Without a doubt, the nyckelharpa, sometimes described as the bowed hurdy-gurdy, is positively medieval. Its origins date back to at least the middle of the 14th century, and documentation of its use and existence under various names and slight iterations appear in church paintings, early books on music, and relief sculptures, for several hundred years, until the modern era. The nyckelharpa is a “keyed fiddle,” and quite large. Played with a bow and held with a strap around the neck, the instrument today has 16 strings and 37 keys…

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