• CeltCast Community Radio
    CeltCast Community Radio 100% Celtic, Folk & Viking music - free of ads
  • CeltCast Community Radio
    CeltCast Community Radio Building a strong community in support of the music.
  • CeltCast Community Radio
    CeltCast Community Radio Where ancient sounds resonate in the music of today.

The key to the nyckelharpa



‘Tales of the Unknown Instruments’ is a multi media web series about unknown folk instruments. It tells the tale of their origins, their players and their music through audio, video and text. In this episode of ‘Tales of the Unknown Instruments’ we talk about the nyckelharpa.
The nyckelharpa is a folk instrument that is mostly known in Sweden. Its name exists out of two parts: nyckel is the Swedish word for key and harpa is the collective name for stringed instruments. It looks like a big fiddle with a wooden keyboard on the end of the neck. The keys are are attached to tangents. When they are pressed, they serve as frets to change the pitch of the string. The modern chromatic nyckelharpa has 16 strings. The three melody strings are played. There are twelve resonance strings which resonate with the melody strings. It has also one drone string. That string always resonates when the instrument is being played. The modern nyckelharpa is a chromatic one. Chromatic keyboards let you play all the half tones.
 
The nyckelharpa is a versitile instrument. It can create very different kinds of music, even though its sound is very recognisable.
Curious of the different sounds? Head over to the playlist down below and find out yourself. It features the works of modern musician Faber Horbach and famous nyckelharpa player Eric Sahlström. Not familiar with these names? Watch the video and find out about Faber Horbach and look at the timeline and be amazed of Eric Sahlström’s work.


The how and what now of the nyckelharpa

In this video, musician Vicki Swan will show you what a nyckelharpa is. She does thaty by showing how the instrument works and what sound it makes. If you’re interested in the techniques on how to play the nyckelharpa, check out this video from classical musician Didier François. This playlist from Two Cherries Instruments will show you the process of making a nyckelharpa in detail.  

The musician’s tale

This is the tale of two musician’s. They will tell you about their first encounter with the instrument and what makes it so special.
 
Emelie Waldken
Emelie Waldken is a musician who lives in Sweden. She is originally from Switzerland, but after intending the one-year course at the Eric Sahlström Institute in Tobo she fell in love with Sweden. Four years ago, she decided that she wanted to live there permanently, although she regularly comes over to Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands to perform with the nyckelharpa.
 
“For me, the nyckelharpa represents a lot. I’m a violinist and I used to play lots of classical music and later on folk music, too. When I discovered the nyckelharpa and held it for the first time in my arms, I was feeling really emotional. It completely changed my life -for the better. Because before, I was studying agriculture and agronomy in Switzerland and I ended up being a professional musician in Sweden. It has been a key to my life -because key in Swedish is nyckel.
 
I would say that the sounds makes the nyckelharpa such a special instrument, because it’s very specific. It has resonance strings that ring a lot, they resonate with the instrument. It’s like playing in a church, even if you are in a very tiny room. It sounds very powerful. You also hear the clicking of the keys. That is very different from the violin or the cello. Only the hurdy gurdy has a similar sound of clicking keys. The nyckelharpa is a very polyvalent instrument, too. You can play any kind of music with it, like classical, jazz, metal and folk. It goes with any kind of instrument. The history is fascinating, too. It’s very varied. The instrument existed in many countries and in many forms, but it only survived in one small place in Uppland, Sweden.
 
I have way too many ideas of what to do next with the nyckelharpa. I’ve made a challenge for myself to play very hard tunes on the nyckelharpa and release audio and/or video’s of that on the internet. I would also love to have a duo of nyckelharpa’s; to play with another nyckelharpaplayer. Historically there have often been a fiddle and a nyckelharpa in a band, but never two nyckelharpa’s. I would love to play with a fellow player.”
 
Faber Horbach
Faber Horbach is a Dutch musician. You might know him from the bands Heilung or Sowulo, where he writes music, sings and plays multiple instruments. One of those instruments is the nyckelharpa.
 
“I knew of the instrument because of the traditional folk music that I listen to. I’ve also seen the nyckelharpa a couple of times on Castlefest, because Oliver Tyr from Faun plays it. Søren Hammerlund from Virelai plays it, too. I got in touch with him when I was in Denmark and I visited him. I told him that I was falling in love with the nyckelharpa. I asked if I could have a look, so I started playing on it and it worked out pretty well because of my background with piano and guitar. He said that I could buy it. I was super happy and I was like: Søren are you kidding me? It was so cool that I could by the nyckelharpa of the real Søren . That was my first nyckelharpa, but it was a bit of a crappy one. It was severely damaged but it was a good instrument to start with. I practised a lot on that and after a while I bought a second nyckelharpa from the instrument maker Hogar Funke in Germany.
 
I use the nyckelharpa in a slightly different way than people normally do. Most people play the instrument in a traditional way, with typical Scandinavian tunes. I use it a bit more like a backbone for music; more rhythmic and more chords. Most of the time I use it to create an atmosphere, so I don’t use a lot of melody. I could say that I use it a bit more like a guitar than a melody instrument.
 
I’m from the new generation of nyckelharpa players. I think that the entire folk scene in the Netherlands has grown in the last ten years. I think it has a lot to do with series like Game of Thrones, Vikings and Lord of the Rings. The fantasy genre is becoming more popular, because people are becoming more interested in the culture behind those movies and series. It has a lot to do with LOTR and GOT, the fantasy scene is becoming more popular. They then discover the music that comes with that, like traditional music and modern folk. And with that, the nyckelharpa, too. I hope that the instrument becomes more popular. It’s not used a lot right now, but I think it’s such a beautiful instrument. It deserves more attention.”
 
 

What tale will it tell next?

The nyckelharpa as of now isn’t very well known. Will that change in the future? Emelie Waldken doesn’t think so.
 
“I would say first that the instrument has become more and more well known in the past ten years. You can play anything you want on the nyckelharpa. Most of the top players of the nyckelharpa come from Sweden. There are a lot of amateurs -not only in Sweden- who don’t play or don’t want to play on stage. Also, bands and musicians that use the instrument play mostly traditional music. So if you’re not already into folk music, it’s likely you won’t know of its existence.
 
It’s also very hard to get one, especially outside of Sweden. Almost all the information about the instrument, how to play it and where to buy one is in Swedish. A few people, me included, are trying to give more information in English so the information can spread further. There is another problem though, and that is the amount of builders. There are some in the USA and Europe, but almost none on other continents. The players of the nyckelharpa are very builder-specific. You see that there are more players of the instrument who live near the builders.
 
I don’t think that the nyckelharpa will ever become a well known instrument. It’s not like a fiddle, it’s not like a guitar, it’s very hard to make and the sound is very specific. It’s hard to tune as well. The information and history is hard to find, so you have to be nerdy to want to find information about it. You probably have to travel to other countries and speak with people you don’t know the language of. So I don’t think that it is going to be very well known, but I hope it’s going to be a bit more well known.”

In Vino Veritas – Grimorium Magi (2019)



I came into the magical world of Castlefest, Elfia, MPS, and all the music that comes with it through medieval re-enactors. Even before I met my German girlfriend I already had a love for the Mittelalter metal of In Extremo and the medieval rock of Schandmaul, so it was a no-brainer that Anna took me to a Mittelalter market as soon as she had the chance.
It was on those markets that I discovered the cheerful sound of bands like Wirrwahr and Dopo Domani. Medieval street musicians playing jaunty songs on big drums, shepherd’s pipes, hurdy-gurdy, and violin, quite often with funny stories in between, entertaining the crowd and the re-enactors alike. Since then I have discovered that every re-enactment scene in every country has those bands. I’m thinking of bands like Datura in the Netherlands, Virelai in Denmark, or In Vino Veritas in Italy. And it is the latter band that this review focuses on. Their 2014 album Baccabundi is a pure celebration of medieval fun, filled with classics like Ai Vist A Lo Lop, Tourdion, Bache Bene Venies, and Saltarello, but also original material such as my personal favourite Dracodanza. So when I received my copy of Grimorium Magi, I was getting myself ready for another bit of fun medieval time travelling. Well, not this time, not quite.




Ai Vist A Lo Lop by In Vino Veritas from their third album Baccabundi

In Vino Veritas are a medieval pagan folk band from Carrara, Italy. The band formed in 2010 and since then they have recorded 3 albums and a DVD: the sold-out debut album Ludicantigas, the also sold out DVD Bestiarium, the 2014 record Baccabundi and the new CD Grimorium Mari. The band calls themselves a medieval pagan folk band and indeed, on those early albums you will find original compositions as well as medieval traditionals, focusing on pagan themes and the goliardic tradition *).
On their DVD and live show Bestiarium, In Vino Veritas push their concept one step further, stating themselves that: ‘Bestiarium is our new show about beasts and mythological animals, inspired by the medieval bestiaries and by the tradition of the itinerant masked bards, reminding of the traits of gargoyles sculptures.
While introducing the new album In Vino Veritas already warned their fans that it would be something different. ‘A new sound, both ancient and modern, psy folk, trance folk, pagan folk, world fusion, and much more!’
Well, you can’t say they didn’t warn you. 🙂

The first bars of Serpens Mundi are what we are used to: a cool violin riff, hurdy-gurdy, and ‘normal’, although modern-sounding, drums. But then comes a modern bass guitar and odd spacey keyboard effects, giving the song a totally different vibe. Still cheerful and fun, but modern, very modern. As I’m listening Serpens Mundi is drifting between medieval music and Eastern European / Arabian world music, with a very strong dance vibe.
Precatio Terrae continues in that style: a strong bass guitar riff, modern drums, mixed with a traditional melody reminiscent of the Renaissance played on the nyckelharpa, and Latin lyrics. You could call it Renaissance disco music and, although it sounds so wrong, it works. I never knew it, but the energy of medieval dance music and that of modern Italo disco fits like a glove. The Alain Stivell-like harp solo halfway through the song is just the icing on the cake.

This band mix the two worlds together so very cleverly. In Danza Del Troll for instance: a lovely nyckelharpa and flute melody, again totally Renaissance in feel, where the sound of the keys of the nyckelharpa become part of the rhythm section under it. So clever. A trick the group uses again in Benandanti. In Vino Veritas does with medieval music what The Sidh did with Celtic folk, or Instinkt did with Scandinavian folk, fusing it in a very clever way with modern dance music. It might be a shock to the system for the purists, but let them headline at any pagan folk or medieval festival and you’ve got a huge party on your hands.

I am not gonna pick up every song on this album, that is up to you, but I can guarantee that you won’t sit still listening to songs like Taranis (medieval folk meets 70’s disco), or Mabinogi (Swedish folk meets Italo disco), the slightly jazzy Mezunemusus (hello Shakatak jazz saxophone), or my favourite on this CD Gargoyle (medieval folk meets dance classics).



With Grimorium Magi, In Vino Veritas did exactly what they promised they would: create a musical adventure ride, a unique balance between old and modern dance music. The songs are catchy and fun, inviting you to dance and sing. Renaissance Italo disco made to party. And as I party on I invite you all to do the same thing. Get this album, open up your windows and doors and let this music fill the warm summer air. If we can’t have a festival season this year, why not create our very own all together? Let this record be the soundtrack under it.

– Cliff

Editor: Iris de Wolf



*) according to the Encyclopædia Britannica Goliards were: “wandering students and clerics in medieval England, France, and Germany, remembered for their satirical verses and poems in praise of drinking and debauchery. The goliards described themselves as followers of the legendary Bishop Golias: renegade clerics of no fixed abode who had more interest in rioting and gambling than in the life of a responsible citizen.

Player

Recent tracks

Loading ...

CeltCast news

  • Merely a mirliton +

    Merely a mirliton ‘Tales of the Unknown Instruments’ is a multi media web series about unknown folk instruments. It tells the tale of Read More
  • The Power of the Harp +

    New month, new monthly marker! MYRKUR - HARPENS KRAFT (2020) Many songs tell us about the magical beauty of harp play Read More
  • The key to the nyckelharpa +

    The key to the nyckelharpa ‘Tales of the Unknown Instruments’ is a multi media web series about unknown folk instruments. It tells the tale of Read More
  • Viral Sessions: Chapter 2 - 141 artists, 5 cats, some goldfish and 1 parrot! +

    The last couple of months we have been hard at work at CeltCast HQ, to not only bring you all Read More
  • Eivør announces pre -order for new album to start coming wednesday!! +

    This is what Eivør announced in her latest Saturday night live stream, after telling us the album is already in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20

About us

Alex Hi, I'm Alex. I am delighted to say that I am a co-founder of CeltCast. Starting this station has been a dream come true! ... read more
Arjan I'm Arjan. I'm proud to say that I'm a co-founder of CeltCast. Music was my first love, and it will be my last. Music of the future and ... read more