Tuesday, 25 August 2009


On a recent trip to Stockholm, I spent another happy day in Skansen. Founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius, Skansen is basically a large folklife theme-park. Hazelius brought together historic buildings from around Sweden - there are mills, a church, farmhouses, a Sami settlement, village workshops, a funicular railway, etc etc - and laid them out in a park on Djurgården, an island in the middle of the city. It was designed to show off all aspects of Nordic life, so it also has a zoo.
This year I stayed on into the early evening and heard a fiddle recital in the Delsbogården, followed by a folk dance display. Both were definitely of an historical cast. The musicians and dancers were costumed. The dance was set up as a recreation of a 19th century wedding dance, with the presenter explaining where the different dances had come from, and how they had reached these fictional festivities.
I am not particularly a fan of costumed re-enactments and revivals, as there often seems something stale about them. Music on Skansen is a rather more complex phenomenon, however. In the early years of the park, large musical gatherings were organised. These were costumed, but they brought together for the first time some of the outstanding traditional musicians from around the country. Fiddlers predominated, but these events also brought to the fore a number of other musical instruments and styles which were nowhere near as familiar as they are today, including Sami yoiking, and the nyckelharpa which now seems almost quintessentially Swedish but was extremely localised at the time.
Coincidentally I picked up on this trip an excellent 3-CD reissue of the earliest documentary recordings of Swedish traditional music - 'Swedish Fiddlers from the Past / Äldre svenska spelmän' on Caprice Records (CAP21604). These phonograph recordings were made by ethnomusicologist Yngve Laurell between 1913 and 1920 at the musical gatherings on Skansen.
The subsequent dance music revival owes an enormous debt to the performances captured by Laurell. Many of these traditional players went home at the end of the summer seasons and themselves took an active role in collecting and preserving tunes. Olof Tillman, for example, was recorded by Laurell, probably in 1920 (he was working as a carpenter at Skansen as well as playing music). On his return to Dalarna he enthusiastically began noting down local tunes. He taught his sons, with whom he played extensively in later life. When he was recorded for Swedish radio in 1957 he described the extinct dances he had reconstructed. The participation of traditional musicians in what we might too easily describe as revival events should never be underestimated.

1 comment:

  1. Great to finally hear about the famous Skansen! It was the first of them all. St. Fagans near Cardiff is very good. Some of the American ones are also ok; Stourbridge best I've seen; also hilarious experience of giving a lesson in material culture to a costumed guide at the Gaelic heritage park at St Ann's, Cape Breton, and being described as 'a folklorist' for the first time! I was only blethering, honestly! (But you would think they'd teach their guides more!)