Nyckelharpa – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

I. What is a Nyckelharpa?

The Nyckelharpa is a traditional Swedish musical instrument that dates back to the 14th century. It is a string instrument that is played with a bow and has keys that are pressed by the player’s fingers to change the pitch of the strings. The name “Nyckelharpa” translates to “keyed fiddle” in English, referring to the keys that are used to play the instrument. The Nyckelharpa has a unique and haunting sound that is often used in Swedish folk music.

II. History of the Nyckelharpa

The Nyckelharpa has a long and rich history in Sweden. It is believed to have originated in the 14th century and was commonly played in rural areas as a folk instrument. Over the centuries, the Nyckelharpa went through various changes and developments, with different regions of Sweden having their own unique styles of playing and constructing the instrument.

In the 20th century, the Nyckelharpa experienced a revival in popularity, thanks to the efforts of musicians and instrument makers who sought to preserve this traditional Swedish instrument. Today, the Nyckelharpa is played not only in Sweden but also in other countries around the world, where it has gained a following among folk music enthusiasts.

III. Parts of the Nyckelharpa

The Nyckelharpa consists of several key components that work together to produce its distinctive sound. These include:

1. Resonating body: The body of the Nyckelharpa is typically made of wood and serves as the main resonating chamber for the instrument.

2. Strings: The Nyckelharpa has a set of strings that are attached to the body and are played with a bow. The strings are tuned to different pitches to create melodies and harmonies.

3. Keys: The keys of the Nyckelharpa are small wooden pegs that are pressed by the player’s fingers to change the pitch of the strings. Each key corresponds to a specific note, allowing the player to play different melodies.

4. Bow: The bow is used to play the strings of the Nyckelharpa, creating the sound that is characteristic of the instrument.

IV. Playing the Nyckelharpa

Playing the Nyckelharpa requires a combination of bowing the strings and pressing the keys to produce different notes. The player holds the instrument against their shoulder and uses their left hand to press the keys while bowing with their right hand. This technique allows for a wide range of expression and dynamics in the music.

The Nyckelharpa is often played in traditional Swedish folk music, where it is used to accompany dances and songs. The instrument has a warm and resonant sound that is well-suited to playing lively and energetic tunes.

V. Variations of the Nyckelharpa

There are several variations of the Nyckelharpa, each with its own unique characteristics and playing styles. Some of the most common variations include:

1. Kontrabasharpa: This variation of the Nyckelharpa has a larger body and longer strings, giving it a deeper and richer sound.

2. Silverbasharpa: The Silverbasharpa is a modern variation of the Nyckelharpa that is made with silver keys and fittings, giving it a more ornate appearance.

3. Electrobasharpa: This variation of the Nyckelharpa is equipped with electronic pickups that allow it to be amplified, making it suitable for playing in larger venues and with other instruments.

VI. Notable Nyckelharpa Players

There have been many talented Nyckelharpa players throughout history who have helped to popularize the instrument and showcase its unique sound. Some notable Nyckelharpa players include:

1. Eric Sahlström: Known as the “father of the modern Nyckelharpa,” Eric Sahlström was a Swedish musician and composer who played a key role in reviving interest in the instrument in the 20th century.

2. Olov Johansson: A contemporary Nyckelharpa player, Olov Johansson is known for his innovative playing style and collaborations with other musicians from around the world.

3. Emilia Amper: A talented Nyckelharpa player and composer, Emilia Amper has gained international recognition for her virtuosic performances and modern interpretations of traditional Swedish folk music.

Overall, the Nyckelharpa is a unique and fascinating instrument with a rich history and a distinctive sound that continues to captivate audiences around the world.