Knut Buen

As Quick as Fire: The Art of the Norwegian Hardanger Fiddle

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Buen's instrument is the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle. It is a 300-year-old variation of the violin with several sympathetic strings (so called because they vibrate sympathetically when the main strings are bowed) under the fingerboard, as well as a flatter bridge and fingerboard (making it easier to bow more strings simultaneously), and ornate decoration. It is similar to the viola d'amore, an instrument in use until the time of Vivaldi. The Hardanger fiddle has a rich tradition of music, some of it sounding like the Baroque master Biber, but standing slightly outside the Western tradition: somewhat different intervals in the tuning of the instrument, beats of irregular lengths, melodies built of unusually short motifs, etc. The music is polyphonic, which means the fiddler must double- or triple-stop his instrument (i.e. sound two or three strings at once). While this is somewhat easier on a Hardanger fiddle than on a regular violin, it is still a taxing challenge, and it is sometimes hard to believe that only one musician is playing. Buen is joined on three tracks by Kåre Nordstoga on organ and on one by Erik Stenstadvold on lute. These tracks do break up the sound of the fiddle, which would otherwise grow fatiguing. But the solo tracks are the most impressive. They involve rich harmonies, sometimes a quasi-drone note that moves around during the piece, sometimes an implied bass as in the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. The rhythms come from dances, and while some of the pieces are a little dour to shake a leg to, they all have sufficient forward motion to capture the attention. This is easily the most complex traditional folk fiddling one is likely ever to hear.

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