The Hardanger fiddle is a very special kind of violin that I recently had the priviledge of handling when one of my students brought one into my studio. The Hardanger fiddle is indigenous to Norway, and is the traditional folk violin of the people from that part of the world. There are many things that make this variant of fiddle unique.
As you can see in this shot, this bridge is a special bridge with two separate layers, one for the top strings which are played upon, and one for the understrings, which are not played upon. The sole purpose of these five understrings is simply to add extra resonance. How does one tune the strings? Well, that might change depending upon which part of Norway you’re from, and what music you’re playing, because the Hardanger fiddle has many different tuning systems in use.
Holy Peg Madness Batman!
The Hardanger fiddle has a ton of strings on it, and a ton of pegs to match. You can see the mother of pearl insert in the peg box there which is what the under strings pass over. I assume that the insert is in use partially for decorative purposes, and partially to deal with a level of tension that the wood of the peg box might be unable to assume.
It’s a little tough to see, but the wood on the far side of the F-hole is maybe 5 millimeters higher than the wood on the near side. This has the effect of making the F-hole higher, and projects the sound farther than a conventional fiddle. This is great, since the Hardanger fiddle is usually cast as a solo instrument. My student tells me that fiddles without this characteristic raising of the F-holes are referred to, somewhat snobbishly, as flat fiddles by the Nordic folk community.
The Lion of Norway!
Nothing says Norway like a lion, right? Actually yes, since a lion has been on the official coat of arms of Norway since the middle of the fourteenth century. This lion says, quite clearly, “I am Nordic, hear me roar!”
The Hardanger Fiddle in Action
Recently, Howard Shore made the Hardanger fiddle famous to the whole world, as it was used as the traditional instrument of Rohan in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Skip to the 2:21 mark to hear the Hardanger fiddle in all its glory!