The Nyckelharpa

(Key Fiddle, Schlüsselfidel, viola d'amore a chiavi, vièle à touches, viola de teclas)

The nyckelharpa is a string instrument played with a bow, with keys that change the pitch and resonance strings which contribute to its unique sound. In the Late Middle Ages pictures of the nyckelharpa appear along a north-south axis running through the three participating countries Sweden, Germany and Italy. The instrument belonges to a pan-european cultural heritage. Since the Baroque era it has only been played in Sweden as a folklore instrument mainly around Uppland in a continuous tradition. Thanks to some innovative musicians in Sweden, notably August Bohlin (1877-1949) and Eric Sahlström (1912-1986), and a few inspired musicians in Continental Europe starting about 1980, the nyckelharpa is now being rediscovered all over the world and used in increasingly many musical styles.

Parts of the nyckelharpa

History of the Nyckelharpa

By Per-Ulf Allmo

The article gives an overview of the state of research on the history of the nyckelharpa. From medieval times, images have been preserved in churches in Italy, Sweden and Denmark. Hints and guesses point to German sources. During the Renaissance, the nyckelharpa is mentioned and illustrated in the music treatises of Agricola and Prætorius. Since the Baroque era, evidence of the nyckelharpa, including surviving instruments, has been found only in Sweden; in Uppland province, there is also a continuous tradition of playing.

- History of the Nyckelharpa (English) - Historische Spurensuche - Von der Schlüsselfidel zur Nyckelharpa (German) - Nyckelharpans historia (Swedish)

The Nyckelharpa in the CADENCE Project

By Esbjörn Hogmark

This document is intended to answer some of the questions which have arisen about the nyckelharpa during the course of the CADENCE project. Unfortunately very little is known of the earliest history of the instrument but from the 17th century onwards we have a good idea of its history in Sweden. It is fascinating to learn that the instrument has been played there in an unbroken tradition, which also includes the making of the instrument, a process predominantly carried out by the players themselves.

The document gives an overview of the history of the instrument from late medieval time until today with a conclusive visionary view into the future

- The Nyckelharpa in the CADENCE Projekt