Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Music of Sweden

Sweden has a long history of folk musics, including polka, schottis, waltz, polska and mazurka. The accordion, clarinet, fiddle and nyckelharpa are among the most common Swedish folk instruments. In the 1960s, Swedish youth sparked a roots revival in Swedish folk culture. Many joined spelmanslag (folk musicians' clubs) and performed on mainstream radio and TV. They focused on instrumental polska music, with vocals only becoming more prominent in the 1990s.

Swedish music has also included more modern and pop influences. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Scandinavian death metal bands became very popular among the heavy metal community nationwide, with important centers in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Swedish pop bands like ABBA, Ace of Base and The Cardigans have also had success.

Folk songs

Swedish folk song is dominated by ballads and kulning; the latter was originally used as a cow-herding call and is traditionally sung by women, includong modern virtuoso Lena Willemark. Ballad stories descend from skillingtryck printed songs from the 19th century. Modern bands like Folk och Rackare and Garmarna incorporated folk song intro their reportoire.

Folk instruments

The fiddle is perhaps the most characteristic instrument of the Swedish folk tradition. It had arrived by the 17th century, and became widespread until 19th century religious fundamentalism preached that most forms of music were sinful and ungodly. Despite the oppression, several fiddlers achieved a reputation for their virtuosity, including Jämtland's Lapp-Nils, Bingsjö's Pekkos Per and Malung's Lejsme-Per Larsson. None of these musicians were ever recorded; the first major fiddler to be recorded was Hjort Anders Olsson. Other early fiddlers of the 20th century included Nils Agenmark and Päkkos Gustaf.

The nyckelharpa is similar to both a fiddle and a hurdy-gurdy, and is known from Sweden since at least 13500, when it was carved on a gate in a church in Götaland. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the nyckelharpa was known throughout Sweden, Denmark and in Uppland. The latter has long been a stronghold for nyckelharpa music, including through the 60s revival, which drew on musicians like Nyss-Calle from Älvkarleby. The instrument played at this time was not the same as today; August Bohlin and Eric Sahlström made changes to the instrument that made it a chromatic and straight, more violin-like instrument. In spite of these innovations, the nyckleharpa's popularity declined until the 1960s roots revival. The nyckelharpa was a prominent part of several revival groups later in the century, especially Väsen and Hedningarna.

The säckpipa, a form of bagpipes, has been part of a long-running folk tradition, passed down orally until the death of Gudmunds Nils Larsson in 1949. Later revivalists like Per Gudmundson added a tuning slide and revitalized the instrument.

Accordions and harmonicas were an integral part of Swedish folk music at the beginning of the 20th century, when it contributed to the gammeldans genre. The most famous Swedish accordionist is undoubtedly Kalle Jularbo, who was famous throughout the early 20th century. Later, the accordion was not well-received within the roots revival, until the very end of the 1970s.

Roots revival

In the 1960s, Swedish jazz musicians like Jan Johansson used folk influences in their work, resulting in an early 1970s series of music festivals in Stockholm. The Swedish Music Movement became a popular trend towards jazz- and rock-oriented folk music, including many performers who brought a new vitality to Swedish folk.

See also