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Ale Moller and Kirsten Braten Berg

What do you think of when you think of Norway? Fjords? Glaciers? Trolls? After listening to these tracks from the Nordisk Sang compilation, you'll also think, "beautiful, haunting music." Norway's traditional folk music has survived and flourished for hundreds of years. Since a brief scare at the turn of the twentieth century when it seemed the old traditions would be lost, Norwegians have embraced their musical heritage and have worked hard to preserve it.

The pieces on Nordisk Sang reflect the beauty and simplicity of traditional Norwegian music. Most of the songs were recorded between 1977 and 1988; two were recorded in 1957, but the music is timeless and boundless. The instrumentation is simple: voice, flute, and stringed instruments interweave to form delicate and hauntingly beautiful tapestries. Though the lyrics are in Norwegian, no translation is needed to perceive the great emotion in the singers' words. Most of the musical influence for these pieces comes from central and western Norway, with has slightly different musical traditions (single flutes instead of trios or quartets, for example) than the rest of the country.

One main component of Norwegian folk music is the national instrument, the Hardanger fiddle ("Hardingfele" in Norwegian), which dates back to at least 1651. The Hardanger filddle developed out of the standard violin and is only found in Norway. It is easier to play several strings at once on the Hardanger fiddle than on a regular violin, and it can be tuned in one of 29 different tunings. This allows for a larger sound from a single instrument, which can come in handy in a sparsely populated country: only one musician would be needed to play at a wedding or other special occasion. Other instruments in traditional Norwegian folk music include "Langeleik" dulcimer (as heard in Elisabeth Kvœrne's lilting and beautiful "Kjœringkjegla"), willow bark flute, standard fiddle (featured in the haunting "Blå Tonar Fra Lom," performed by Hans Brimi and Pernille Anker), and recorder. Like all music, folk music is constantly growing and changing, incorporating new instruments and influences: in "Heiemo Og Nykkjen," Ale Møller uses a synthesizer to accompany Kristen Bråten Berg's vocals, but the piece retains an air of solemn mystery concurrent with even the most traditional Norwegian folk music.