Dan Lundberg: Swedish folk Music - from village greens to concert platforms

On the road to world music

How and why have these changes taken place? The first step was taken when traditional fiddlers’ music began to attract attention at the beginning of this century. Folk music arenas changed and many fiddlers became concert platform performers, exchanging the barn and the village green for the community centre or the village hall. As a result of the romantic folk music ideal which prevailed during the early twentieth century, these concert performers were transformed from dance musicians to tradition-bearing symbols of the old agrarian society.
With the development of spelmanslag (fiddlers’ groups) during the 1940s, a new type of organised folk music emerged.
The most influential trend-setter was the Rättviks Spelmanslag whose signature tune, Gärdebylåten (The Gärdeby Tune) , became Sweden’s first folk music hit, thanks to the mass media. Through radio broadcasts and gramophone recordings Gärdebylåten became something of a national plague towards the end of the 1940s.

Gärdebylåten. (Click on the picture for the complete PDF version.)

 Gärdebylåten (The Gärdeby Tune) - Rättviks Spelmanslag (YSJL 1-504)

The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation’s interest in folk music during the 1940s and 1950s (mainly represented by producer and folk music collector Matts Arnberg) was an important factor which contributed to the continued dissemination and development of folk music in the country. By 1950, the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation had issued seventeen 78 rpm records with traditional Swedish folk music.
When ensembles were formed in the 1970s with musical instruments with different functions (melody, bass, harmony, rhythm), they were regarded as an innovation in Sweden. However, this type of ensemble can be found all over Europe in urban forms of folk music and popular music which have developed since the nineteenth century; Greek rebetico ensembles, Hungarian gypsy bands and Rumanian lautar orchestras are all examples of this modern folk music tradition. But there are also Swedish counterparts. The twentieth century gammaldansband (old-time dance bands) with a basic combination of accordion, double bass, and guitar are in many ways analogous to the European ensembles.
For the most part, as the name implies, the repertoire of these ensembles is based on old-time dances — popular Swedish dances from the beginning of this century.

 The Old-time dance band Bröderna Lindquist/The Lindquist Brothers (LPR036)

Carl Jularbo (picture* - after an original painting by Per-Inge Isheden) (1893-1966) is perhaps the most influential trend-setter in this context; between 1913 and 1960 he was Sweden’s best selling gramophone artist. Many of his most popular melodies were adaptations of folk melodies (A complete discography of Carl Jularbo’s gigantic production of 1,576 titles by Björn Englund was published with an English commentary in 1992: The National Archives of Recorded Sound and Moving Images, Swedish Discography No. 8). However, this type of band has never seriously come under consideration as a part of the Swedish folk music tradition.  * (Video-box cover of Jonas Sima's film about Carl Jularbo: "Dragspels kungen")

  Calle Jularbo in his composition: I Wermland.

The reason why old-time dance music has never been regarded as "proper" folk music goes back to the romantic folk music ideal which was prevalent among folk music collectors during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For various reasons the nineteenth century fiddlers’ tradition was regarded as central to the folk music concept, or, rather, it became the guiding rule for what it should comprise.
Many types of music that from a functional perspective ought to constitute the natural development of the fiddlers’ tradition have thereby ended up outside what is usually counted as folk music. Modern dance band music is perhaps one of the most obvious examples. The function of modern dance band music ought reasonably to correspond exactly with most definitions of folk music. Nevertheless, it definitely ends up on the outside.
Old-time dance bands and their repertoire evidently border on folk music, but are nevertheless not acknowledged “proper” folk music in Sweden. In the following discussion when we examine the development of ensemble-playing in modern Swedish folk music, we should bear in mind the fact that we are talking about a musical field which is limited by a very narrow definition of folk music.


Dan Lundberg: Swedish folk Music - from village greens to concert platforms

Swedish Folk Music - Contents

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