What is a Nyckelharpa?


The Moraharpa from 1526

fingersThe nyckelharpa is an ancient instrument with its origins going back into the medieval period. It is a violin like instrument where instead of the fingers of the player stopping the notes a wooden key pushes a tangent against the string to change the pitch. There are four bowed strings and sixteen sympathetic strings. The sympathetic strings add resonance, amplification and and ethereal 'zing'. It is thought that these resonance strings were added to the instrument in the 17th century.  Although the origins of the instrument are unclear it appears that although it was prevalent in central Europe in the Medieval period it died out everywhere except for a tiny region in Sweden. The Swedes kept it safe and sound and developed it from the original two string Moraharpa to its current 16 string version. The word nyckelharpa translates as keyed-fiddle. (It is keyed and a fiddle). A more in-depth history can be found on the CADENCE website written by Per-Ulf Allmo.

The parts of the nyckelharpa, click the image to view the large image.

In the UK there are somewhere in the region of about 60 players (if you're a British player and haven't filled in the questionnaire yet, click here!) There are several performing professionally on the circuit. These include - Clare Salaman, Gavin PennycookGriselda Sanderson, Ruth Morris and Vicki Swan. (If you think you should be in this list, please get in touch!)

The nyckelharpa is rapidly gaining popularity in the UK and if you'd like to try one you can get in touch with Vicki Swan who runs workshops with instruments for beginners to use.

*The images on this website are referenced to their original websites.