What is a Nyckelharpa?
A bowed string instrument from Sweden
Nyckel = keyed and harpa = fiddle.
4 bowed strings - tuned C G C A
12 Sympathetic strings - tuned in a chromatic scale that are placed lower in the bridge so that they are not touched by the bow and are left to resonate sympathetically and add the instrument’s characteristic zing.
37 keys pushed upwards by the fingers that make tangents touch the three main playing strings to change the pitch.
The nyckelharpa has a long rich history. The oldest representation is a statue in Källunge Church in Sweden, dated 1350. There are countless images of the nyckelharpa throughout central Europe from the 1400s and surviving instruments dating from the mid-1600s. A recent identification of what could be a nyckelharpa key in Sigtuna, just north of Stockholm dates the instrument in Sweden back to the year 1200.
The oldest instruments only had two strings - one drone string and one diatonic melody string. Gradually as technology evolved more strings were added. The sympathetic resonating strings were added sometime in the 1700s. The first fully chromatic nyckelharpa is attributed to August Bohlin dating from 1929. By the 1950s the nyckeharpa’s popularity had waned and only a handful of players remained. It was thanks to the work of Eric Sahlström in the 1970s with his making evening classes and his amazing playing that we still have this wonderful instrument to enjoy today.
Click on the image on the left to view Vicki's "What is a Nyckelharpa" flyer. Click here to download a large printable version.
A more in-depth history can be found on the CADENCE website written by Per-Ulf Allmo.
In the UK there are somewhere in the region of about 100 players (if you're a British player and haven't filled in the questionnaire yet, click here!)
The nyckelharpa is rapidly gaining popularity in the UK and if you'd like to try one you can get in touch!
*Image referenced to its original website.