Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Citation to an 1855 book by Ari Sæmundsen with psalmodikon-style sifferskrift for the Icelandic langspil

Editorial note, September 2016: I can no longer find the the passage quoted below about the 2014 Nordic Harp meeting on line, but there is a discussion of Ari Sæmundsen's book and its possible relation to the psalmodikon on pages 9-10 of Hildur Heimisdóttir's study of the Langspil and Icelandic Fiðla cited below. Her conclusions are properly tentative for a graduate conservatory student, but I think she's right that the psalmodikon "almost certain[ly]" influenced Ari Sæmundsen's notation for the langspil.

I'd been more-or-less aware of this already, but it fairly jumped off the page at me this afternoon ...

It was in the description of a breakout session at the Nordic Harp Meeting in 2014 on the langspil and fiðla by Icelandic folk musicians Bára Grímsdóttir and Chris Foster:

One part will be to look at the book ‘Leiðarvisur til að spila langspil og til að læra sálmalög’, published by Ari Sæmundsen in 1855 and try out playing some of the hymns from the charts in the book. This book was really an Icelandic version of the psalmodicon idea. It is also, as far as we know, the only book ever published about and for the use of the langspil. Albeit, the instrument was already on its way out at that point. The book is digitised on google books and people can look at it here.)

The other thing Chris would like to do is to get together a group of langaleik, hummel, langspil etc. related instrument players (and anyone else who is interested) to see what we all do and to share information, ideas and so on to see how our instruments connect with each other, or not. Chris will bring powerpoint slides with info about langspil and fiðla to feed into the discussion, but it is very much intended to be just that, a discussion with our instruments.

The Nordic Harp Meeting is "an annual gathering of people who play, build or simply like the harp, lyre, kantele, langeleik, hummel and related string instruments in the Nordic countries. We meet to get acquainted with each other, learn and teach tunes and play music together" (http://nordic-harp-meeting.se/home/). Bára Grímsdóttir and Chris Foster, of Rekjavik, have a duo called FUNI that does vocals and "accompaniments using the traditional Icelandic langspil and fiðla, guitar, kantele and hammered dulcimer as well as singing in the old two part harmony style called tvísöng."

(In the for-what-it's-worth department, I'm pretty sure they were at Common Ground on the Hill in 2013 and I bought one of their CDs. I'll have to look for it in the basement.)

Heres's that book:

Puer natus in Betlehem in tab:

Please see also tab for Allt eins og blómstrið eina in post above on Jan. 8.

Hildur Heimisdóttir has this:

In the year 1855, Ari Sæmundsen published the treatise Leiðarvísir til að spila á langspil, or A manual to learn to play the langspil, in Akureyri, the principal town of North Iceland. It is not only the first book ever that had the purpose of teaching langspil playing to beginners, but also the very first music teaching material ever published in Iceland. The work may have been influenced by the development of the instrument Psalmodikon. (I think it is almost certain that it was) The psalmodikon was invented be J. W. Bruun in Copenhagen the year 1823, but the prototype for that instrument was the medieval monochord. Psalmodikon became very popular in Scandinavia, especially in Norway and Sweden, and was mostly used for singing in the church and at schools. The psalmodikon was developed and spread specifically to teach people the tunes in a new hymn book that was published in Sweden in the early 19th century. Scandinavian musicians wrote teaching material to help the public to learn to play the psalmodikon and these books may have inspired Ari Sæmundsen to write his extended treatise on the langspil. Ari’s work provides specific information about the fret design of the instrument and how to tune it in different ways, and acceptable bow technique. He also gives the reader ground knowledge in music theory.

Ari Sæmundsen’s book quite possibly made a big impact on the preservation of the tradition of the langspil, since very precise guidance to how to build a langspil appeared in the book as well. Many people tried to use it to build their own instruments. However, the drawing of the fingerboard was not printed correctly and the frets were not completely in the right places according to the book. When people used the guidance to build a langspil of their own, the results would be an instrument that was quite out of tune. In the north of Iceland, two men in the north of Iceland, Benedikt Jónsson and Sigtryggur Helgason, found a solution to that problem by building a portable fingerboard for other people to use in order to correct their own langspils.

Hildur Heimisdóttir, Langspil and Icelandic Fiðla: The history, construction and function of the two Icelandic folk-instruments. Candidate studies in the violoncello, 2012. Det Jyske Musikkonservatorium, Aarhus, http://www.musik.is/Paelingin/Langspil_and_Icelandic_Fidla.pdf.

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