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“Viking Dance and Music”
by Gunnora Hallakarva


The Vikings did indeed dance. Two of their dances were preserved on the Faroe Islands (a part of Great Britain that was originally settled by the Vikings and which has maintained much of the language and culture of the Viking Age).

The first type of dance is called a Ring Dance, and is also known as the Tangle. These are danced to a ballad sung by a leader in 5/6 time, while everybody joins in on the choruses. The basic step is very easy... step left with left foot and right foot, step left with left foot, kick left with the right foot, kick right with the left foot, and repeat. The dancers hold hands using a special grip where you reach inside and grip the next person's thumb while he or she grips yours. You can see a picture of Faroe Islanders dancing the Tangle which shows the handgrip at:http://www.geocities.com/Nashville/ 1366/pictures.html

Sometimes the dancers join hands to form a large circle, but most commonly the leader (who also sings the song the group is dancing to) will be at the head of a long line of dancers, holding a hat or garland of flowers aloft. The leader then leads the dancers around, under people's arms and back through, knotting the dancers up (i.e., tangling them) until no one can move: much flirting goes on while the tangling is occurring, and sometimes people steal kisses. Then the person on the other end of the line becomes the new leader, and the step is reversed (step right with right foot and left foot, step right with right foot, kick right with the left foot, kick left with the right foot, and repeat) until everyone is untangled.

One song that is used for dancing the Tangle is called Ormen Lange:
Original text:
==================
Vilja de hoyra kvedet mitt
Og vilja de ordi tru
Om han Olav Tryggvason
Skal songen her seg snu.
REFRAIN
Dansen glyme i halli
Sa danse me me do i ring
Galde ride Noregsmenn
Til Hildar ting.

Kongen let seg ei snekkje byggja
bort tho den slette sand
Ormen den lange det storste skipet
Som bygdest i Noregs land.

Skipet det bygdest i Noregs land
Utav dei beste emnom
Sytte alner og fire til
Var kj len imellom stemnon.

Kongen uti hogsaetet sit
Talar til sine drenger
No skal me sigla den salte sjo
Det heve eg tenkt sa lenge.

Bere no da dei herkledi fram
Dei brynjor og blanke sverdi
Sa leggja me sidan fra landet ut
Sa gyeva me oss tha ferdi.

Vundo dei opp sine silk-eh-sail
Vinden a taka i fanget
Og sa er det sagt at kongen sjolov
Han styrde Ormen lange.

Translation: Ormen Lange = The Long Serpent
========================
Would you like to hear my song?
Then hear these words all true
About King Olaf Tryggvason
I'll sing this song for you.

REFRAIN:
Glad sounds of song fill the hall
As we dance and sing
Gladly ride the Northern men
'Til Hildar rings. (Hildar was a famous bell)

The King, he said he'd have a ship
All built upon the strand
"Ormen Lange" - the biggest ship
Ever built in Norway's lands.
The biggest ship in Norway's lands
They built of birch and fir
Seventy-four long ells she was
laid out from stem to stern.

The king in the high seat set himself
And spoke to all the throng:
"Let us sail the swan's salt road
As I have wished so long."

"Bring you out your war-gear good,
Your byrnies and your swords,
Soon from these shores we'll make
our way Out over the fjords."

They let them out the silken sails
The wind did fill then strong.
They say the King himself did steer
At the helm of the Ormen Lange.

The second type of dance resembles a game of Red Rover, and is called the Kissing Dance. Here the dancers form two lines, men on one side, women on the other, and the dancers place their arms on each other's shoulders. The basic dance step here is exactly like the tangle, except you dance one repetition to the left, then one to the right, so the line doesn't travel. A song is sung first by the men, followed by the women, until finally the men break ranks and run towards the women, who scatter. the men try to catch a woman, who must give them a kiss if they succeed. The song goes like this:

Men sing:
"Here comes Ragnar, Here comes Ivar, Here comes all of Ragnar's kinsmen"

Women answer (scornfully)
"Who is Ragnar? Who is Ivar? Who are all of Ragnar's kinsmen?"

Men sing (boastfully):
"I am Ragnar, I am Ivar, We are all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women answer (scornfully)
"Who is Ragnar? Who is Ivar?
Who are all of Ragnar's kinsmen?"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A herder's son is Ragnar, a herder's son is Ivar, a herder's son are all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (scornfully)
Go away Ragnar! Go away Ivar! Go away all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A farmer's son is Ragnar, a farmer's son is Ivar, a farmer's son are all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (scornfully)
Go away Ragnar! Go away Ivar! Go away all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Men sing (boastfully):
"A king's son is Ragnar, a king's son is Ivar, a king's son are all of Ragnar's kinsmen!"

Women sing (eagerly)
Come on over Ragnar! Come on over Ivar! Come on over all of Ragnar's
kinsmen!"

The men break and chase the women.

There is more information on the preservation of Viking age song and dance
in the Faroe Islands at:
http://www.postverk.fo/en/
 


Viking Music and Dance,
Part 2: Music


As for the type of music enjoyed by the Vikings, we know they had a variety of instruments. The first were bone or wood wind instruments. The easily-hollowed branches of the elder tree have been providing simple whistles for children and musicians alike in every land in which the tree grows since antiquity. Bone whistles and recorders have also been recovered, most commonly crafted from the leg bone of a cow, deer, or from large birds (the Romans had a similar tradition at one point, for the Latin term for a flute is "tibia"). Bone wind instruments produce a remarkably plangent sound. The ones which have been recovered are all end-blown, with the sound being produced by an inset bone or more often wood fipple. The normal number of finger holes is three, although examples with up to seven holes has been found. For a photo of such instruments, http://www.ftech.net/~regia/images/music01.jpg Modern musical instruments that play the same way (though the tonality is a bit different) include the tabor pipe or the flageolette.

Another type of wind instrument would be the blast horn made from a cow horn, many made with ornate silver rims and mouthpieces. A type of cow-horn woodwind was probably also used, though we have no examples from Viking Age Scandinavia: this is a gemshorn, an instrument that continued in use throughout the Middle Ages in many parts of Europe.

The cow horn has a plug inserted into one end and holes drilled for fingering. See http://www.mhs.mendocino.k12.ca.us/MenComNet/Business/Retail/Larknet/EarlyWinds for a picture of this instrument and to listen to the sound it makes)
For more detail on bone or horn instruments, see Arthur MacGregor, "Bone, Antler, Ivory & Horn: the Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period" Totowa: Barnes & Noble. 1985.

The Norse also knew of brass instruments, since the enormous trumpet-like lur-horns were in use from antiquity to the present day. It is unknown whether these were considered musical instruments, as the primary use for the lur-horn was to call the cattle home. Horns like this may also have been used for summoning warriors or sending warnings. (Mary Wilhelmine Williams. Social Scandinavia in the Viking Age. 1920; New York: Krause Reprint Co., 1971, p.323-324). A similar instrument, made entirely of sprucewood or birchwood, called an Alphorn or Alpenhorn, is still played (see
http://www.mhs.mendocino.k12.ca.us/MenComNet/Business/Retail/Larknet/Winds
for a photo, or http://www.dataway.ch/~csch/ for an entire website dedicated to this instrument, including a nice *.WAV file of how the alpenhorn sounds at
http://www.dataway.ch/~csch/zwiberg.wav).

The next type of instrument is the lyre or harp. The sagas mention the harp as a gentleman's instrument, however we do not have a surviving example from Scandinavia. It is believed, however, that the Norse harp would not be too different from the lyre or harp found in the Sutton Hoo burial. For an image of a reconstruction of this information see
http://www.ftech.net/~regia/images/music02.jpg

An excellent discussion of this instrument, with plans for making your own, is located at:http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~priestdo/lyre.html

Apparently some sort of fiddle or rebec-like instrument was likewise known, but was apparently not native to the North, being imported at the start of the Middle Ages from the Continent (Peter Foote and David M. Wilson. The Viking Achievement. London: Sidgewick & Jackson. 1970. p. 188; Williams p. 323).

The Vikings also probably had drums. These would be of the bodhran or Celtic hand-drum type, similar also to the skin-headed drums used by the Saami (Lapp) shaman. (There is a picture of the Saami drum in my Viking Answer Lady article on Norse poetry located at
http://www.realtime.com/~gunnora/meters.htm -- A picture of the Celtic bodhran may be seen at
http://www.mhs.mendocino.k12.ca.us/MenComNet/Business/Retail/Larknet/Bodhrans and you can hear the sound of this drum there as well.) These drums consisted of a round or oval wooden frame supported by one or two cross bars inside placed like wheel spokes. The frame would not be very deep, ranging from 6 to 8 inches in height. Over the frame was stretched a taut rawhide head.The instrument was played while gripping the crossbars from underneath: this meant that the fingers could contact the drum head for tuning or dampening, and also that the diameter was limited to a size that one could hold in such a manner. The drum itself was played with some type of striker. The Celtic drum uses a double-ended barbell shaped striker, while the Saami use a striker shaped like a Thor's Hammer.

This brings us to what the music of the Vikings might have sounded like. The simple answer is that we do not know. No tablature or written music was recorded or if recorded, survived to the present day. Some modern experts have made educated guesses as to what Viking music may have sounded like.

Some recordings of what Viking music may have sounded like are currently available:
CD by Musica Sveciae called "Fornnordiska Klanger/ The Sounds of PrehistoricScandinavia" (MSCD 101). It doesn't try to recreate tunes much, but showcases the uses of reconstucted instruments in various ways. Bones, gongs, drums, flutes from all regions of Scandinavia. Extensive notes included. It has 41 tracks and tracks 24-41 are of Iron Age instruments, including the Viking Period.
Availablefrom
http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/order.html

CD by Musica Sveciae called "ANCIENT SWEDISH PASTORAL MUSIC" (S 1483)
$16.00 from http://ares.csd.net/~sodaling/ Contains recordings made between 1949-1964 herding calls, kulning singing, birch bark horns, goat horns, willow flutes and more."Ancient Swedish Pastoral Music" is also available from
http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/order.html (CAP 21483)

CD by Musica Sveciae called "THE MEDIEVAL BALLAD (Double CD)" (S 2035) $30.00 from http://ares.csd.net/~sodaling/ This would include the types of songs that were sung while dancing the Tangle.

45 rpm called "VIKING 401: TOTUR FRA VEJLE, DEN HALVE KAEDE " $3.00 from http://ares.csd.net/~sodaling/ Again, I haven't heard this one, so I'm not certain what's on it.

CD with book called "Svarta Jordens sång / Song of the black earth" by Per-Ulf Allmo & Styrbjörn Bergelt, English translation included. Förlaget AllWin 1995 Bergelt takes us on an extraordinary journey into the music, the sounds and atmosphere of the Viking era. Includes ancient music for frame drum, wooden trumpet, goat's horn, jew's harp, flute, bark whistle, etc. Available from http://www.algonet.se/~jwinter/
"Song of the black earth " is also available from http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/ruotsi.html (AWCD 6)

Den Medeltida Balladen "The Medieval Ballad" (2CD set including 41 recordings of medieval ballads from Swedish Radio archives, 1950s-1960s. Extensive notes.) available from
http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/order.html (CAP 22035)

"HYRDESTUND" Ancient music for ancient instruments: horns, flutes etc.
Featuring Bjørn Aksdal, Eilif Gundersen, Atle Lien Jenssen, Heidi Løvlund, Magnar Storbækken. Hyrdestund (HCD 7116) is available from
http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/order.html

Record/CD called "Alder" by Violina Juliusdotter & Per Runberg. (AWCD-21) Traditional music with inspiration from the Viking era.Available from
http://www.algonet.se/~jwinter/

A tape called "Sounds of the Viking Age", purchased from the Jorvik Viking Center. On the back there is an address: Archaeologia Musica, P.O. Box 92, Cambridge CB4 1PU, England

The Norse Film & Pageant Society in England publish a CD aimed at Viking reenactors,
details at
http://www.biochem.ucl.ac.uk/~davis/brunanburh.html The title of the CD is "Brunanburh", and includes music for anything from rowing a longship to a victory feast and viking funeral.

Although not Viking music, a recording of ancient Finnish music, "THE KALEVALA HERITAGE" Archive recordings of ancient Finnish songs (1905-67) (Ondine ODE 849-2) is available at
http://personal.eunet.fi/pp/dighoe/order.html

I hope that this information helps as an introduction.

Wæs Þu Hæl
::GUNNORA::

(Note: for an updated lsit of available recordings, see the Music Pages. - L R-M )

© Marklander 1998