Repertory for bowed-lyre and bowed harp was always orally transmitted and largely improvised. The instrument was used for dance music, but also to play traditional song airs.
One of the fascinating things about the bowed-lyre is how small its range is. With one fingered string, you can basically play a six note scale. If you finger a second string as well, which we know from the Estonian tradition, you can increase that range a little but not by much. You also have the drone sounding continuously - usually a 4th below the bottom of your scale, but sometimes a different interval. The instrument is bowed so that both the melody string and the drones sound continuously, so it is a little like a bagpipe in its sound.
For the Karelian and Estonian traditions we have audio recordings of old tradition-bearers, and we also have written transcriptions of their playing from ethnomusicologists.
Elsewhere it is likely that bowed-lyre music was transferred into the fiddle tradition and played on violins.
This is Da Day Dawns, one of the ancient Shetland fiddle tunes
Other video clips can be viewed on Youtube:
- Anthem, improvised variations.
- Kaingk Dafydd Broffwyd, a medieval Welsh tune from the Robert ap Huw manuscript.
- The Fairy Dance, composed by Nathaniel Gow for the Fife Hunt Ball in 1802.
- Drømde mig en drøm, from the Codex Runicus (c.1300, Southern Sweden / Northern Denmark), followed by two dances from the traditional Karelian jouhikko repertory.
Simon Chadwick, St Andrews, Scotland. Return to index page.
11th November 2008, updated September 2013