The nyckelharpa ( ‘keyed fiddle’ ) is a type of fiddle that uses ‘keys’ to shorten the strings and thus create different notes. As well as the strings that are bowed, there are sympathetic strings which are set in motion by the vibrations in the body of the instrument. These features and the design of the body all contribute to the characteristic silvery, yet warm and resonant tone of the nyckelharpa.
With its roots stretching back to medieval Europe, the nyckelharpa that we know today was most common in Swedish Uppland, north of Stockholm. It developed from a simple modal instrument, with a single melodic string and two drone strings, and with twelve keys and an arched bow, into models with several melodic strings and a single drone or no drone at all, but with sympathetic strings and a straighter bow. Created in 1929 by August Bohlin, the modern chromatic nyckelharpa began to be widely accepted thanks to the efforts of master nyckelharpa player, builder and composer Eric Sahlström. It has four bowed strings and twelve sympathetic strings – one for each semitone of the chromatic scale.
The family of nyckelharpas, besides various earlier models, now also includes tenor, alto and sopranino instruments as well as an electric version. Having almost died out in the middle of the twentieth century, the nyckelharpa has made a remarkable comeback and there are increasing numbers of performers in various countries with all sorts of musical styles. The modern nyckelharpa is generally tuned CGCA but nowadays a variety of bassstring tunings are used with fifths above it like a violin.
Anna is playing on a nyckelharpa that is built by Sören Åhker in 2013.