The nyckelharpa originates from the area around
the Baltic Sea. It has been in existence ever since the Middle
Ages. Most of the evidence for the instrument in early times
comes from Sweden. The last four hundred years up to the end
of the 20:th century it seems to have been played almost exclusively
in Uppland, the province north of Stockholm. Now the American
Nyckelharpa Association has about 150 members, and there are
nyckelharpa players in Switzerland, France, England and a few
Johan Hedin in front of a picture of the
nyckelharpa sculpture carved on a church on Gotland, dated to
The nyckelharpa is a compound
bowed chordophone with a special sort of key mechanism. One
of the reasons it has not only survived over the centuries,
but most of the time has been the most popular folk instrument
in Uppland - and now is played by the thousands - is probably
its ability to develop according to the current taste in music.
Another reason, I personally think, is that it is an instrument
so easy to get started with and so much fun to play!
It isn't that the old types
of nyckelharpa disappeared when the modern type came into being.
On the contrary young nyckelharpa players often play the old
type alongside the modern nyckelharpa. Or "harpa"
as it is referred to by players in Sweden in the daily usage.
From the "allspel" at Österbybruk
2002. Hasse Gille in a high position :-) Photo EH