M. A Wyllie.

Norway and its fjords online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

everyday check shirt and old turned-down straw. But
his was music pure and simple. Nothing written, but
all inspired, the tunes that had been handed down from
his father before him, and the Trolls. Very fine he looked
in the darkening room, playing with all his soul, his music
accompanied by the distant roar of the great waterfall.

He ended with a sigh, laid down the violin he had been
playing on, and brought out an old favourite on which he
played for a short time longer. Then he unlocked one
of the painted boxes and found a paper which he passed
us to read. It was a certificate, dated 18th February


1906, from the school of music in Bergen, stating that
the holder, Sjuer Gvothus, had won the first prize and a
violin in a competition for all Norway for playing folk
music. The violin was a pretty one, inlaid thickly with
mother of pearl, and the handle finished off with a lion*'s
head in ormolu.

It would be as well to say here that the Norwegian
peasant fiddlers have never used notes ; they play entirely
" by heart " in more than one sense, and in another
respect the peasant fiddlers have anticipated the latest
stages of modern virtuosity. The players of the old
Norwegian fele, or fiddle, have three different ways of
tuning it : a — d — a} — e- ; a — c^ — a^ — c^ ; a — e^ — a^ — e
sharp 2. Nor is this all, when Richard Strauss or a Martin
Laeffler wants to give his orchestral score an ultra-modern
colouring he introduces the viola d'amore, which has,
besides the strings that are played on, an equal number
placed below them, which vibrate sympathetically and
enrich the tone. The Norwegian fele has four of these
sympathetic strings. A drone bass of two tones a fifth
apart accompanies the fele player^s melody. It is the
earliest form of the organ point, with which the great
masters from Bach to Wagner have produced some of
their grandest effects. This drone bass is a characteristic
of northern instruments, and resembles the Scotch

A cordial handshake and we parted from our friend,
and retraced our steps along the road. The air had got
chilly and the night a pearly grey, as though one was
looking at the landscape through a thick gauze veil. The
wind blew the cold spray from the waterfall across the
road into our faces, but through all the various sounds
of nature over and over again rang the fiddler's tune.

Our Strephon may have been a descendant


of Medaas, who in his day was the finest musician in the
Hardanger, according to all accounts, and whose services
were much in request for weddings. It is told that on
one occasion, when he was returning from a wedding
in Kvam to his home at Graven, as he crossed the
mountains after dark he heard beautiful music issuing
from a mound, so he sat down and listened. He soon
became aware that what he heard was no ordinary music,
but that of the hill-fairies, whose powers of fiddling were
well known. He sat on until he was satisfied that several
of the airs were impressed on his memory, and from
that time his fortune was made. Not only had he
always more engagements than he could fulfil, but
fiddlers came from far and near to be instructed in
the Huldreslaater, which to this day are regai'ded as
the most beautiful airs of the Hardanger.

Isak Nilson, of Boteren, is the father of Hardanger
violins, known throughout Norway for their excellence.
Isak Nilson lived rather more than two centuries ago
on the farm of Boteren, at the head of the Fiksensund,
and he is said to have invented this popular Hardanger
musical instrument. According to the story, he got
his idea from the old schoolmaster, who used to amuse
himself by cutting bits of wood and tying strings across
them, so as to produce sounds when touched ; but it is
more than likely that some traveller, at one time or
another, showed him a violin, which he proceeded to

Sandven's Hotel is most comfortable, charmingly
situated, and far too good to stay for only a day.
Weeks could be spent there quite happily. Mr. Sandven
is not only an hotel-keeper, — he manages the bank, the
post-ofiice, a shop, and is the proprietor of carriages
and boats. A glowing morning and the stolkjaerre waiting


at the door. The Ofsthus Fos was the thing to see
in sunlight, so the small boy said as he mounted into
his perch at the back of the car, and then we could
go on up the new road to Torenut. A pity it was
we were not staying longer.

The pony took a deal of talking to and coaxing ; it
did not mind going as far as the waterfall, but then
it quite made up its mind that it would rather go back-
wards than forwards, obliging our young driver to jump
down and break a stick from a tree hard by. " Not to
whip him with," he explained, " but just to let him
know it was there."" Crossing the bridge we jumped
from the car to walk up a steep incline to the small
house that guarded the path under the waterfall, paid
our toll, passed on to the wooden planks, and stood close
to the dripping rock that jutted overhead.

With a thundering roar the great volume of water
threw itself over the projection to the rocks a hundred
feet below, a bewildering stream of sparkling threaded
diamonds, in a haze of diamond dust, and little lumps
like feathery cotton wool of massed drops. On either
side against the grass on the edges the spray turned
into rainbows of the loveliest hue, and under the ton'ent,
their leaves shivering and quaking from the wind caused
by the rushing water, grew graceful ferns. Spellbound
we gazed, agreeing with the small boy that the Fos was
the thing to be seen in sunlight.

The pony M^as shown the stick, and thought better
of his first resolve to return home ; but his own way
was the only one he would follow. He would trot when he
pleased, or walk when he pleased, and as there was no
hurry, what mattered it ? The day was lovely, the river
flowed along an impetuous torrent, the sides getting
more precipitous as the road ascended. Such a road,


too, clean, trim, and raked, protected all along the face
of the precipice by big blocks of stone. Higher and
higher on the inner side rose the cliff out of whose
face the road had been blasted. At first the bank
had been clothed with bushes, and lovely crimson fox-
glove, swaying gracefully in the breezes. But as the
rock became steeper the birch and firs were the only
things that could cling to its sides, with an undergrowth
of fern. A donkey passing, our pony disapproved and
backed to the edge, giving one an uninterrupted
view of the river, which now looked like a ribbon below.
Another stolkjaerre and two men, a road-maker sprinkling
and raking fine gravel ; these were all we saw on three
miles of beautifully kept expensive road. Proceeding
still higher the road grew steeper, and the river turned
into cascades, one above the other, till we reached the
top, where the water brimmed over the edge of a
beautiful calm blue lake, with cattle standing knee
deep along the edges. Lush meadow grass waved all
round, and the roof of the little saeter was just seen
above the bushes. This col proved to be a verdant
plain surrounded with snow-capped peaks.



THE remoteness of Norway has not only impressed a
peculiar local colour on its native music and costume,
but has also helped to preserve its primitive character.
Old-fashioned musical instruments, dances, and tunes,
which used to be practised in other European places,
found their last refuge in the North, which preserved
them, somewhat altered by the imprint of its own
peculiar stamp. In a region like Telemarken there are
places where an old custom prescribes that the same song
must not be sung in the dance rooms more than once a

In Hammerfest, the northernmost town in the world,
it is possible to chance on a dance where the music is
vocal instead of instrumental, the dancers attentive and
responsive to the words as they are sung. At weddings,
indeed, the first dances are sung to psalm tunes, and the
preacher in his vestments takes part in them. Usually,
however, the dances are too lively for vocal music, and the
fiddle is brought into play.

The most popular of the folk-dances in the mountainous
regions of Norway are the springdans, polska, and the
hailing. Of each of these there are admirable specimens
among Grieg's works, partly borrowed, partly original,
while others have been an'angedfor pianoforte by Kjerulf,
Lindemann, etc. The springdans, so called to distinguish




it from the ganger, or walking dance, is in three-four
measure, the hailing in two-four. The springdans is
characterised by a striking combination of binary and
ternary rhythms, and a progressive animation very
exciting to the hearer.

Here is a good description of the polska as seen danced
by a belated traveller who was on his way to Justedal's
glaciers, "The track followed the river, winding up
a deep narrow gorge between enormous rocky hills. Here
and there was a stony plain, the debris of a glacier over-
grown with trees ; but distant views there were none.
I had to walk hard to save daylight. At the end of
twelve long miles by pedometer I found myself at a farm,
and as I walked up I heard a fiddle. I thought that
promised fun, so walked in and asked for quarters. I
found four or five tall strapping young fellows, the best
grown men I have seen in Norway, and a girl to match,
sitting about a long table listening to the music. ... It
was dark outside, but a bright fire and a single candle
lit up the wild unkept heads nodding to the music. I
asked for old Norsk ditties, and got several. Presently
a vast supper of porridge was produced, and the fiddle
paused while I smoked my pipe.

" Supper over, the fiddle began again. Presently one of
the young giants in leather breeches sprang on the floor,
seized the giantess who made the porridge, and began
a polska. He trotted round the room, holding her hand,
while she toddled after him. Presently the girl was spun
round and round like a teetotum, showing such powerful
understanding that I marvelled ; and then she was seized
round the waist, and they both twirled together. Then
they ambled about as before, then they had another
fit of spinning till they were tired ; and then another
giant took the floor alone, and performed the hailing


dance which no one has described so well as Bjornson in
his story entitled Ante as follows. The music began, deep
silence prevailed, and Nils got ready for the dance. Airily
he moved over the floor, marched in time with the music,
his body half bent forward and reaching to right and
left ; now and then he crossed his legs, stood up straight
again, assuming the attitude of a thrower, and then
marched as at first, bent over. The fiddle was played
with a sure hand, the melody became gradually faster and
more fiery. Nils inclined his head more and more back-
wards, and all at once he hit the cross-plank of the ceiling
with his foot, so hard that dust and whitewash fell on the
spectators. Everybody laughed and shouted, and the
girls stood as if they were breathless. Noisily the fiddler
played on and on, with more and more fiery and challeng-
ing strains. Nils could not resist them ; he bowed forward,
jumped about in measure, stood up straight, assumed the
attitude of a thrower, to fool them, then again crossed
his legs under him, and suddenly, when it seemed as if he
had no thought of jumping, he hit the plank of the
ceiling a resounding blow with his foot, again and again,
then threw somersaults in the air, forward and backward,
standing straight as a candle on his feet after each. He
had all he wanted. The fiddle played a few more bars
in rapid time, laboured with tones that became lower and
lower, until the dance music died out in a long-sustained
bass note."

Gur ship is thrashing her way westward against a
strong breeze which sends the long rollers tumbling up
the Skagevak. As we plunge through the foam the rocky
coast slips ever by, like a mighty panorama slowly
unrolling before our sight, the smoothly i-ounded rocks are
broken now and then by chasms which stretch far into
the heart of the sterile country. Detached rocks, some of


them marked with black or white beacons, stand far out
among the waves. In the old days these winding water-
ways which pierce deep into the fastnesses of granite and
slate were the homes of many a marauding Viking, and one
can in fancy picture Sigmund pushing off in the dragon
ship that Olaf Tryggvason gave him to win westward to
the Faereys, and bring home the warlock Thrond.

"The sea waves turned like fire to see,
But Sigmund never a whit cared he.

Sigmund seaward his course will keep,

And the ship she was well-nigh sunk in the deep.

The waves they broke in the race so hard,
But Sigmund was not a whit afeard.

Sigmund up Swiney firth he stood,

The strakes they buckled like hoops of wood.

The strakes they buckled like hoops of wood,
The iron grew black as the black peat sod."

I have found that it is largely an unoccupied mind
that brings on mal-de-mer, and not wishing to succumb
at this juncture I dived into my cabin for my book of
Sagas, and making myself comfortable on the sofa of
the music room on deck I closed my mind on the
turmoil without, and turned the page to my favourite
Fornmanna Sogur, the Battle of Svold, and Olaf Tryg-
gvason, the brave hero who in the story lost his life on
his way home to Norway.

" Svein, King of Denmark, Olaf, King of Sweden, and
Eirik Jarl lay under the island with all their host. The
weather was fine and the sunshine was bright. All the
chiefs went up on the island, and many of the host with
them. When they saw that very many of the ships of


the Northmen sailed out to sea they were very glad, for
their host grumbled at lying there so long, and some
had lost all hope of the King of Norway's coming.
Now they saw a large and splendid ship sailing, and
both the Kings said : ' This is a large and exceedingly
fine ship ; it must be the Long Serpent.'' Eirik Jarl
answered : ' This is not the Long Serpent, which must
look larger and grander, though this is a large and fine
ship.' It was as the Jarl said, Styrkar of Gimsar owned
the ship.

" Shortly after they saw another much larger ship,
which had a head on its prow. King Svein said : ' This
must be the Long Serpent ; let us now go to our ships,
and not be too slow in attack.' Eirik Jarl replied :
'This cannot be the Long Serpent, though it is finely
fitted out.' It was as he said, for it belonged to
Thorkel Nefja, King Olaf's brother ; but he was not on
board himself.

" And now they saw another large and fine ship. King
Svein said : ' There you can see the King's ship.' The
jarl replied : ' Certainly this is a large and splendid
ship, but the Serpent must be much grander,' Close
upon it came a fourth large ship. The two last were
owned by two men of Vikin, Thorgeir, and Hyrning,
the King's brothers-in-law ; but they did not steer the
ships, for they were in the Long Serpent with King

" A little while after appeared a fifth, much larger
than any of the preceding. King Svein said, laughing :
' Now is Olaf Tryggvason afraid, for he dares not sail
with the head on his dragon.' Eirik Jarl replied : ' This
is not the King's ship ; this one I know well, as well as
the sail which is striped : it belongs to Erling Skjalgsson,
of Jadar ; let them sail on, for I tell you truly that there


are warriors on board whom, if we go into battle with
Olaf Tryggvason, it is better not to have, but to miss
in his fleet, than to have it manned as it is, for I think
Erling himself steers it/

" It was not long after these five large ships and all the
small ones of the fleet had sailed past them that they
recognised Sigvaldi Jarl's ships, which turned in towards
the island. They saw there three ships, and one of
these was a large head ship {i.e. a ship having a head on
the stem). Then said King Svein : ' Let us now go to
the ships, for here comes the Long" Serpent.^ Eirik Jarl
answered : ' Many large and splendid ships have they
besides the Long- Serpent, but few have yet sailed past ;
let us still wait.' Then many said : ' Now we may see
that Eirik will not fight against Olaf Tryggvason, and
dares not avenge his father; and this is such a great
shame that it will spread over all lands, if we lie here
with such a large host, and Norway's King sails with his
handful of men past us and out to sea.'

"Eirik Jarl became very angry at their words, and
asked all to go to the ships, saying : ' I expect, though
the Danes and the Swedes now question my courage
much, that both of them will be less at their ease before
the sun goes down into the sea to-night than I and my
men.' When they went down they saw four large ships
sailing, one of which was a dragon ship much ornamented
with gold. Many more said that the Jarl had spoken
the truth. Here now sails the Long- Serpent, and it is
a very fine and large ship ; no long ship is similar to it
in beauty and size in the northern lands. It is not
strange that the King is widely renowned, and is so
great as to have such things made.

" King Svein arose and said : ' High shall the Serpent
carry me to-night. Him will I steer.' Eirik Jarl added :


' Even if King Olaf Tryggvason had no larger ship than
the one we just now saw, King Svein would never win
it from him with the Dane host alone/ But these
head ships they thought to be the Long Serpent^ — the
first was the Tranan (the Crane), and the second the
Armrinn Skammi (the Short Serpent). The men crowded
to the ships and pulled down the tents, and the chiefs
arranged the host for attack, and it is said that they
threw lots who should first attack Olafs own ship, the
Long Serpent.

" Svein, King of Denmark, drew the lot to attack first,
and Olaf, King of Sweden, and Eirik Jarl last, if they
needed it ; and it was agreed between the chiefs. King
Svein, King Olaf, and Eirik Jarl, that each should become
owner of one-third of Norway if they slew King Olaf;
while he who first got up on the Serpent should own all
the booty there was on board, and each should own
the ships which he himself captured and cleared of

"Eirik Jarl had a very large bardi which he used to
have on Viking expeditions ; there were beaks on the top
of both stem and stern, and below there was a thick
iron plate which covered the whole of the stem and stern
all the way down to the water.

" \^^len the chiefs had talked thus between themselves
they saw three very large ships, and following them a
fourth. They all saw a large dragon's head on the stern,
ornamented so that it seemed made of pure gold, and
it gleamed far and wide over the sea as the sun shone
on it. As they looked at the ship they wondered greatly
at its length, for the stern did not appear till long after
they had seen the prow ; then all knew and no one
gainsaid that this was the Long Serpent. At this
sight many a man grew silent, and fear and teiTor crept


into the breast of the host. This was not strange, for
the great ship carried death for many men. Then said
Eirik Jarl : ' This famous ship is befitting such a King
as Olaf Tryggvason, for it is true of him that he excels
other Kings as much as the Long Serpent does other

" When Sigvaldi Jarl had let down the sails on his ships
and rowed up to the island, Thorkel Dydril on the
Tranan and other ship-steerers who went with him saw
that he turned his ship towards the islands ; they
lowered their sails and followed him. Thorkel shouted
to Sigvaldi, asking why he did not sail. The jarl
replied he would wait there for King Olaf. They let
their ships float until Thorkel Nefja arrived with the
Short Serpent and the four ships which followed him ;
they also lowered their sails, and let their ships float,
waiting for the King. The fleet of the Kings lay inside
the harbour, so that they could not see how large a host
they had ; but when King Olaf sailed towards the island
and saw that his men had lowered their sails and waited
for him, he steered towards them and asked why they
did not go on. They told him that a host of foes was
before them, and requested him to flee. The King stood
on the lypting while he heard these tidings, and said to
his men : ' Let down the sail as quickly as possible, and
some of you put out the oars to take the speed off" the
ship. I will rather fight than flee, for never yet have I
fled from battle ; my life is in God's power, but never
will I take to flight, for he is not a true King who in
fear flies from his foes.'

" It was done as the King said, and the Serpent ran in
front of the ships, and the men of the other ships
brought them ahead by pulling with their oars. Then
the entire host of the Kings towed up from under the


island ; and the chiefs were very glad when they found
that King Olaf had fallen into their ambush.

" AVlien King Olaf Tryggvason and his men saw that
the sea was covered far and wide with the war-ships of
their foes, a wise and valiant man, Thorkel Dydril, his
uncle, said : ' Lord, here is an overwhelming force to fight
against ; let us hoist our sails and follow our men out to
sea. We can still do so while our foes prepare themselves
for battle, for it is not looked upon as cowardice by any
one for a man to use forethought for himself or his men."*
King Olaf replied loudly : ' Tie together the ships, and
let the men prepare for battle, and draw their swords,
for my men shall not think of flight.""

" The chiefs arranged the host for attack, and it is said
that they threw lots who should first attack Olaf's ship,
the Long Serpent. Svein drew the lot to attack first,
then Olaf and Eirik Jarl last, if it was needed.

" King Olaf signalled by horn to lay the eleven ships
together which he had there. The Long Serpent was
in the middle, with the Short Serpent on one side and
the Crane on the other, and four other ships on each side
of them. But the ship-host, though he had large ships,
was only a small detachment compared to the overwhelm-
ing host which his enemies had. He now missed his
host, as it was likely. King Olafs men now tied
together the ships as bid ; but when he saw that they
began to tie together the sterns of the Long Serpent
and the Short Serpent, he called out loudly : ' Bi'ing
forward the large ship ; I will not be the hindmost of
all my men in this host when the battle begins."

"Then Ulf the Red, the King's standard-bearer and
his stem -defender, said : ' If the Serpent shall be put
as much forward as it is larger and longer than the other
ships, the men in the bows will have a hard time of it,'


The King answered : ' I had the Serpent made longer than
other ships, so that it should be put forward more boldly
in battle, and be well known in fighting and sailing,
but I did not know that I had a stem-defender who
was both red and faint-headed.' Ulf replied : ' Turn,
though. King, no more than back forward in defending
the lypting than I will in defending the stem.' The
King had a bow in his hand, and laid an arrow on the
string and aimed at Ulf. Then Ulf said : ' Do not shoot
me, lord, but rather where it is more needed, that is at
our foes, for what I win I win for thee. May be you will
think your men not over many before the evening comes.'

" The King took off the aiTow, and did not shoot.

" Very fine King Olaf must have looked as he stood on
the lypting of the Serpent^ and rose high up ; he had a
gilt shield and a gilt helmet, and was recognisable from
afar. He wore a short red silk kirtle over his coat of
mail. When he saw that the hosts of his foes began to
separate, and that the standards were raised in front of
the chiefs, he asked : ' Who is chief of that standard
which is opposite us ? ' He was told that it was King
Svein with the Danish host. The King said : ' We are
not afraid of those cowards, for no more courage is there
in the Danes than in wood goats ; never were Danes
victorious over Northmen, and they will not conquer us
to-day. But what chief follows the standards which are
to the right 'i ' He was told that it was Olaf the Swede,
with the Svia host. The King added : ' Easier and
pleasanter will the Swedes think it to sit at home and

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryM. A WyllieNorway and its fjords → online text (page 7 of 23)