Nyckelharpa? Nyckelharpa? What could that possibly be? Isn’t Nyckel a type of rabbit? And then crossed with a harp?? What??

The Nyckelharpa is a bowed string instrument with 16 strings, four of which are bowed and 12 which resonate. It is sometimes known as a keyed fiddle (Schlüssel-fidel) and is a traditional Swedish folk instrument. It has a number of keys that are pressed in an upwards direction that stops the string.

The Nyckelharpa is played usually horizontally across the body held by a neck strap similar to the guitar, and held stable by the right arm. The bow is then stroked vertically up and down. The bow is much shorter than the violin bow and has many different forms: round or pointy tip. It is sometimes referred to as a cross between a violin, a guitar and a typewriter!

It is not exactly known how old the Nyckelharpa is but it can be found in church painting dating to around 1350 in Gotland. There are also early church paintings in Siena, Italy dating from around 1405. The Swedish province of Uppsala has had the only continuous tradition of Nyckelharpa playing since this time. In mainland Europe Nyckelharpa playing fell into obscurity.

Eric Sahlström (1912 – 1986) was an important figure in the resurrgence of popularity of the nyckelharpa. He developed the chromatic three-row instrument that is in common use today and is able to play in any key. Sahlström’s amazing playing virtuosity and incredible musicianship further developed the interest in this instrument. He also composed many folk tunes including Spelmansglädje ("Fiddler Joy") and the polskas Stormyren and Hardrevt.

Current modern groups that include the Nyckelharpa are Väsen (Olov Johansson) and Nordic (Erik Rykell) in Sweden, and in Germany Triskilian (Jule Bauer) and Poeta Magica (Holger Funke).

It is possible to study Nyckelharpa at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and at the Eric Sahlström Institute in Tobo. Burg Fürsteneck bei Fulda offers a three year Certificate course in 6 3-day blocks. Also at Burg Fürsteneck is annually in October the International Days of the Nyckelharpa. Here Nyckelharpa-players from all over the world and of all different abilites, including absolute beginners, come together for workshops, jam-sessions and concerts: . It is possible to hire an instrument there.

If you get the chance to experience the Nyckelharpa live, do it! It is a wonderfully warm and enchanting sounding instrument that takes you back to times of olde, a sonority unmatched by modern classical instruments.



Saturday 1st April 7:30pm


Mt Nebo Hall

with Evan Clarry, guitar and Bob Harley, double bass



Sunday 23rd April 6:00pm


with Evan Clarry, guitar and Bob Harley, double bass

and special guests, Emma Nixon & Rebecca Karlen