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What Holds the Flames Together: Matts Arnberg Recordings of Instrumental Swedish Village Music, 1948​-​51

by Canary Records



In the Summer of 1948 Swedish public service radio (Radiotjäst) assigned its youngest producer Matts Arnberg (b. Oct. 13, 1918 Ovanjo, Gävleborg county; d. Sept 3, 1995, Sollentuna, Stockholm county) to produce a live broadcast from a fiddlers' meeting on the island of Gotland. Arnberg, a classically trained violinist with a degree in music research from the University of Uppsala was not yet 30 years old and had been employed by the station for nearly two years. Although nonplussed with the costumes, dancing, and social aspects of the performances, the unofficial playing he heard offstage during his first field recording trip in the town of Visby astounded him. ”This was music, quality music, music with substance. I had never heard folk music like it before,” he said.

Upon his return to Stockholm, he contacted the chairman of the fiddlers’ association of the central district of Dalarna and learned that there would be a fiddler’s meeting in Malung. He packed up and went to listen. On August 25, 1949, he presented a radio broadcast of fiddlers from Rättvik in Dalarna during a prime time slot at 7:30 PM. The program was surprisingly well-received and precipitated several similar programs with Dalaföreningens, Orsa, and Malung groups. He then requested and received funding from Radiotjäst to make recordings in situ in Dalarna, which he used to take a 5-ton truck with a disc cutting machine and the engineer Ragnar “Raggen” Ivarsson to nine parishes in ten days in mid-March of 1949, using only a single ribbon microphone with a long wire that ran from makeshift studios out to the lacquer cutting equipment in the truck.

Those recording sessions were pivotal to him, setting him on a path lasting more than 20 years recording village musics, during which time he produced over 8,000 performances now in the archive of the The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research in Stockholm. And those Rättvik sessions transformed urban Swedish listeners’ musical consciousness of folk music from the sense of it either having died out or else surviving only as monotonous squawking in need of the improvement of polished, conservatory-trained practitioners to an immediately gratifying and pleasurable experience in which the nation could take significant pride and, ultimately, a source of inspiration for generations ready to take part in their own musical culture.

Among the tunes he recorded there, one in particular “Gärdebylåten” by the Rättviks Spelmanslag, was played regularly on the radio, and when it was issued as a 78rpm disc sold on the order of 20,000 copies (in a country then of seven million). The classical pianist and music critic Yngve Flyckt (b. 1908; d. 1959) wrote his praise in Expressen (quoted in an article by Märta Ramsten on folk music in 1950s Sweden) of “Gärdebylåten” and contrasted it with the fluffy, catchy Teresa Brewer pop hit of the time, “Music! Music! Music!”:
“I would like to see the owner of a gramophone player who will not burst into flames when he gets to hear the Rattvik fiddler’s team play ‘Gärdebylåten.’ The roaring timbre of the bows and the wonderful bounce does the walking tune full justice. I wish I were rich and could let each and every person who buys ‘Music! Music! Music!’ at the record store have the fiddlers’ record for free on the condition that after a month, I would be given whichever of the two records they did not want to keep. I think I would have the glorious enjoyment of getting to smash tens of thousands of copies of ‘Music! Music! Music!’ into atoms!”
This, from a country that subsequently became arguably the global epicenter for the composition of pop earworms.

The spelmanslag (literally in English “play-man-team”) tradition is a social string music form in which, as Märta Ramsten eloquently put it, “many violinists […] simultaneously play their individual design of the song produc[ing] a very special, dense string sound, a kind of ‘violin noise’.” Performed by groups of players of a wide variety of levels of proficiency, value is placed on cohesion and “team-spirit,” while allowing individuals to play in their own personal way and with regard to their own ability. (Decades later, the American composer Ornette Coleman gave a parallel and related method of group playing that he developed the banner heading “harmolodic.”) When Arnberg recorded the Rättvik Spelmanslag, formed about five years earlier in Dalarna, there were, Ramsten points out, 25-30 violinists from different villages in Rattvik parish. A 1948 photo of the group shows 28 men and one woman. Of them, Ramsten wrote, “Most of the players played the melody in unison, while at least one fiddler (Pål Olle), or possibly more, played ‘reunion’ and some played old-fashioned ‘bass lines.’ A kind of conductor, with violin in hand, was Anders Sparf.” The song remained closely associated with the brilliant fiddler Hjort Anders Olson (b. Rättvik Oct. 27, 1856; d. Aug. 28, 1952), who was regularly, if falsely, attributed as its composer for decades after its recording.

Following the commercial success of the 1949 Rättvik recordings, Radiotjänst released discs made a month earlier by the Dalaföreningens Spelmanslag, formed in 1939 by Hjalmar Dallrner, a veterinarian and music enthusiast. That group, originally consisting of people from Dalarna living in Stockholm, were a model for scores if not hundreds of later groups that continue to this day. Arnberg meanwhile made another recording trip in 1949 to Hälsingland and Gästrikland. Completely convinced of the imperative need to preserve the living folk music of rural Sweden, Arnberg made his next recording trip in the Autumn of 1951 to Lappland, Jämtland, and Västernorrland in the middle and north of the country, this time utilizing a magnetofon machine and the new, expensive, and fragile medium of tape.

Between 1949 and 1953, Radiotjäst issued 33 78rpm discs of Arnberg’s 1948-51 recordings (14 of them by spelmanslag groups), many (but not all) of which were subsequently reissued as 7” 45rpm vinyl EPs during the late 50s and into the 60s as well as a handful of subsequent LP issues. Arnberg continued to seek out and record musical tradition-bearers, presenting them on radio and discs through the 1960s. This collection compiles the vast majority of the instrumental material that was released from his initial burst of activity.

It is typical of Swedish folk tunes that they are credited as being “after” a specific player, recognizing him as the source, whether he was the composer or the individual from whom the tune was known to have been carried forward.

Ture Gudmundsson (b. Nov. 24, 1908 Brännkyrka parish, Stockholm county; d. Nov. 6, 1979 Leksand, Kopparberg county) was a multi-instrumentalist, music teacher, and instrument builder, specializing in pastoral music. He is heard here playing säckpipa (bagpipe) and spilåpipa (whistle).

Rättviks Spelmanslag was formed in November 1944. They continue to hold open rehearsals on Tuesday evenings and perform each Summer under the leadership of Tap Ida Almlöf and Hans Ehrling. www.rattviks-spelmanslag.com

Dalaföreningens Spelmanslag formed in Stockholm in 1939 out of an existing community of performers who participated in dances and gatherings several decades prior. The group is still active. Their web site dalaforeningensspelmanslag.se points out that the core of the group initially included Knis Karl Aronsson from Leksand, Erik Klockar from Orsa, Gösta Bäckström from Rättvik, Nils Agenmark, born in Bingsjö and Hans Börtas from Rättvik and expanded to about 15 members in the 1950s and an average of 25 members in the 1970s.

Eric Öst (b. Edsbyn, Hälsingland), the son of a famous fiddler, started performing at the age of 15.
Theodor Ohlson (b. Jarvsö) began playing as a child and had by the time of these recordings played with Öst for a decade.
Their repertoire here is drawn from 18th-19th century material.

Eric Sahlström (b. 1912 Masbo village, Vendel parish, Uppland county; d. June 7, 1986 Tobo, Uppsala) was a celebrated master of the nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle). His father Anders Sahlström and grandfather Lars Larsson (b. 1820; d. 1893) were both fiddlers. He composed, performed, and recorded prolifically for over 40 years. His well-known “Byggnan” was composed by “Byss” Kalle (Karl Ersson Bössa, b. 1783 in Boussard; d. 1847) following a bet of a keg of liquor with the builder of a bell-tower in Ålvkarleö. Gösta Sandström (b. 1917 Karlskoga, Orebro County; d. 2005) grew up in Täby, Uppland County and started learning violin at age 6 from his father Martin. He was taught nyckelharpa by Eric Sahlström.

Röjås Jonas (b. 1921 Boda, Dalarna County) began to learn violin at home before attending the Folkliga musikskolan in Arvika, Värmland County. He taught music, performed, and recorded through the 1970s.
Pål Olle (b. Aug. 4, 1915 Östjorka, Rättvik parish, Dalarna County; d. Sept. 27, 1987 Rättvik) was a professional painter and award-winning violinist who performed and recorded prolifically into the 1980s.

Nordergutarnas Spelmanslag were formed in 1948 through a conversation between Svante Petterson and Matts Arnberg, although members of the group had previously performed together as long as a decade earlier, including in Norra Gotland’s string orchestra, who has played both classical and folk music. They had eight members at the time of this recording: Bengt Ekedahl, (leader) Svante Pettersson, Edvin Levin, Oscar Herlitz, Gustav Johansson, Arne Ekdahl, Sigvard Huldt, and Bengt Endrell. Various incarnations of the group performed through the 1980s.

Carl-Eric Berndt (b. 1910) learned to play violin from his father. He began playing with Richard Isacson (b. 1911) in 1940. They played both violin and “clog violin,” an instrument originally made from a wooden shoe fitted with a neck and strings. Their repertoire here is derived notably largely from farmers and from traveling performers including Ola Nilsson Lars (b. 1831) who kept his instrument in a badger skin and played for tips of “a piece of bread, a handful of salt, some wool, or preferably a drink” and Lorens Brodin (b. 1818), a popular Romani performer.

Malungs Spelmanslag was formed by Herman Stromberg (b. 1882) in Västerdalarna who had learned most of his tunes from his grandfather Lejsme Per. At the time of these recordings they were led by Sven Bohm and numbered 15 players.


released March 1, 2022

This compilation includes the majority of Matts Arnberg's commercially issued recordings of instrumental music from 1948-51 notably lacking one performance by Eric Öst and Theodor Ohlson, four sides by Röjås Jonas & Pål Olle, and four sides by Ewert Åhs. We hope to complete the collection in the short term.
They are, very roughly, presented in the order in which they were released.

Recording dates and known locations:
1 & 2 recorded Jan. 19, 1949, Dalarna County
3-7 recorded Jan. 22, 1949, Dalarna County
8-13 recorded Dec. 14-17, 1948, likely in Stockholm
14-22 recorded Nov. 15-16, 1948, Stockholm
23-28 recorded Oct 11, 1949, Stockholm
29-34 recorded Oct. 28, 1949, Visby, Gotland Island
35-42 recorded Jan 26, 1950, Stockholm
43-46 recorded Nov. 12, 1951, Dalarna County
47-53 recorded Oct 31, 1950, Dalarna County
54-60 untraced ca. early 1950s

Performers are representative of the historical regions of:
Dalarna: 1-13, 23-28, 43-53
Hälsingland: 14-16
Uppland: 17-22, 54-60
Skåne: 35-42
Gotland: 29-34

Original recordings produced by Matts Anberg for Radiotjänst
Notes by Gunhild Andersen & Ian Nagoski
Transfers & restoration by Ian Nagoski
Translations by Gunhild Andersen
Discographical data via Svensk Mediedatabas
Significant data drawn from Märta Ramsten's dissertation carkiv.musikverk.se/www/epublikationer/Ramsten_Marta_Aterklang_1992.pdf
as well as Wictor Johansson's article Nordergutarnas spelmanslag: About Construction of Gotland Folk Music Tradition

Cover photo of Gösta Sandström (left) and Eric Sahlström (right)
Thanks to Michael Robertson

Further listening: katalog.visarkiv.se/lib/views/srfolk/HitList.aspx?s=1_1#_ga=2.40856167.490456909.1643152359-1299370979.1643152359


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