Norwegian lyres!

Here is a glimpse into my pratical work with lyres. This winter I have worked with several instruments simultaneously. Some of them are new projects, while others are now finished after a long period of work, drying and rest.

Among the instruments I have made is the lyre depicted at the well known stave church portal from Hylestad, Setesdal. At the original portal, from round 1200 AD (displayed at the Museum of Cultural History, Oslo), the instrument is equipped with about twelve strings. We do not know if the artist really had an instrument with twelve strings as a model, or if this was a choice made by artistic reasons. Neither do we know how the instrument was constructed, and the material of the strings.

However, the two reconstructions I have finished now are made from my own artistic freedom, in combination with knowledge of lyres from other places and periods. These two lyres are stringed with, respectively, steel and nylon. Sound and music samples will follow soon, with more information on my experimental project of reconstructing lyres found in depictions on artefacts from Southern Norway, ca. 1100–1400 AD.

Another lyre, which has been shown to belong to a later, post-medieval period, was found at the farm Kravik in Numedal. Unlike the portal from Hylestad and the other iconographies, this is a real instrument, preserved the farm until it arrived at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo in the 19th century. The lyre was partly broken, and the sound board was not preserved at all. The original number of strings is estimated to seven. 

Two of the images show my reconstruction of the lyre from Kravik. I used metal strings.

Gjermund Kolltveit

Music archaeologist, ethnomusicologist, musician – Nesodden, Norway. Main research interests: sound and sound tools (e.g. jew’s harps, lyres, ringing stones, bells) in human culture and soundscapes.

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