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~ Historical info ~



Music, instruments & scales of the Old North


What info do we have? Unfortunately, not much! There's no written music passed down to us from those times.

I highly recommend the Viking Answer Lady´s excellent article on Viking Age Music, and also this article on Viking Age Music on Hurstwic.org .

Ben Waggoner & I have compiled this info:

The earliest sheet music from Scandinavia is a Denish song called "Drømte mik en drøm" ("I dreamed a dream").
These are arguably the first two lines of a ballad or folksong. It was found on the last leaf of the 13th cent.
Codex runicus
, written in the same hand as the text on the preceding eight leaves, but otherwise with no obvious
connection to it. The date of notation is a little post-Viking. It seems to be notated in A minor, but the range is only
ABCDE. The lines read:

"Drømte mik en drøm i nat um silki ok ærlik pæl..."           Drømte mik MP3 (sung)
"I dreamt me a dream last night of silk and noble fur..."     Drømte mik WAV (instrumental)


Written in runes and using the early medieval form of music notation, it is believed to be older than the manuscript itself. The little sign on the top left marks the c` note. The tune is known to every Dane, having been used as the interval signal on Danmarks Radio for over half a century.

A text by someone named Hucbald suggests that the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic six-string lyre, or hearpe, 
was tuned to CDEFGA, which could be called F pentatonic with an added E.
Read more on Bragod: Robert Evans on tuning the lyre and crwth.

A Viking-era panpipe from 10th century York, England was found, with five pipes;
there may have been more once, but the set was broken. The surviving pipes were tuned to ABCDE.

Apparently a seven-pipe set turned up at Alesia, France, tuned to DEF#GABC (D Mixolydian);
that's Roman-era (2nd-3rd century), but maybe some Germanic people played it.

A bone flute turned up from 13th-century Denmark; if the recording I've heard of a replica is accurate,
it could play in D minor. There's a 13th-century hymn from the Orkneys written in Lydian mode in parallel thirds,
which is suspected to reflect Viking-era music.

And finally, a French gent named Jean-Benjamin de la Borde recorded an Icelandic melody in 1780,
to which people were still singing verses from the Poetic Edda. If I'm reading the music right -- and I may not be;
it's written using a clef I'm not familiar with -- it's notated in F major, but the range is only EFGA.


Do you have further information, sources, or suggestions? Let us know!

b/w "Dromte mig" score from Wikipedia, public domain.