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Written in fRoots issue 294, 2007


Jouhikko Ė The Bowed Lyre
Rauno Nieminen

Finnish Folk Music Institute
ISBN 978-951-9268-42-2 (2007)

When it comes to the jouhikko, Rauno Nieminen is the man. He and the late StyrbjŲrn Bergelt of Sweden have been since the 1970s the key movers, as researchers, makers and players, in the revival of the bowed lyre tradition of south-eastern Finland, where the instrument is called jouhikko or occasionally jouhikantele, and of neighbouring Estonia, where itís called talharpa or hiiu-kannel.
      Back in 1984 Nieminen wrote a slim but pioneering book about the jouhikko, whose history across northern Europe goes back at least a thousand years. This elegant new publication, a much expanded update, is the new definitive work on these usually rough-hewn, player-made instruments. All the strings Ė in Finland typically three, in Estonia more usually four - are bowed together, for melody the playerís left hand pressing on one or sometimes two strings with back of the fingers while the others sound a drone.
      There are plenty of colour and black and white photos of instruments and players, descriptions, playing tutorials, instructions for making strings of twisted horsehair or the similarly husky-sounding but less temperamental fine-filament fishing nylon, tuning, clear transcriptions of most of the archive recordings made of the repertoires of the last of the traditional players in the early years of the 20th century, who appear in atmospheric old photos, and tucked into the back cover thereís a CD of the archive recordings. These are quiet instruments, recorded in an era when audio technology was less than perfect, but itís possible to hear a unifying characteristic of all the players, a brisk bowing style in uncomplicated but effective dance tunes in duple or triple time.
      The text is parallel Finnish and English, the latter a good translation apart from a few slight mis-translations or misunderstandings, and Nieminen himself could have made one or two things a little clearer, such as the distinction if any between hiiu-kannel and talharpa. Quibbles aside, itís a visually attractive and thorough piece of work.

© 2007 Andrew Cronshaw

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