FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

A trip to Dalarna

Scanfolk Part V: A folk revival by a painter, red horses and - folk music!

Anders Zorn's painting Midsummer Dance, 1896, Nationalmuseum StockholmDalarna, a region in the centre of Sweden, is today seen by most people as the "typical", the romantic Sweden. Dalarna's houses in the "Falun" red colour in a landscape with forests, big lakes and hills; then the wooden red horses from Dalarna as the most famous Swedish souvenir, and of course the folk music as well as the Midsummer Dance traditions which are supposed to be strongest in Dalarna. This is the image, and coming to Dalarna, all of this can be found - partly in a touristic-kitschy way, partly also just wonderful. From the folk music side of things, the most famous event of Dalarna (and of Sweden) is definitely the Falun Folk Festival.

Dalarna is also home of Sweden's most famous, and probably also best, painter: Anders Zorn (1860-1920), a fascinating character. Zorn is best known for his beautiful paintings of nude ladies outdoors, as well as scenes of the traditional life in Mora. His most famous painting is "Midsummer dance". These days, the Midsummer Celebrations typically involve traditional dances around a maypole. They have quite a magic atmosphere, as at this time of the year, even in Dalarna the night never becomes totally dark, giving this amazing light without shadows. These Midsummer Dances were brought back into popular culture by among others Anders Zorn, who became very interested in the folk culture of Dalarna. He not only bought old cottages and moved them together into a new traditional village, but also brought people back to live a very basic traditional life (not always in a way that would be accepted these days). And during this, he also revived the tradition of Midsummer Dances.

Zorn is also responsible for the first Swedish folk music revival of the 20th century. With the intention to preserve the old folk music traditions, Zorn established a music contest in the Dalarna town of Gesunda at the lake Mora in 1906, which resulted in a renaissance of folk music and its ultimate survival in Sweden. Today, the Zorn Award ("Zornmärket") is still the most prestigious price a Swedish folk musician can receive.

Dalrana: Red houses in the forest; photo by The MollisThe Gesunda musicians meeting was maybe the first of the gatherings of traditional musicians; today there are probably hunderes of the so called "spelmansstämmor" around Sweden. These Spelmansstämmor are festivals where traditional musicians, singers and dancers come together to play mainly traditional Swedish music. The biggest of these "Stämma" happens also in Dalarna, in Bingsjö in the parish of Rättvik. Obviously, the main instrument you will come across on these events is the fiddle, being the national Swedish instrument, along with the Swedish nyckelharpa and other traditional and not-so-traditional instruments.

There was a second folk revival in Sweden in the middle of the 20th century, and finally a third, slightly smaller, revival in the last one or two decades. During this last revival, the biggest Swedish folk and world music festival was born in 1986: The Falun Folk Festival - of course also in Dalarna. This festival is something special in Sweden as its focus is not only on Swedish, but also on international folk and world music. Actually this is what makes Falun extremely refreshing after having been in Sweden for half a year: Finally you have the opportunity again to hear something different to Swedish polskas & co. As beautiful as Swedish music is, a bit of change is nevertheless appreciated from time to time; this makes you also enjoy afterewards even more again the Swedish music. (You can find somewhere in this FolkWorld issue also a full review of the Falun Folk Festival).

When you travel in summer through Dalarna, you can find everywhere hints of the rich folk and folk music culture of Dalarna - unfortunately often presented in a tourist-bus-friendly way. Dalarna markets itself as a tourist destination with these assets, and well obviously the lover of folk music might also get enough of all this romanticised kitschy folk cliché. Being in a wonderfuly located village with only red houses, every second of them being a hotel and - oh what a lucky coincidence for that bus load - there is just today playing "spontaneously" a "traditional" spelmanslag, with all of them in their traditional costume... Not to forget all those red wooden Dalarna horses to be found everywhere in Dalarna. -- Ah well, Dalarna is still a wonderful place, and as in so many other places you just need to KNOW where to go to find good quality folk music. Like at the festivals - be it Falun, the Rättvik Folk Festival or any of those Spelmansstämma.

A nyckelharpa, photo by The MollisThere is enough high quality folk music around in Sweden as well as in Dalrana itself right now, and this is both the traditional way of (mainly fiddle) playing and more innovative approaches. There is a very vibrant young scene of traditional musicians, and you can find at a lot of festivals Swedish music workshops. With the latest folk muisc revival, the general recognition of folk music has mounted immensely: You can study now folk music at the Royal Music Academy the government (and all political parties) recognise traditional music as an important asset in Swedish culture. Falun Festival has brought also quite a recognition of folk music among younger people.

Ranarim, photo by The MollisAs much as folk music is rooted these days again in the popular Swedish culture, still, folk music is a minority thing. Concerts are even in the capital intimate affairs where "normal" people would usually not go to. I think one reason for the fact that folk music does not become a more mainstream interest is the general lack of variety - even Stockholm offers in the folk music sector nearly only Swedish folk concerts and dances (with the odd guests from Finland).

This is the final part of the Scanfolk series, as I have left Scandinavia by now. I have discovered during my Scandinavian year plenty of great Scandinavian music, and I was impressed by the different handling of folk music, being in both Denmark and Sweden well funded by the state. I fell in love with the countries, and I am missing the beautiful sceneries as well as Stockholm, the most wonderful capital in the world. And I also miss the Swedish music.

There is enough talent out there that still needs to be discovered by the folk scene in the rest of Europe.


Further Reading and Info on the Swedish Folk Music Scene:

The first three parts of the Scanfolk series:

Photo & Picture Credit:
Painting: Anders Zorn: Midsummer Dance, 1896, exhibited in the Nationalmuseum Stockholm
Photos by the Mollis:
(1) Dalarna: Forest and red houses (2) A Nyckelharpa (3) Ranarim's Ulrika Bodén & Niklas Roswall

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