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The Blood Of Kvasir/Kvasirs Blod




- Scaldic poetry and saga sounds

Miriam Andersén
Voice, eirharpa (metal strung lyre), horn

Poul Høxbro
Bone flute-&-bones, horn, hornpipe


The Viking skalds created some of the most heroic and complex poems of the time. Many of these verses were part of a musical tradition in that they were also sung, and this recitation of poems was undoubtedly the noblest form of entertainment in the Viking community. Archaeological findings of  instruments such as lyres, horns, bone flutes, and reed pipes clearly show that certain instruments also played an important role in the music that was created and heard in the Viking period. But we have no means of knowing what was actually performed on these instruments, whether as accompaniment to the poems or as independent instrumental music.

To us, two Scandinavian musicians working full time on medieval music, the thought of the tones that carried these poems and the sounds of the instruments became ever more fascinating and it was this fascination that took us on an expedition into exploring the manuscript editions of traditional music - music from areas konown to have been populated by Vikings. Here we found archaic melodies which were linked to certain Old Norse metres, and old notations of minimalistic and suggestive music from isolated regions where instruments similar to, or identical with those found in Viking excavation sites were still played.

We were left with a musical treasure that enabled us to accentuate and wreathe these sophisticated poems with music that could do the poems and the instruments full justice on both historical and modern terms.
What had at first seemed to be insuperable barriers could now suddenly be turned into musical enrichment.

The Blood of Kvasir is the artistic outcome of these dreams, longings, and explorations.

Made by Roland Suits, Estonia, and reconstructed according to findings in Novgorod.

Harps are mentioned in the Eddaic poems and the Volsunga Saga, but there is no archaeological or iconographical evidence that they existed in Viking Scandinavia. However, the fragment of a lyre has been found in Hedeby and two bridges which could have come from lyres have been found in Birka and Gotland. All dating from the Viking period. Most probably, ‘harp’ was a general term for a stringed instrument and the Viking harp was a kind of lyre like the bowed harp. Medieval pictures in Setesdal, Norway, and Bohuslän, Sweden, depict Gunnar of the saga playing a lyre.
Amongst the many sensational findings of medieval musical instruments in archaeological excavations in Novgorod is a handful of lyre-like gusli dating from the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. The gusli is a kind of psaltery, closely related to the  Finnish/Baltic kantele and is still an instrument used for playing folk music in Russia. Several of the guslis were decorated with elegantly carved, stylised motifs of animals. Also found were pieces of bronze wire, which could very well have been used as strings for these instruments. Two similar instruments have been unearthed in Poland - the oldest dating from the eleventh century.
The Novgorod excavations are interesting from our point of view, because Novgorod (Holmgård) is known to have had a Scandinavian population right from the time it was founded in the ninth century and to have had close contacts with Sweden. It was a very important centre for Gotland merchants on the trade route to Byzantium.

There is no separate word in Old Norse for singing. One  speaks, utters, chants, or delivers a poem. In other words, no difference is made between reciting solemnly and rhythmically and singing. Delivery of a strophic poem in a certain metre requires a melodic formula more than a specific melody. That is how Old Norse poetry has been sung in the Icelandic tradition and one can see that a melody could exist in different versions, which fitted different metres. The singing of incantations,  galdr, is described in the sagas, but this is not a tradition that has survived ? naturally, as this was a thoroughly pagan practice. The word galdr comes from gala (to crow, cry, scream, chant, sing incantations) and implies singing in a shrill voice.

Cow horns
Made by Börs Anders Öhman and Hornper Pettersson, Sweden.

The two Scandinavian music horns with finger holes - so far the oldest found ? are well preserved. Both are made of horn from three year old heifers. They were found in Sweden.One horn dates back to the sixth century and the other to about 950 A.D. The Swedish custom of playing calls and melodies on such horns has carried on unbroken right up to our own time. The Viking horn from 950 is completely intact, and  the Riksspelmann (state musician) Pelle Jacobsson, who has been permitted to play on it, told us when we first met him that only a slight adjustment was needed before he could play all his melodies on this horn that is more than one thousand years old!
References to music horns from the Viking period are known from the riddles in the Anglo-Saxon manuscript, the Exeter Book, which dates from the last half of the tenth century. The famous Bayeux Tapestry, which was woven shortly after 1066, depicts a horn player playing at a feast. Other and more detailed pictures from the eleventh century also show a technique of playing completely identical with the one traditionally used in Sweden, where one hand partially stops the bell, exactly like the modern French horn.

Bone flutes
Traditional Gaita (three-hole flute) made by José Maria Valiente, Roblea, Province of Salamanca, Spain. Made of bone from the griffon vulture and mounted with a mouthpiece of goat horn.
Rams bone flute made by Gustaf Alling, Sweden. (track 4, 10)

Bone flutes from the Viking period have been found in large numbers all over the North. Most of them were made of sheeps bone, but some were made of bone from deer, pigs, dogs, geese, eagles, swans, and cranes.

The Roblea gaita is an overblowing flute with only three holes. It represents the only living European bone flute tradition, which is today carried on by José Maria Valiente, who lives in the Spanish province of Salamanca. The construction of the flute could shed new light on the secret behind preserved crane bone flutes from the Viking period. Few holes at the lower end and lack of a lipped mouth-hole ? characteristics of this type of flute ? have always led to the conclusion that these flutes had been discarded, but when compared with the vulture bone-gaita, they could suddenly be seen as an overblowing flute, perhaps mounted with a mouthpiece of some material other than bone - a material that has not been preserved in the earth.
The ram’s bone flute is a reconstruction of the most common bone flute played in Viking times. A small recorder or flageolet-like construction, where overblowing is only partly possible and where the number and the size of the finger holes determine the range and the chromatic potential. This type of flute was still made and played by Norwegian and Swedish shepherd boys in Oppdal and Västergötland far into the nineteenth century.

Made by  Kaj Kok, Denmark. The wooden part is a copy of an earth find on Falster, Denmark, c 950.

Chanters of this kind from Viking times have also been found in Lund, York, and Frisia. The pipe quite clearly belongs to the shawm family, as the tones in the pipe are produced by means of a reed, probably in the form of a rush with a single cut beating reed. The pipe may have been constructed as a hornpipe with air blown directly through a horn thus shielding the reed ? just as Kaj Kok and we have chosen to interpret it. However, it could also have been a chanter of a bagpipe construction with air drawn in through a separate tube into a leather sack or as a melody pipe in a so-called bladder pipe, where air is drawn in through the bladder of a pig or some other animal.

Bones, traditional Irish.
Clappers made of bone have been known since very ancient times. Beautifully carved Egyptian samples date back to c. 2000 BC and the tradition of playing these clappers is known from many European countries including Sweden, where they are called "snatterpinnar".

Esk uses two antique cowbells of hammered sheet iron. Miriam Andersén plays on one, which her grandfather, Åke Esbjörnsson, kicked out of the earth in a forest in Dalarna. Poul Høxbro uses a cowbell purchased from Degeberga antiques market.
Big and small bells of hammered sheet iron have a long history in Europe. Animals wore bells of metal and wood and a completely intact specimen, identical with ours, was found in a toolbox from the tenth century on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Traditional Irish bones.

Clappers/castanets of bone are to the percussionist what the bone flute is to the wind player, namely one of the oldest instruments. Beautifully carved specimens dating from c 3000 BC have been found in Egypt and popular playing traditions are known in almost all European countries. In Sweden the tradition is known from mediaeval murals and also from folk music. In the nineteenth century Swedish musicians switched to carving the ‘bones’ in wood and calling them ‘snatterpinnar’.


Esk: Blood of Kvasir - Viking Verse & Saga Sounds
By Esk-Kvasirs Blod (Blood of Kvasir)