Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Brudeferden i Hardanger Fiddles and film

Tomorrow at the Aldeburgh Music Festival is Hardanger Fiddle Day. Julian Anderson's Ring Dance for two violins (1987) will be heard at the Jubilee Hall, together with pieces played by Hardanger fiddle master Sivert Holmen.  The Hardanger tradition comes from the mountains of western Norway.  In rural areas, social occasions like weddings  brought isolated communities together,  thus helped shape regional culture. Hardanger fiddlers played for dances: thus the strong rhythmic beat and repeated patterns.  Hardanger music is joyful, even athletic - some forms of Norwegian dance resemble acrobatics. Yet Hardanger music is also plaintive, with an overlay of keening melancholy. 

That curious blend of youthful vigour and sorrow pervades Brudeferden  i Hardanger, a film from 1926, directed by Rasmus Breistein, who was himself a country fiddler and later learned the Hardanger style. The film is based on at least one novel, but also explicitly connects to one of the most famous paintings in Norwegian art, Brudeferd i Hardanger, (1848) by Tidemand and Gude. The painting shows a boat sailing down a fjord, surrounded by mountains. On the boat is a bride leaving home for a supposedly happy future.  In the film, there's a shot in the film which almost exactly replicates the painting.  Presumably those who watched the movie made the connection.

Breistein's film, though, starts out first with another scene in which a boat carries a family, forced by poverty to emigrate. Marit refuses to go with her parents, but runs up the mountainside, watching the ship head out to sea. The family look back, grimly, at the mountains, not knowing what will lie ahead. Marit stays because she's secretly in love with Anders. Anders is leaving, too, but gives Marit his mother's Sølje, a traditional wedding brooch.  She assumes he'll marry her but four years pass without a word.

Next we see a bridal procession, the Brudeferd. The soundtrack, added when the film was restored, features Hardanger fiddle played by a named master, though otherwise the music is mostly Grieg.  It's a big wedding, with at least a dozen boats, being rowed down the fjord, fancier than in the painting. The bride is rich, wearing a jewelled crown, and elaborate traditional dress. Wonderful shots of the wedding party, with  the women in starched aprons and headresses.  Hardanger embroidery ? Hardanger fiddlers, of course. But who is the bridegroom ? Marit gets Anders alone and scolds him for marrying money.  Marit quits her job in the house of the judge and goes to work with a crofter in the mountains.  Loyal Tore, who has loved her all along, finds her and takes her back to Skjralte, his big farm in the valley.

Many years pass, and Marit is now a rich old widow. Look at her embroidered finery now !  She's still wearing Anders's mother's Sølje. But she's bitter, her mouth hard, like a scar.  Anders has fallen on hard times. His wife's money is gone, and the once rich bride is forced to peddle small goods to scrape a living.  Cruel Marit humiliates the woman, who eventually dies.  Fate, though, intervenes. Marit's daughter Eli falls in love with Anders's son Bérd. When her mother throws her out, she goes to live with him and old Anders in a humble hut. Another country dance, another Hardanger fiddler. Marit's son Vigleik gets drunk, goes to Anders's hovel and beats the old man up. Eli takes Anders back to Skjralte to recover, Vigliek flees to America, and Marit nurses Anders back to health.

The film is beautifully shot, lingering lovingly on things like spinning wheels, bucket making, rustic houses furnished sparsely, some with simple painting on on the walls. and the laying of hay to dry on branches set in the ground.  The acting is good, too, much better than in most silent film.  The restoration is so good that  details are given in full at the end, deservedly so.  Brudeferden i Hardanger is an even more beautifully made film than Troll-Elgen  (which I wrote about here) though Marit is an unsympathetic piece of work.  In the photo below, we can see the simple, portable cameras Breistein's crew used, shooting on location in the open countryside.

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