Immerse yourself in the rich, enchanting melodies of the past as you recreate the ambiance of medieval Europe with our new FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA Kontakt instrument. Our latest release is part of our MEDIEVAL PHRASES series, which aims to recreate the musical traditions and moods of the Middle Ages, so popular in recent releases like Game of Thrones, Rings of Power, and Wheel of Time. Whether you’re a composer looking to add authenticity to your music or a music producer seeking to add something exotic or primeval to your track, our latest phrase library is perfect for you.

MEDIEVAL PHRASES: FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA, hands the incredible playing and dynamic of two brilliant musicians and their instruments into the hands of modern music producers and composers. Featuring over 600 phrases, our MEDIEVAL PHRASES: FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA covers a wide range of moods, tempos, and keys. You can use these phrases as they are, or easily combine and edit them with the creative key layout to craft your own unique compositions. Both instruments can also be played freely with multiple articulations.

“The rhythmic Nyckelharpa phrases we recorded can sound quite percussive,” Jonas describes it, “but the lower registers still do have a warmth to them that can be associated with a campfire or a medieval tavern. The phrases in general are very versatile: from a medieval action scene to a nice tavern ambience or a village celebration. Although we focused on the lighter side of the sound, the fast rhythmic phrases can be used to create tension and movement. The single instruments also provide short staccato sounds that can be used to create fast passages in scores.”

Tilman adds: “I use the playable instruments for melodic ideas, to create extremely realistic and emotional moments – this is exactly what you can use the sensitive and inspired live performances of our musicians for and integrate them into your own musical context.”

A dynamic pair

FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA features two stringed instruments that were popular in Northern Europe from the 13th to the 16th century: the fiddle, a bowed instrument with four strings, and the nyckelharpa, a keyed fiddle with 16 strings and 37 keys. These instruments produce a rich and expressive sound that evokes the landscapes and legends of the Nordic countries.

We chose these two instruments because they’re essentially very similar in construction: bowed strings on a wooden box. Yet they have completely different sounds and thus complement each other very well.

“These instruments have a unique antique touch in their sound and playing style,” says Tilman Sillescu, our Creative Director. “They are by no means limited to the Middle Ages or Renaissance, and they’re fantastic for any fantasy or historical scenario.”

The Fiddle

Everyone knows the fiddle. From fiddlers on roofs to Irish jigs to cowboy campfire songs and romantic tangos, it permeates through timeless popular culture throughout both Europe and the Americas. While a lot of people mistake it for the violin – the fiddle features a flatter bridge and a shorter neck – the two words in more recent times are often used interchangeably, with the fiddle name being used for any solo virtuoso violin busting out jigs or diddleys by the fire.

“It has the familiar tone of a violin, but is often played with faster rhythms,” project lead Jonas Meyer says. “Combined with occasional double stops, the instrument feels like it’s the perfect accompaniment to a bard’s tale.”

Fiddle as a symbol

The fiddle was the popular instrument of the common folk, who used it to accompany songs and stories, as well as to entertain themselves and others at social gatherings. It was also a symbol of resistance and rebellion, played by outlaws and rebels like Robin Hood to celebrate their heists with bonfire dances full of revelry and merriment.

Today, it’s still, of course, widely used in folk music genres such as Celtic, Breton, Klezmer, American folk, and neo-folk. For MEDIEVAL PHRASES, we recruited Hungarian violinist Izsák Farkas to play some medieval styles for us.

Farkas Izsák

Izsák is a renowned Hungarian violinist specializing in medieval and folk music. He’s an expert in historical techniques across Europe and often takes part in theatrical performances as well (he often finds himself on a roof). He’s passionate about the violin – especially the electric violin – and he tries to regularly push the boundaries of his instrument, blending traditional and modern with technology and style (it’s no wonder we maintain a good working relationship with him!).

We’ve worked with Izsák on many projects and were excited to work with him again. Check out his YouTube channel, Follow the Violin, to learn more about the man behind the fiddle of our instrument.

Here is Izsák and his band InFusion Trio playing a cover of the Game of Thrones theme live, taking full advantage of electronic-folk capabilities and really rocking it out towards the end:

The Nyckelharpa

The Nyckelharpa, literally a “key fiddle”, is a traditional Swedish bowed string instrument that also dates to the Middle Ages. It has 16 strings, of which four are played with a bow and the rest are sympathetic strings that resonate with the bowed ones. It also has a set of keys that are pressed by the left hand to change the pitch of the melody strings.

The Nyckelharpa was used for folk music and dance tunes in rural areas of Sweden, especially in the province of Uppland. Singers and dancers regularly performed to its music at various events, such as markets, festivals, taverns, and celebrations.

“The Nyckelharpa has a very reverberant tone to it that can feel very dreamy sometimes,” Jonas says. “The bow scratching can be heard a lot louder than with orchestral string instruments, which can even achieve a ghostly sound.”

How it’s changed

The early Nyckelharpa, though, was a bit different than the popularized version we often hear today. It had a lot more in common with the hurdy gurdy, where the playing style focused more on the drone strings. It wasn’t until the 1900s when the fiddler/nyckelharpist from Uppland, August Bohlin, decided to apply his fiddle virtuoso technique to it, and then Eric Sahlström adapted its design to play in any key that it became hugely popular. After these two innovations, it spread across the Continent almost as fast as Abba, becoming a staple instrument in many European folk traditions.

The instrument, played in either style, is used to perfectly encapsulate that “medieval mood” so popular today. It’s heard in medieval and fantasy soundtracks across the board, with a most recent claim to fame in Natalie Holt’s scoring of Marvel’s  (as a shout-out to the title character’s Scandinavian heritage).

Thomas Roth

We recruited the Nyckelharpa legend Thomas Roth to come in and record phrases for us. Thomas is one of the founding members of the German folk rock band the Geyers, and his folk-rock Nyckelharpa career spans over 30 years. Though he plays historical styles with great fluency and finesse, he’s also developed his own style of play, and much like Izsák, we love him because he regularly pushes the boundaries of his instrument with technology and the fusion of genres.

He’s now with a new group of musicians traveling the world, presenting traditional music and his own original compositions.

Here he is with a drummer and guitarist in a studio session playing his composition, “Liberacion”:

Get it today

The intention of MEDIEVAL PHRASES: FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA, as with all our phrase libraries, is to transfer the incredible playing and dynamic of real musicians and instruments into the hands of modern music producers and composers.

“It is always extremely difficult for composers to create a real sonic reality, to create immersion for the listener in a world, especially if you can’t record musicians who have mastered this style,” Tilman says. “We have recorded outstanding musicians who can breathe musical life into precisely these ancient, distant worlds.”

FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA is a must-have for anyone who loves medieval music, or who wants to explore a new and exciting musical territory. With FIDDLE & NYCKELHARPA, you can experience the enchantment and beauty of the music of the time of legends.



Images used:

2012 05 11_MFF_0062 – Copyright by Pete White on flickr ; some rights reserved | licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License | The image was cropped and color graded by the Sonuscore team for our purposes.

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