An interest in Viking culture has captivated the whole world. The number of musical bands that take inspiration from Scandinavian images and concepts is constantly growing. But what was Viking music really like? We’re now going to answer that question and tell you what the ancient Northmen used to sing about.
When the conversation turns to Viking culture and artistic activities, what usually comes to mind are skalds. These poets often lived at the courts of konungs, praising feats of combat in their songs and rhapsodizing about great warriors.
The Vikings believed that skalds had tasted Kvasir’s mead of poetry. They thought that was the reason why some people succeeded in composing verses and singing songs while others failed.
Skalds used to sing mostly without musical instruments and only about things that they saw with their own eyes. Thus, skald verbal poetry became a way to record historical events and transfer knowledge about them to others.
Despite being portrayed as a harsh people, the Northmen sang very often. During feasts, regular warriors used to sing loud songs about battles and successful conquests. Sailors would chant inspirational hymns while rowing. There were even special songs for harvesting, hunting, and fishing.
In the Viking era, people believed in magic, so they probably thought that singing and playing music had the same magical effect as casting spells. That’s why the Northmen used to sing during Viking rituals, as they appealed to the gods and praised their great deeds.
How exactly those songs sounded is hard to tell – almost nothing has survived to the modern day. There is, however, an ancient transcript of a Viking musical piece called “Drømde mik en drøm i nat.” It shows several starting notes and runes that were used for words. One of the versions of the translation goes as follows: “I dreamt a dream last night of equality and honest measure.” The transcript dates from the 14th century, but the song itself might be far older.
Viking musical instruments
Thanks to archeological research and folklore that has survived to the present day, we know that the Vikings played the flute, a string instrument resembling the lyre, tambourines, and drums. There was also a special musical horn called the “lur.”
It is believed that there was no standard in the Viking era for how a musical instrument should sound. All performers tuned their instruments as they saw fit, as the most important thing was the harmony between the sound and the singer’s voice.
Although a few Viking musical instruments have survived to the present day, there is still a great deal we don’t know, because most examples of Viking instruments were lost. It is important to treat any instrument with care and to maintain a specific humidity level around it, but back then, the Vikings didn’t even think about these things. People often carried musical instruments on marches, and they wore out very quickly.
In the next article, we’re going to tell you more about the most popular Viking musical instruments. Meanwhile, download the game Vikings: War of Clans and dive into the atmosphere of that era!