In 2008 I was teaching a group of fiddle students at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. The subject was scordatura in fiddle music (scordatura = ital. mis-tuning, i.e. tun- ing of a stringed instrument differs from the standard tuning). At that time I knew only a couple of examples of Finnish fiddle tunes with open tunings. It began to bother me because I knew that in neighbouring countries there are still open tun- ings in active use. Without a doubt the situation in Finland has been the same; there are many examples of scordatura in old music books. These have now emerged into the daylight for this project and I think there are even more to come.
Folk fiddling is pretty much tied to modes therefore it surprises me that open tun- ings are not much in active use anymore. Every tuning has a character of its own and some tunes work better in open tunings. For example most tunes in D-major or D-minor can be played with so called A-bass tuning (aeae). That makes the fiddle ring better and it enriches the overtones of the instrument. For this CD I have col- lected tunes I have found in the archives over the last two years. Some of them are traditional and some are from my own tune bank. The descriptive notes explain which tuning is in use with each tune. Strings are mentioned from the lowest to the highest.
I wish you an enjoyable cruise with Finnish cross-tuned melodies!
Arto Järvelä cross-tuned is a treat for the ears, as well as a captivating invitation to trace the pathways of traditional fiddling. The practice of re-tuning is most often labeled ‘scordatura,’ which literally translates as mis-tuning. Before 1750, alternate tunings were applied to viols and lutes to ease the fingering of passages unduly difficult or unreachable in standard tuning. The practice spread across the northern reaches of Europe as the violin became a favored instrument among both art musicians and village fiddlers. In Scotland, one mid-eighteenth century publisher used the more accurate label ‘accordatura’, which captures the essential reasons why a fiddler retunes his instrument, to open it up to its own resonance. Open strings are more easily droned with the bow in concord with the fingered melody. However, even while the bow is not drawing across a string, all the strings vibrate sympathetically with the natural tonality of the piece. Cross-tuning, also called open tuning, enhances the innate resonance of the fiddle, while also offering up an enticing array of double-stops and drones.
Cross-tuning the fiddle was once a widespread and common practice among folk or traditional fiddlers. The three most common tunings–ADAE (lowest to highest), AEAE and AEAC#– are useful for tunes fingered in the keys of D and A. Their use is documented in Norway, the Shetlands, Scotland, Maritime Canada, Quebec, the United States and now in Finland. Commentators have remarked that in some places the practice has all but disappeared, for instance, in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora. In other traditions, cross-tuning is making a comeback with the current generation who have learned both from elderly masters and from historical sources. Such is the case in the Scottish tradition of Cape Breton in Eastern Canada, as well as in some districts of the United States, such as my own home state of Illinois. In a few select places, the tradition has flourished without ceasing: the Southeast and Southwest of the United States and most notably in Norway.
In those sections of Norway, where the flat fiddle is preferred to the Hardingfele, cross-tuning is perhaps more common than even the conventional GDAE. Besides the three most common cross-tunings named above, a recent collection of Norwegian fiddle music included DDAE, DDAD, FDAE, and FCAE. Such a variety is found in two American collections representing Oklahoma– adding GDAD, EEAE, EEBE, BEBE, AEF#C# and GDBD to our list–and Kentucky. On this wonderful collection of cross-tuned pieces found and composed in the Finnish tradition, Arto Järvelä offers up nine different cross-tunings. Each is wed to a distinctive melody that opens the fiddle up to the inborn resonance of his instrument, his clear and creative use of fingering patterns and his considerable mastery of the bow.