Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Melodies of eastern Jämtland (Joel Böhlén)

This is a CD that I picked up at the hemgård behind Bispgården church the last time I was there, in 2013. It was made by two local musicians principally to document the compositions of Joel Böhlén, another local "spelman", who had died in 1969.

If you could hear the CD, you'd hear a sprightly bunch of dance tunes like "gånglåtar", polskas, waltzes and so on. (More about these here). The typical repertoire of the Swedish "spelman" tradition.

You can hear several of Böhlén's melodies (and see Gränsfelan performing them) on this Järkvissle Film & Media TV programme.

This TV film is called "Ekon från Långsjönäset" and was made, I think, in 2009. By that time most of Gränsfelan's members had died. But the film includes substantial footage from an earlier film, "Gränsfelan på Långsjönäset" (1987).

Below is my quick translation of the CD liner-note.

A documentary

This is a documentary made by two folk-music enthusiasts, Erik Englund (violin) and Bertil Westlund (guitar). These recordings were made over three sessions.

The music consists mainly of tunes by the fiddler Joel Böhlén (1889 - 1969). Joel was born with a rich musical ancestry but in the poorest imaginable circumstances in a little croft in the woods above the hamlet of Österåsen in what was then Fors parish in eastern Jämtland. It was said that his family had such torn clothes you couldn't even make rags of them. Later, they moved to Långsjönäset, a hamlet even deeper in the woods.

[Apparently Joel's forebears had also been musicians. On the Järkvissle program there's a couple of pieces by Manne Böhlén, but that's all I know on the subject.]

[The particular Österåsen mentioned here is on the west bank of the Indal directly opposite Utanede (Google Maps doesn't record these tiny places). Långsjönäset is in the plateau hinterland, far to the west of the river.]

[Stop Press: Fors parish disappeared in 2001 but, as of January 1st 2016, has been re-instated.]

Joel's gifts showed themselves early, and a trader was willing to fund his education, but it never happened. Instead, he ended up working on the land and in the woods.

Joel composed a very large number of melodies, but he could neither write nor read music, so the majority of his tunes are gone for ever. One of his playing companions, Oskar Annell, very fortunately put together a notebook with some of Joel's melodies, and a few more were transcribed by Erik Gerdin of Järkvissle.

At the end of July 1969 Joel celebrated his 80th birthday. Erik Englund and a number of other fiddlers visited Joel at his home, where he was confined to bed because of illness. When they performed some of Joel's own melodies he said: "I wonder if anyone will play my tunes once I'm gone!" Joel died on the 19th September the same year.

Erik Englund was part of the fiddle-group Gränsfelan, who had several of Joel Böhlén's tunes in their repertoire.

Erik had a few doubts about making this recording at the age of 86! But he decided to do it anyway, with the intention that the music should be documented and might inspire future generations to perform Joel Böhlén's melodies and to keep his music alive.  [Just in time: Erik passed away later the same year.]

Erik Englund was born in Böle, in the former Fors parish, in 1919. Self-taught fiddler. He was awarded a gold Zorn Medal in 2001. [Swedish award for folk musicians.] On this CD Erik plays both first and second fiddle on all tracks.
Bertil Westlund was born in Reva, in the former Fors parish, in 1939. Self-taught guitarist. [Reva is a small hamlet on the W. bank of the Indal, some miles south from Böle. It used to have, and perhaps still does have, a summer music festival.]

May 2005

Recording by Tony Backlund and Emil Höög of Ljudgriparna HB.
Liner-notes by Sören Nilsson.  [Also one of the presenters of the Järkvissle TV film]
Layout and photo by Bruno Wiklund.


(The first 19 tracks, plus track 24, are Joel Böhlén compositions)
1. A-Major Trall (gånglåt). A "trall" is a tune. In Swedish folk music there was a kind of wordless vocal music called "trall" - trolling or warbling. The tune somewhat recalls this. Google translates "Gånglåt" as "marching tune" but we are not talking about military marching, this is more like a 2/4 stroll or amble (lit. walk-tune).
2. Ängom Gånglåt. Ängom (also shown on maps as Ängum) is south of Boda on the eastern side of Indalsälven.
3. Rotstrand's Nacken (polska). Mysterious. I don't know if Rotstrand is a place (strand = shore) or a person (rare surname). "Nacken" could mean "nape" (perhaps in a topographical sense), or it might be a typo for "näcken", the violin-playing naiad that is part of Swedish folklore and is often associated with the spelman (folk-musician, typically fiddler). A "polska" is a usually halting 3/4 dance (unlike the faster, gliding waltz).
4. Polska in D minor.
5. Grandfather's waltz (Joel's paternal grandfather). Doubtless a spelman himself!
6. Gånglåt in B.
7. Grandfather's polska (Joel's paternal grandfather).
8. Feast polska. "Kalas" means party or feast. In this case I'm assuming a village feast, where spelmän typically perform.
9. Waltz for Eivor.
10. Klippen polska. Klippen is on the western side of Indalsälven, opposite Järkvissle.
11. Lillbäcken polska. Lillbäcken is presumably a local place-name, but I haven't managed to track it down.
12. Schottische at Ängom. See track 2. A "schottis" is a 2/4 dance, slower than a polka.
13. Polska in G major.
14. Old People's Gånglåt.
15. River Dance (polska).
16. Långsjönäset waltz. Joel's home village (see liner-note and TV film).
17. Sun glittering on Indalsälven. The beautiful river Indal, the central feature of Fors parish.
18. Twilight on Gussjön. A fairly large lake a few miles to the east of the Indal valley.
19. Farewell to Ängom. See track 2.
20. Summer Trall (gånglåt). Composed by Erik Gerdin of Järkvissle. For "trall" see track 1.
21. Jämtland Polska. Traditional.
22. Old Jämtland Wedding March. Traditional - still a very well-known tune.
23. Tune by Erik Englund (Jämtland polska).
24. Here we go! (polka). A polka is a 2/4 dance.



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