Folk music on the radio


Swedish Radio hade until 1956 only one nationwide channel, which thus had a great impact. In April, 1937, one million Swedes had radio licences. There was no competition from TV and the Internet.

In the first large-scale audience survey, in 1943, it was found that the average listener in Sweden listened to the radio for 2.5 to 3 hours a day. Music programmes – such as the gramophone hour – were especially popular.

Folk music was a given part of the music on the radio. Since recordings were expensive and complicated, only big events and well-known artists were recorded in advance: most programmes consisted of direct studio transmissions. This is the reason why relatively few of the folk music programmes made by Swedish Radio are preserved.

Early folk music programme features often mirrored an attitude to folk music coloured by the background in classical music of those responsible for music programmes on the radio.

True folk musicians – not professional musicians – were sometimes heard. It was however the case that the the tunes were played as often – perhaps even more often – by classically-educated violinists. Folk songs were inevitably performed by concert – or opera – singers. There was no awareness of the fact that folk singers, bearers of a music tradition with its own intrinsic value, existed – or perhaps it was felt that they were not up to scratch artistically.

Folk music was a necessary ingredient in the programme fare – it was seen as part of the nation’s heritage – but must first be house-trained and given a framework which could be regarded as musically decorous.

Folk music was not only found in music programmes. It was also used to illustrate programmes from the lecture department – reports from the countryside or lectures on peasant culture.




Folk music on the radio after 1948

At the end of the 1940‘s, folk music programmes of a new sort were heard on Swedish Radio. Folk music had previously been performed by classically-trained musicians in classical music arrangements. Now the fruits of Matts Arnberg’s recording journeys began to be seen and heard. He was, however, initially careful when it came to presenting folk music ”raw”. In an article in ”Röster i Radio” [Radio Voices] 51/1949 he wrote:

”Within the borders of our country we have music that for an untrained listener sounds almost as exotic and incomprehensible as, say, a gamelan orchestra from Java … It is therefore extremely difficult to present the most valuable part of Swedish folk music on the radio. The really old tunes for one or two fiddles are in fact as exclusive and arcane as modern chamber music … In order to avoid making folk music programmes on the radio too exclusive, one must often let trained musicians play the tunes in more or less artistic arrangements. The menu is thus more appetising for listeners, but sadly the music loses most of its originality and distinctive character. Only true folk musicians with the tradition and dialect of their district can properly do justice to this music…”

One way used to familiarise the ears of listeners was ”spelmanslag” – groups of folk musicians from particular districts. These had evolved in the 1940‘s as a popular way of playing together and were now heard on the airwaves.

From 1950 Matts Arnberg presented a new kind of programme featuring more or less unknown musicians from his recording journeys around the country – radio portraits in which he presented the tunes, background and milieu of each musician.

Together with Ulf Peder Olrog, founder of Svenskt visarkiv*, Arnberg produced a series of programmes on traditional song genres which were transmitted in 1952-53 – love songs, religious songs, historical songs, jocular songs, etc. – followed by more programmes in the 1950’s and 60’s. In 1958, for example, six programmes on the medieval ballad were heard. In 1961-62 Arnberg and Olrog produced a series – ”Sjung visan för mig” [Sing that song for me] – with a panel consisting of three traditional singers with an exceptionally large repertoire: Lena Larsson from Bohuslän, Ulrika Lindholm from Jämtland and Svea Jansson from a Swedish-speaking part of Finland. Arnberg and Olrog compered the programmes, transmitted with an audience which could ask the three singers to perform more or less any of the old songs that they knew.

”Så lät det förr” [That’s how it sounded before] was a series produced by Arnberg for a number of years in the 1960’s – many programmes with songs and tunes, based on the folk music collection. To augment the recordings made on various journeys, traditional musicians were brought in for particular programmes.

In the 1960’s the radio’s music department was extended by the creation of a new post in addition to Matts Arnberg, and folk music became an increasingly integrated part of the music transmitted.





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