Fanitullen

Fiddler Petter Tveiten Veum (Vest-Telemark Museum, CC-BY-SA)

The video from last year’s festival had a piece of violin music in the background. It was not randomly chosen, because last year a fiddler opened the festival by playing the same tune. This is a traditional tune, or slått, called “Fanitullen”. Traditional music obviously fits well with traditional beer, but why this specific tune? Well, there is actually a reason why it had to be this tune and not some other.

The name, Fanitullen, literally means “the devil’s tune.” Nobody knows who wrote it, but there is a famous legend of where it comes from, and this legend is why we chose it.

In 1724 there was a wedding in Hol, in Hallingdal, eastern Norway. Back then, weddings were celebrations that lasted several days, for which literally hundreds of liters of strong beer were brewed. It was a problem that sometimes people didn’t just drink, but also started fighting, and when every farmer carried a knife this didn’t necessarily end well.

Someone once told me they’d visited an old man on a farm in Hallingdal and spoke with him for a good while. Hanging on the wall he had an old knife with a pretty handle and a beautiful scabbard, but when they took the knife out of the scabbard they were surprised to find the blade was only 1cm long, with no edge. The old man laughed and told them it was “a wedding knife,” meant to be worn in weddings so the wearer need not fear becoming a murderer.

Fight at a peasant wedding, painting by Adolph Tidemand

Anyway, at this 1724 wedding two young men, Levord Person Haga and Ådne Knutson Sindrol, started arguing. Eventually they took the argument outside, to settle it with their fists. Thus far the legend matches what court documents have to say, but then the legend takes off into territority not mentioned in the court documents.

The “kjøgemester”, the man responsible for toasts and for serving the beer, decides to go down into the cellar and pour a beer bowl for the winner of the fight. Coming down into the cellar he’s surprised to find a fiddler, sitting on the beer barrel and tuning his fiddle, holding it the wrong way. Once he’s finished tuning he starts playing. And boy, does he know how to play! It sounded like “angry man’s words,” “fists pounding tables,” “it wept and cheered”. The tune ends with the sound of “death.”

Fanitullen, painting by Adolph Tidemand

The tune gives the toastmaster the shivers, and he asks the fiddler where he learned it. “It makes no difference, but don’t forget it,” is the answer.

The toastmaster bends down to pour the beer, and is shocked to discover that the fiddler is not beating the tune with a foot, but with a hoof! He drops the bowl and runs out of the cellar, to find that one of the fighters has drawn his knife and killed the other.

The implication is that the devil’s fiddling has egged up the two fighters to the point that one kills the other.

The famous poem version of the legend ends with:

Fanitullen it’s named,
this wild tune,
and still the farmers play it,
and play it well,
but if those cruel tones sound,
where people are drunk,
then again comes the knife
from the halling’s scabbard.

(A “halling” is someone from the valley of Hallingdal.)

The tradition has it that one should be careful about playing this tune, because it can excite people to violence. Another story has it that if two people got angry at each other at a wedding or other party, the fiddler might choose to play Fanitullen to provoke them to fight. Alternately, he might play a tune called Meklaren (the negotiator) to calm them down.

Today, of course, nobody believes in this stuff, and now Fanitullen is just a famous piece of traditional music. In fact, one of the most famous pieces. A curious detail is that the preferred tuning for playing it is A-E-A-C#, known as “troll tuning.”

Despite the violence, the reason we chose it as our theme was the fantastic backstory, with the composer of the tune literally sitting on the beer barrel. The whole story is a reminder of a time when beer brewing was so common that a holding a wedding without serving hundreds of liters of home-made beer from the farm’s own grain was literally unthinkable.

Bridal procession on the Hardanger fjord, Adolph Tidemand (wikipedia)

This tradition of the wedding beer is memorably captured in arguably the most famous of all Norwegian national romantic paintings, the “Bridal Procession on the Hardanger Fjord.” The painter, Adolph Tiedemand (who also did the painting above), had lived with the farmers and was perfectly well aware that a farmer’s wedding without beer would be an absurdity. So he took care to include some in the painting, although it’s not immediately obvious.

Detail from the painting

This tradition has some relevance for us, because not a few of today’s farmhouse brewers brewed their first beer for their own wedding. This brewing for weddings is one of the reasons the farmhouse ale survived at all.

Of course, another reason to pick this tune is that’s it’s just a great piece of music.

Fanitullen performed by famous traditional fiddler Sigbjørn Bernhoft Osa (from Hardanger; wikipedia)