My informant for this piece is an American of Scandinavian descent. He lived in Norway for a time during high school and learned the language while he was there. He also still keeps in contact with his host family from his time living there, and his son recently spent a year abroad there as well. he recalls this song fondly because “we used to sing [it] when our daughter was upset or crying, and it was the only thing that could get her to sleep.”
Per is a common older name in Norway, and Spelmann is a name too but it literally means “player.” In Norway, a classical or folk musician is called a spelmann. My informant learned the song living Norway in high school when he was learning folk dance, and when they were done dancing he’d “jump up and kick the hat off the stick!” To understand this song, it’s important to know that it is about a musician who had to trade his violin in order to feed his family. Here, he gets it back:
“Per Spellmann han hadde ei einaste ku, Per Spellmann han hadde ei einaste ku,
Per Spellmann (Player) had only one cow, (repeat)
Han bytte bort kua fekk fela igjen, han bytte bort kua fekk fela igjen,
He traded away the cow to get the fiddle back, (repeat)
Det gode, de gamle, fiolin, det fiolin, det fela mi!
The good, the old, violin, violin, that fiddle of mine, (repeat)
Per Spellmann han spelta aa fela hu laat, (repeat)
Per Spellmann played and the fiddle laughed
Saa gutterne dansa, aa jenterne graat, (repeat)
The boys danced and the girls cried.
Det gode, de gamle fiolin, det fiolin, det fela mi!”
This old Norwegian folk song tells us a great deal about the culture and beliefs of Norway’s people. Its basic concept–a man trading his violin to support his family and trading it back for his last cow–is not hard to understand, but it’s very valuable. It might seem that the man simply doesn’t love his family very much, but this isn’t the case. At first, he does trade away his instrument for them, showing how much he cares. But in the end, he trades his last possession of value–his only cow–to get his fiddle back. Although it’s sad for his family, the song shows that this culture values happiness over everything because life is nothing without it. This cultural value is still reflected in Norway’s present-day laws, which factor citizens’ happiness into other national measures of success, ensuring that the people are well taken care of.