Music in the Viking age

Singing and playing music were important to the Vikings, both in everyday life and for festive occasions. They sang songs when they were happy and when they were sad. They danced, sang songs and played their instruments when they had celebrations of some kind. They had songs to accompany them when working, making the work easier. They sang love songs, and lullabies for their children. We can be fairly certain of this as we know of no cultures where music has not been important. But…

What kind of songs did they sing? That we don’t know.

What kind of tunes did they play? That we don’t know.

What kind of instruments did they use? Well, this we know a thing or two about.

Why do we know so little?

Because when the last note of a song is sung it is gone forever, unless someone remembers it or writes it down in some way, to be performed again later. The Vikings, like the rest of the people in Europe at the time, didn’t know anything about musical notation, and their culture gradually became a part of the Christian European culture. The oldest songs we know from Scandinavia today are all part of the common European heritage. The voices of the Vikings are gone forever.

But, not long after the end of the Viking Age a system for writing down music was developed. On a small piece of wood, for us to read, are carved the first bars of the song “I Dreamed a Dream”.

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.