I hope with this blog to collect and give a little information on the musical settings of the medieval Scandinavian ballads.

These ballads have always been songs, ever since the unknown but early date of their undocumented origin (for the purposes of context, possibly around the 1300s). At some point, they may have been dancing songs ... the name ballad itself implies dancing, and certainly in the Faeroes there is a living tradition of ballad dance. But when the earliest manuscript notations of ballad texts were made, in private songbooks in Denmark and Sweden in the 1500s and 1600s, it was usually just the texts that were written down. The melodies were not usually recorded.

Later, with a revival of interest in the ballads as a result of national romanticism in Scandinavia in the 1800s, the majority of the ballad melodies we know were collected and written down. These include melodies from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (also Swedish-speaking Finland, the Faeroes, etc). So for some ballad texts, no melody is known. For others, there may be one or more. And more than one ballad text may correspond to a single melody.

Much later still, just as a folk music revival was taking place in the English-speaking world in the 1960s and 1970s, with popular artists performing and reviving interest in some of the English-language ballads in Child's collection ... like Scarborough Fair, The Two Sisters, Tam Lin, Long Lankin, Matty Groves, and many more ..., so too in Scandinavia musicians began to experiment with settings for the medieval ballads, and made them popular again with the audience of the day.

When posting about a ballad, I will try to give copies of scores where possible, and also link to performances on YouTube where available.

I will probably try to post about once a month, and may also post about other things if there are other things to be said ...

You can find my books with translations of Scandinavian ballads here.

Ian Cumpstey


  1. Hi,
    Just came across your blog while doing research on my folksong collection. I retired this year and finally have time to go through my recording of old lps and cassettes collected since the mid sixties. I have also have recording from my mother's collection of 78's an lps from the fifties. Most of the songs are Anglo-American with singers from Leadbelly to Ewan MacColl represented, although there some Norwegian songs from the Smithsonian recordings and early Alf Kraner.

    In the 70's I joined the Scandinavian Folkdance Society in Seattle then lead by Gordon Tracey. Since then I've included Norwegian songs represented by Slinkombas and Tone Hulbækmo among others. My wife and I moved to Norway in 1985 and since then I've added cassettes from Knut Buens store and bought from artists at folkmusik festivals around Norway. I haven't added much to my collection for the past 15 years because of lack of time and spending to much with computers at work and so not being motivated to work at a computer at home, but now I'm retired.

    I've got nearing 6000 tracks to catalog into various collections including Roud, Child, Laws and TSB catalog numbers. The aim is to be able compare titles and text between the various collections.

    While I speak and write Norwegian the dialects used while singing can be hard to follow so I plan to use transcriptions of the text sung to help me with the research.

    Any way, just want to say I appreciate the work you're doing and look forward to using your site as a resource.

    1. Hi Chris, That sounds like a huge project. Yes, there's certainly a lot of variation in sung Norwegian dialects, and in the way that they are transcribed. The old Swedish is rather easier in comparison, well certainly for me ....

      I'm glad you're reading the blog and thanks for commenting!

  2. Ian,
    I do a podcast on folk music and folk culture (tinyurl.com/fairfolkcast) and I wonder if you mind I use your blog as a reference for a show on Scandanavian ballads. I'll cite you, of course, and I can promote your books, too, if you like!

    1. Hi Danica, looks good! I shall have to have a listen later. No I don't mind at all, that's fine.