Music Archaeology in Scandinavia and the Baltic

Music Archaeology in Scandinavia and the Baltic

Early Music Archaeology in Scandinavia and the Baltic Region

The reported modern story of the bronze lurs begins in Brudevaelte, Denmark in 1797 when a letter dated June 19th 1797, was penned to accompany the first find of lurs on their journey to the Royal Exchequer. Significantly, the six Brudevaelte Lurs were transferred in 1807 to the Royal Art Collection and thence to the newly-established Museum of Antiquities. Thus, from the very beginning, in Denmark, lurs were seen as items to report, treasure and study.

The Danish music historian Angul Hammerich was the first to study the bronze lurs systematically, publishing an influential paper in 1893. For this paper, Angul Hammerich examined the wear patterns on the loops of the jingles which hung from some lurs’ mouthpipes and drew the conclusion that these had hung downwards and thus the mouthpipes had been held in a horizontal position with their bell discs high above the player. He illustrated them being played this way in the frontispiece to his 1893 paper showing the mouthpipe as the horizontal yard and the bed yard as the vertical one. They have depicted and used in this way ever since.

As with many other writers of the time, he was much-concerned with the musical potential of the instruments and the style of music that might have been performed on them. Hammerich organised concerts in Copenhagen and the American archaeologist Wilson referred to ‘A notice of a concert by the instruments in the Copenhagen Museum [which] was published in the Washington Evening Star, February 6, 1896. These concerts, performed by modern musicians on the ancient instruments featured polyphonic lines which were criticised by writers of time. Much later, in 1921, Hammerich responded to these criticisms saying: the only thing we can do is to suggest that Bronze Age people might have discovered harmony, not invented it. It may not be fashionable to say but I tend to agree with Hammerich. The other thing I like about his approach is that his revival of the lurs was not just aimed the academic world but also set out to inform and entertain the general public.

Curt Sachs was critical of Hammerich’s idea of ancient two-part playing, stating that when instruments are played in pairs this does not necessarily imply that they were playing two-part lines. In 1913, Curt Sachs wrote of the lurs saying that he considered them to have been made by the Etruscans while offering no explanation of his reasoning. Personally, I find the proposition very unlikely in the light of the possession by the bronze lurs of mouthpieces which appear to be extremely well-adapted to the instruments with which they are used and the fact that the Etruscan instruments are predominantly constructed using wrought materials and used much less-developed mouthpieces. Sachs also suggests that the morphology of the lurs was in some way a derivative of a mammoth tusk form. While mammoths and bronze lurs were separated by many thousands of years, the finding of a complete mammoth tusk as it emerged from the permafrost would have been quite an event, making Sach’s view less speculative. One needs to bear in mind that ideas of diffusion of artefacts and cultures was veryfashionable at the time.

In 1915, Hubert Schmidt wrote an extensive paper on the lurs from Daberkow in north-eastern Germany. In this, he ticked all the boxes of music archaeology. He described the physical form of the instruments from Daberkow and, as they were so fragmentary, he was able to examine them in minute detail. The paper provides chemical analyses of specific parts of the lurs as well as metallurgical analyses which show that the cast-together parts are, in effect, welded. As well as the Daberkow find, Schmidt catalogues all the lurs known up to that date, providing copius details of these and many images of both fragments and complete instruments, placing them in their archaeological contexts. He developed sequences of lurs, Grouping them into three categories based largely upon their overall form, in particular the interface between the tube and bell yards and the mechanical features at this point.

Although Schmidt looked at comparable materials, he called in Friedrich Behn to provide an appendix covering musical aspects of the instruments.

An early Historiography of the Lurs

In 1947, Oldeberg provided a very-detailed historiographic account of earlier work on the lurs, discussing the different opinions expressed in these. He then gave detailed descriptions of all the extant lurs, discussing in some detail, the manufacturing technologies employed. He drew upon categories which were based upon earlier work, simplifying the earlier categorisations.

Rock Carvings now on the Scene

The author, Brøndsted, writing in 1938, suggested a morphological relationship between an early lur from Påarp and the rock-carvings at Kivik. He continued the old argument that, in lengthening the tubes of the lurs, the manufacturers were trying to attain a diatonic scale, i.e. to break away from the melodic restriction that arises from a “natural” instrument. This view is based upon the idea that the modern view of the diatonic and other scales is the correct one and that any progress made by a civilisation must be measured on how they move towards the ability to create musical structures based upon this model. This is imposing an intentionality on the makers and players which we would shy away from today.

Nevertheless, Brøndsted was adopting an holistic view of the instruments and incorporating other aspects of evidence, such as that from the rock carvings into his analysis.

Later, in 1949 Broholm re-classified the instruments in terms of standard archaeological dating sub-divisions of the Nordic Bronze-Age, i.e. Periods I-VI

In 1949, Broholm, along with Larsen and Skjerne produced their text The Lures of the Bronze Age. In this, they utilised pretty-well all the tools available at the time giving us what is generally seen as being one of the seminal works in music archaeology, in spite of much of it being derived from the work of earlier scholars. In this book, a further catalogue of all the lurs was included, again, somewhat of a repetition of earlier work.

The Lurmaker: Craftsperson or Engineer?

Between 1975 and 1978, I studied the lurs extensively and have revisited them on a number of occasions since. Being somewhat overawed by the excellent work carried out by earlier investigators in the field, I decided, as an engineer by training, to revert to type and concentrate on the manufacturing technology of the instruments and the dimensional conformances of these instruments to mathematical models. I was able to demonstrate the presence of a technological/metrological sequence which coincided with Broholm’s archaeological sequence on all but a single occurrence. These results were published in 1978, expanded in 1984 and further expanded in 2006.

This work showed that, right up to the time they disappeared, the manufacturing technology, along with an understanding of the systematics behind the provision of the morphological structures of the bronze lurs was becoming increasingly sophisticated. The metrological studies I carried out strongly suggested that some units of measurement were being applied during the design and construction of these instruments but more evidence would have been needed to prove this.

Needless to say, such findings attract little attention among those who find a little mathematical explanation unworthy of their valuable time.