The Nature of Nordic Music

Tim Howell (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportAnthology


A delight in word-play is a characteristic trait in several Nordic countries. The Nature of Nordic Music adopts this idea, exploring the distinctive yet complementary understandings of the term ‘nature’. Consequently, this book sets out to define the basic or inherent features, characters and qualities of Nordic music – its essential ‘nature’ – on the one hand, whilst on the other it acknowledges the extent to which the phenomena of the physical world (its landscape, climate, environment) – the forces of ‘nature’ – both inspire and condition the creative process. These two strands run throughout the volume and although the degree of their divergence and convergence will differ according to the specific issues of individual chapters, they provide an undercurrent to the whole book. The 12 chapters overall are grouped into three sections: Identities, Images and Environments. Each part accommodates an eclectic array of musical genres (there is deliberately no false segregation or hierarchy applied to their varied idioms), yet is focussed around its common theme.
Part I interrogates the term ‘Nordic’ given the distinctively individual nature of the five nations involved; political, cultural, linguistic and musical identities, and their degrees of separation and combination, form a backdrop to the book as a whole. ‘Nordicness’ is essentially an artificial construct, yet the strength of its world-wide appeal both informs and conditions the creative responses of individual musicians. A succession of chapters move as follows: from opening-up a broad debate about appropriate terminology; to consider the fringes and borderlines of Nordic influence which cut across genres; to embrace a five-nation survey of one particular genre (electro-acoustic composition) in search of any common ‘Nordic sound’; and to explore that idea of a potential community within a Nordic choral-music tradition, drawing upon a specific case study (centred on Sweden).
Part II examines the ‘image’ of the so-called ‘Nordic brand’ which has become a highly-successful marketing tool, applied today to all musical genres despite its origins within the popular-music field. Any commercial strategy for creative endeavours can become a victim of its own success, and this potential backlash is viewed from several angles. What might at first have served as a stimulus for the production of music can become something of a limitation to later generations, and the effects of this development are charted here. From notions of ‘Nordic cool’ and ‘Nordic tone’, to the stylistic hybrid of ‘folk-rock’ that gains common currency amongst a number of individual countries, (and Björk of course), the powerful impact of a brand image cannot be underestimated.
Part III, ‘environments’, allows the breadth of this concept to permit more tangential responses. From engagements with artistic concerns about global warming, which have a particular resonance with the changing landscape of this Northerly region, more specific reactions to the manipulation of musical timescale arise. Temporal perceptions of stasis, lack of directionality, fixity-versus-movement, all emerge from the unique balance between dark and light that define the physical climate of the Nordic environment. This brings us full circle; the nature (in both senses) of ‘Nordicness’ embraces extremes: it may be something dark, cold and obscure, or something related to light, brightness and clarity.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationAbingdon and New York
Number of pages294
ISBN (Electronic)9781315462851
ISBN (Print)9781138207189
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019

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