The Nordic countries have a living heritage of folk music, well-known classical composers such as Edvard Grieg and Jean Sibelius, and a modern scene of pop, rock and electronic music.
|“||If I could express the same thing with words as with music, I would, of course, use a verbal expression. Music is something autonomous and much richer. Music begins where the possibilities of language end. That is why I write music.||”|
The Nordic countries host many smaller and larger music festivals of all kinds, some of which have gained international recognition, attracting international stars on a regular basis.
- See also: Nordic folk culture
Folk music and folk dance has a long history in the Nordic countries and in some regions, especially in Norway and the Faroe Islands, it is still practised as authentic as ever as part of local cultural traditions. In Denmark, folk music and folk dance has not survived as a continuous popular tradition from older times. Here, it is mostly practised by organised enthusiasts trying to revive or rediscover these traditions, bringing them to peoples general attention and keeping them alive. Nordic folk music is associated with the spelman, an instrumentalist who usually plays the fiddle; sometimes the accordion, the bagpipes or the nyckelharpa. The styles, accompanying garments and occasions of folk music vary somewhat from country to country and from region to region. The Sami people who live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia have their own musical tradition, known for the iconic singing style, the joik. Kulning is a herding call typical to northern Scandinavia, for calling in livestock from mountain pastures and scaring predators.
There are also traditions with singer-songwriters, with the 18th century Carl Michael Bellman's songs still well-known and performed in solo with guitar, choir or sing-along settings. Big 19th–20th century names in the genre include Dag Andersson, Evert Taube and Cornelis Vreeswijk. The Nordic "chanson" is visa, often performed in this style or as sing-along, common in many kinds of gatherings.
The Nordic countries have large and thriving pop music scenes. Some Nordic singers and bands who have achieved chart-topping success internationally include Aqua (Denmark), Toy-Box (Denmark), Michael Learns to Rock (Denmark), ABBA (Sweden), Roxette (Sweden), A-HA (Norway), M2M (Norway), Björk (Iceland) and Sigur Rós (Iceland). Due to the high level of English proficiency and small local markets in the Nordic countries, Nordic bands and singers often release songs in English instead of their native languages, though pop music in the native languages is still possible to find. Music festivals are most diverse and range from pop, rock and jazz to electronica, psych, metal and hip hop.
Denmark has a lively and broad musical culture. Even though most of the folk dance and folk music traditions haven't been kept alive in the popular culture, singing has continued to be strongly rooted in Denmark through the centuries. After the reformation in 1536, a large number of psalms were composed in Danish by notable poets like Brorson, Kingo, Grundtvig and Ingemann and they are still very popular in churches and some even on non-religious occasions. In the later half of the 1800s, during a soaring wave of Danish nationalism, a lot of new songs were composed and added to the already large body of Danish songs. Singing became an important part of the Højskole tradition, and ordinary schools as well, and in 1894, the first collection of Danish songs was issued in Højskolesangbogen. This particular songbook has seen many subsequent editions and is the most popular songbook in the country to this day. Outside the cultural institutions, there is a strong tradition for performers and troubadours composing and singing in Danish, with iconic performers from modern times like John Mogensen, Trille, Kim Larsen, C V Jørgensen, Anne Linnet, Michael Falch, Povl Dissing, Johnny Madsen and Niels Hausgaard. The Danish language has a small audience, but singing in Danish have seen something of a revival in the new millennium, as represented by popular artists Medina, Suspekt, Carl Emil (Ulige Numre), Sys Bjerre, Nephew and Peter Sommer.
In the classical genre, Denmark had many Romantic composers, of which Carl Nielsen and Hans Christian Lumbye are perhaps the most notable. More recent and experimental composers includes Vagn Holmboe, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Anders Nordentoft and Per Nørgård. The contemporary scene for classical music is both broad and very active with many notable and prolific composers and solo-artists. Opera has been enjoyed in Denmark since the early 1700s, when the royal family was inspired by Italy. Early composers of Danish operas includes J. A. P. Schulz and Kuntzen from the 1780s and several notable operas were produced in the 1800s onwards, including the still popular Elverhøj (Elves' Hill) from 1828 by Kuhlau. More recent and active composers includes John Frandsen, Poul Ruders and Bent Lorentzen who have also worked internationally with both operas and orchestral compositions. Opera can be experienced regularly in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg, Odense and Esbjerg.
Today, Denmark hosts many music festivals of all musical genres, and is especially known for the popular annual Roskilde festival and Copenhagen Jazzfestival. Well-known and active international artists and bands from Denmark includes Mø, Oh Land, Lukas Graham, Mew and Volbeat to mention just a few from the pop and rock scene. In pop music, Denmark is particularly known for the genre of bubblegum dance, with bands such as Aqua and Toy-Box achieving international success in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The national identity of Finland was formed in the 19th century, with romantic classical composers such as Jean Sibelius as important contributors. Classical music continues to be strong in Finland, with the musical education internationally famous and classical "music festivals" in summer consisting of concert series of one or a few weeks arranged in most cities and even in some minor towns and villages, beside the ordinary concert program in cities in winter. Special events of classical music include the Savonlinna Opera festival (with the medieval castle as stage), the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, the Mirjam Helin Competition and the International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition.
Social dancing with live music is an important way of gathering for some people. A variant of tango has become a broadly popular social dance in Finland, although Finland has almost no common history with Argentina. The Tangomarkkinat in Seinäjoki is probably the biggest tango event worldwide.
Folk music is very much alive, although a niche. The yearly week-long folk music festival in Kaustinen attracts some 3,000 artists.
Finland has a rock'n'roll scene with spectacular acts, such as Leningrad Cowboys or Lordi who surprised everybody by winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006. Some Finnish metal bands have achieved success in the heavy metal scene worldwide, including HIM, Children of Bodom, Lordi, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica and Apocalyptica. There are many rock festivals (some for a specific genre, some interpreting "rock" rather liberally) around the country in summer.
The Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic has a rich heritage of Faroese folk music and dance and it is still very much alive. The young generation have also taken up contemporary music with several notable rock and pop bands and musicians, such as Teitur, Dánjal á Neystabø, Gestir and Hamferð. The long lasting artgroup and band Yggdrasil also includes musicians from Denmark and plays a broad repertoire of Faroese ballads, Inuit songs and Shetland folk, often with an improvisational jazzy approach.
The original folk music of the Greenland Inuit is the drum dancing, accompanied by storytelling songs, chants and sometimes shaman rituals. It also includes a plethora of vocal and musical games. When Christianity was introduced, the shamanistic culture was abandoned, but Inuit folk music is still practised as a performing art occasionally. The Scandinavian settlers introduced new instruments, and new folk music styles evolved, such as the Kalattuut, a sort of polka, and the more recent vaigat, akin to country music. Since the 1950s, jazz, rock and pop have all inspired a growing Greenlandic scene for contemporary music. Every summer, Aassivik music festivals are arranged.
Iceland has produced pop stars such as Björk, Emilíana Torrini, Sigur-Rós and, in 2010, Of Monsters and Men.
Norway is known for Edvard Grieg, as well as modern acts such as A-Ha, M2M, Lene Marlin, and Alexander Rybak, and a dominance of the black metal scene.
Black metal is an extreme form of heavy metal, lyrically often dealing with occult and anti-religion. During its early scene in Norway in the 1990s, its performers were involved in a whole load of high-profile controversial acts including arson and murder.
While the scene doesn't have a significant following in its native ground, as it has been intentionally underground since its beginnings, the associated productions are considered to be one of the leading cultural exports of Norway.
Sweden has a rich folk music heritage, in particular in provinces such as Dalarna and Hälsingland. One peculiarity is drinking songs, snapsvisor, traditionally sung to a shot of schnapps.
While Sweden has few world famous classical composers on par with Grieg or Sibelius, some notable Swedish names in the genre are Baroque composer Johan Helmich Roman (1694–1758), opera soprano Jenny Lind (1820–1887) and romantic composer and conductor Hugo Alfvén (1872–1960).
Today, Sweden is mostly famous for pop music. Siw Malmkvist was one of the first pop singers famous outside the Nordic countries, with Sole Sole Sole reaching the Billboard 100 in 1964. The Golden Age of Swedish pop began on the 6th of April 1974, ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo; the same day as Blue Swede (starring Björn Skifs) reached the top of the Billboard List. Sweden's next globally successful pop band was Roxette, who performed It Must Have Been Love for the soundtrack to the 1990 film Pretty Woman and had four #1 Billboard songs in total.
In the 1990s, Sweden established a scene of DJs and music producers who reached international fame. Denniz Pop (1963–1998) wrote the debut songs for Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. He mentored Max Martin, who has produced 23 #1 Billboard songs; only surpassed by The Beatles.
Since then, Sweden has had countless world acts, including Robyn, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Tove Lo, and Zara Larsson. Sing-alongs are popular; the Allsång på Skansen event takes place every Tuesday evening through summer, featuring older and newer Swedish artists and acts. It's a popular live event but is also broadcasted on Swedish and Finnish television .
Sweden pioneered home computing and Internet use, and has been a haven for music piracy, with services such as The Pirate Bay (launched in 2003 and still online despite prison sentences for its founders, and efforts to shut it down). Since the 2010s, the Swedish application Spotify has been the world's leading application for music streaming.
Sweden has won the Eurovision Song Contest six times, and has an enormous fan base for the event. The televised Melodifestivalen competition to determine who will represent Sweden in the ESC is a big event and competing songs (also the performances that don't win) may become popular hits.
- 1 ABBA the Museum, Djurgårdsvägen 68 (Djurgården, Stockholm, Sweden). A museum of ABBA, opened in 2013.
- 2 Fantoft Stave Church, Fantoftvegen 38 (south of Bergen centre, Norway). Destroyed in 1992, during a series of church arsons by those involved in the black metal scene. A perfect copy was built afterwards.
- 3 Galleri Fjalar, Bryggen 37, second floor (on the old harbour of Bergen, Norway). A business run by Kristian Espedal, better known by his stage name Gaahl, of Gorgoroth, Wardruna, and Gaahls Wyrd. He personally markets relevant merch and his artwork.
- 4 Helvete, Schweigaards gt 56 (in the Inner East, Oslo, Norway). This was a record shop run by Euronymous (the stage name for Øystein Aarseth, considered to be a very central figure in the early black metal scene) between 1991 and 1993. It was a meeting place for the members of the early scene. As of 2022, the building houses Neseblod Records, which maintains the place as an unofficial museum to black metal.
- 5 Swedish Performing Arts Museum (Scenkonstmuseet), Sibyllegatan 2 (Östermalmstorg, Stockholm, Sweden). A museum which displays dance, theatre and music from Sweden and other countries. Since 2018, it has an exhibition for Swedish pop music.
- Dalhalla outdoor concert hall (Rättvik, Sweden). Siljansbygden has a living folk music heritage, of which this concert venue, an open-air theatre in a decommissioned open-pit mine, is a sign.
Events of classical music
Festivals of classical music are held in many towns in Finland, consisting of concert series at many venues in the areas. Here some of the most remarkable are listed.
- 1 Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival (Kuhmon Kamarimusiikki) (Kuhmo, Finland). July. The biggest chamber music festival in Finland, in sparsely populated Kainuu. Some 70 concerts and 35,000 tickets sold.
- 2 Savonlinna Opera Festival (Savonlinnan Oopperajuhlat), Olavinkatu 27 (Savonlinna, Finland). July. Opera performances in the courtyard of the medieval St. Olaf's Castle. There is also a Ballet Festival in the same place earlier in the year. €55–270.
Events of folk music and tango
- 3 Kaustinen Folk Music Festival (Kaustinen, Finland). July. Biggest folk music festival in the Nordic countries, with over 3,000 performers, domestic as well as foreign. Total audience during the week more than 100,000.
- 4 Seinäjoki Tango Festival (Seinäjoki, Finland). Seinäjoki is known as "the world's second capital of tango".
Events of rock and pop
- 5 G! Festival (Norðragøta, Eysturoy, Faroe Islands). July. The Faroes' main (and arguably only) event, with around 10,000 participants and 6,000 tickets sold every year. Mainly local and Scandinavian bands.
- 6 Hove (Tromoya, just outside the centre of Arendal, Norway). June–July. Hove Festival mixes large international acts with Norwegian bands in the unique setting of an island off the city of Arendal. 50,000 tickets sold.
- 7 Iceland Airwaves (Reykjavík, Iceland). October. A progressive, trendsetting, music festival that attracts around 2000 visitors every year, besides the many locals showing up.
- 8 Roskilde Festival (Roskilde, Denmark). Early July. One of the worlds most famous rock festivals, with 70,000 tickets for sale and 30,000 volunteers.
- 9 Ruisrock (Turku, Finland). July. Finland's largest music festival with around 70,000 spectators, held on an island just outside the centre. Europe's second oldest rock festival, held early July each year with both world stars and Finnish pop and rock bands.
- 10 SmukFest (Danmarks Smukkeste Festival) (Skanderborg. Denmark). Mid August. Second biggest festival in Denmark. A beautiful setting in a forest area hosting many Danish as well as international names. Roughly 50,000 tickets for sale.
- 11 Sweden Rock Festival (Norje, close to Sölvesborg, Sweden). Hard rock. One of the biggest open air summer Rock festivals.
- 12 Øyafestivalen (Oslo, Norway). August. Norway's main rock festival although deliberately intimate; located centrally in an Oslo park and using the whole city as a stage in the night.