Mats Edén talks about the music of fiddler Oskar Andersson
and how he came to play the melodeon.


Born in Värmland, Sweden, near the border with Norway, Mats is a renowned fiddler. He was named "Riksspelman" in 1979. He has studied composition at the Norwegian Academy of music in Oslo. He currently works as a soloist, as a member of Groupa, and with Ale Möller and Lena Willemark in the Nordan Project. He has recently finished a solo album for ECM (yet to be released) with assistance from Jonas Simonson and the Cikada Quartet of Norway. His solo album Läckerbiten (Amigo) was nominated for a Swedish Grammy, Mats' 5th Grammy nomination to date!
It took many years until I met the melodeon (dragspel) and that was thanks to Oskar Andersson (1898-1986), a farmer and musician from Mangskog, in the western part of Värmland, Sweden. My friend Leif Stinnerbom and I were at his home searching for old tunes and old stories. Oskar used to play the fiddle but he had damaged his right thumb in an accident and couldn't play fiddle anymore. When we met him for the first time (around 1974 or 75), he had started to play the songs he had learned as a boy on the melodeon and he was pretty good with them. I don't know how many tunes he had in his head and how many we recorded but there were many of them, along with a lot of old stories.

Vastra Amtervik
At first I didn't think of playing these tunes on this crazy instrument that squeezes in and out, but a few years later Leif had the idea that the best way to learn these tunes and the way they were performed was to learn to play the melodeon. This was when we lived together in Gothenburg, just before we started a group later called Groupa. Inspired by him, I bought my first Hohner for 500 krona (a lot of money at the time!). Leif had been struggling for many weeks with the squeezing and the bass and melody playing. But I was hooked and after some weeks he sadly admitted that I had passed him long ago.

The next summer, in June of 1979, I competed for the Zornmärket (Zorn Medal). Leif encouraged me to play my melodeon in the competition. My hope was to take the silver medal and win the title of riksspelman ("musician of the realm"). There was one problem: the accordion and melodeon, while not forbidden, were not well respected by Zorn committee. The fiddle, nyckelharpa and other old instruments were OK, but not this hero of the new industrial era. So there had never been an accordionist who had won the silver medal, although a few had tried. Barge Zetterwall, a gifted accordion player (two-row) from the north of Sweden had failed earlier, perhaps because they considered his music (mostly polkas and mazurkas) to be too "modern."

(fiddle tune)
My strategy was to play the polskas I had learned from Oskar Andersson, the traditional tunes played on the new instrument. The jury approved, and I became the first to be named riksspelman on accordion, breaking the accordion "ice" for the Zorn Medal. There are now at least three riksspelman on this instrument: Arne Modén, Sven Ljungberg and myself. Sven is an old friend and we play much the same repertoire. Sven, Totte Mattsson (from Hedningarna) and I have a group called Gubbatrion that is focused on the music of Oskar and another old master from the village of Mangskog, Alfred Magnusson (1890-1986).

These are typical songs from the 10th to the 20th centuries, polkas, mazurkas, polskas, valses and so on. Many of the tunes are simple and basic, but there are also some crazy ones. What makes this music special is how the songs are played. Oskar was a great master of technique, and he taught us how to bend the phrases with good temperament, humor and a never-ending energy. "Don't play to flat", he used to say, "You have to speak the melody." It is good advice that has helped my playing other kinds of music too; with Groupa, with Ale Möller, Lena Willemark, Tina Johansson and others. It is important to keep the energy, to keep the "play" in the playing music. Humor, lust and seriousness all need to be in the music. This I have learned from the great master Oskar Andersson of Mangskog in Värmland, Sweden. - Mats Edén (May, 1999)

Read a Review of Mats album Lackerbiten
His CDs are available at cdRoots

See also: accordions, Sweden

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