The Wooden Lurs
A shepherds lur, by Magnar Storbækken, Norway
The wooden Viking lur
The earliest references to a wooden instrument called the lur come from Icelandic
where they are described as war instruments, used to marshall
and frighten the enemy. These lurs, several examples of which have
discovered in longboats, are straight, end-blown wooden tubes,
one metre long. The viking lur parts were held together with
At Oseberg, Norway (close to where I
live) they found a grave with a Viking
ship. Excavated in 1904, the 21.5 metres long Oseberg
ship is the most magninficent
of the Viking ship finds. The ship can be seen at the Vikingskiphuset
In this grave find there was a wooden
tube, 1 meter long in 2 parts (longitudinal).
The Oseberg tube (or instrument?)
dates back to 850 A.C.
From literature one can guess that
the lur has been used as a war
In 1996 a lur made of wood was found
Herning, Denmark that dates back to the Viking age.
The shepherds or dairy maids lur
A lur similar to the Viking war
instruments has been played by farmers and milk maids in Nordic
countries since at least the Middle Ages (probably longer). These
were used mainly for calling cattle, communication and signalling - it was the
maid. In Norway these
are called Neverlur (Birch bark lur).
The neverlur is an overblown instrument with no finger holes.
range of 7-8 notes one can play simple songs and signals.
The instrument is made from to long halves (pine or fir) which are
out and glued together, then smoothened on the outside and wound
birch bark.The longer the lur, the easier it is to produce notes
up in the harmonic scale.
The main difference between the Oseberg
Viking lur and the shepherds lur today is
that the last one is held together
with birch bark (see
above). But older lurs were held together by willow rings, often 5
The lur used today
The lur is still in use today in the folk music tradition. Egil
Storbekken who died in 2002, was famous for his work with the lur,
ram's horn and the salow flute. He kind of "blew" a new
life into these folk instruments.
player is Odd Sylvarnes Lund. He performed on the opening ceremony
1994 Olympic Game in Lillehammer, and on the Nordic Ski World
Championship, 1997 in Trondheim. He has made a CD
plays both the lur and
other natural instruments like the ram's horn. Other lur players
Norway are Eilif
Gundersen and Jørn Simenstad.
In Sweden we also find lur
Sundberg perform both on bronze-
I play a lur (in Bb tuning), made
the craftsman Magnar
Here is a sound sample
the modern neverlur, a melody composed and played by
Odd Sylvarnes Lund
- alphorn (Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy)
- büchel (Switzerland)
- midwinterhoorn (Holland)
- ligawka (Poland)
- karjapasun (Estonia)
- tuohitorvi (Finland)
The wooden horn called Alphorn,
that we find in the Alp region is a "cousin" of the neverlur. This
is usually much longer
than the neverlur. The first written source about Alphorn dates
a Suisse text from 1527.
Tuning and length :
m (standard tuning in Switzerland)
Bb- Büchel: 2.70 m
The Büchel (Buechel) in Switzerland is also an Alphorn from
design (conical pipe, wood).
Its design is however not stretched, but in three folded
Büchels are usually in Bb or C tuning. The total pipe length
2,70 m (Bb tuning). Its overall length is approx. 90
For playing it is kept horizontal like a trumpet. Her is a picture
of a Büchel in Bb
A long time tradition among
in Twente, the rural east of Holland, is the "mid-winter horn
custom begins on Advent Sunday (the fourth Sunday before
continues until Christmas Eve. Farmers use long horns made from
wood of elder trees, and everyday at dawn they blow the horn while
standing over a
well to announce the coming of Christ. Here is a
equivalent of a lur or alphorn. It is slightly bent and held
with willow rings. Ligawka
known in Poland since 1100. Here is a
sound sample (in MP3).
Here is a
webpage describing the use:
Wooden trumpets and horns were signal instruments, used to pass
information on distance, to call people and herd together and to
about danger. “Trembits” in the Tatra's area and west Beskid were
by shepherds on highland meadows and pastures to play melodies,
Huculszczyzna they were known as well as solo and group-
There, replacing bass, they accompanied dulcimers or the violin,
the group of “ trombits” played (even up to six pieces) during
Zygmunt Gloger wrote about “ligawka” in the book “The ceremonial
(1408 ): On Mazowsze and
they play ligawka obtaining solemn and simple tones. They play
the whole advent in the morning and in the evening and you can
them going in front of the house in the open space.
in Estonia are made either of bark or wood, and two different
technologies exist for their production. In the first, a band of
or birch bark is rolled up to make a conical tube about 60–70 cm
A wooden needle is pierced through the broad end to hold the roll
tight, while the narrow end is cut even, or a wooden mouthpiece is
inserted into it.
To make a wooden trumpet, a slender trunk is sawn longitudinally
each half is hollowed out. Both halves are then put back together
fastened with bast (or other natural fibers) or with birch bark,
is tightly rolled around the two halves. The length of wooden
may vary considerably, from 45 cm to almost 2 m. The trumpet is an
important instrument of the senior shepherd; it is played early in
morning to collect the herd, but especially in the afternoon, when
driving the herd home. The trumpet sound signals the location of
herd and the shepherd, and it is believed that wolves keep away
the herd as long as they hear the trumpet. Wooden trumpets
overtone instruments, and sequences of longer and shorter overtone
motifs are available to the player.
A relatively short wooden trumpet (ingeri
karjapasun) with fingerholes is known in northeastern
where Ingrian Finns lived. The instrument, with its four to six
fingerholes, is suitable for playing certain dance tunes.
Tuohitorvi is a birch bark
horn used in Finland. Here is a
picture of it.
Lund for correction to the text and the use of a lur tune.
Gundersen for info about the lur and related instruments.
Andrzej Kotlarz for translation from Polish to Norwegian.