When we think of Norwegian folk music, we usually think of Viking folk bands like Wardruna and Månegarm, but there is a beautiful side of Norwegian Folk music that is not known to a lot of the public: Stevs.
A Stev is a type of traditional music in Norway that is mostly acapella with little to no instrumental. Stevs are usually 1 to 3 stanzas, each with 4 lines, and can last from 20 seconds to 2 minutes long. A person who performs Stevs is called Kveder.
Types of Stevs
There are 5 different types of Stevs. Because there are only 3 I could find information about, here are the ones I found the information about.
Gamlestevs (meaning Old Stevs) are the oldest stevs that can date back to the Middle Ages. Mostly, Old Stevs don’t rhyme, and they are usually read instead of sung. Most of these Stevs are from the Provinces of Setesdal and Telemark.
Nystevs (New Stevs) are usually from the 1700s to 1800s. A lot of Nystevs are not just written by Norwegians but by Norwegian-Americans as well. Most Nystevs rhyme and can last up to 40 seconds a song.
Slåttestevs are the most common and well-known out of all of these. They can be both rhyming and free verse. Slåttestevs are the only kind of Stevs where instrumentals are important. Most Slåttstevs usually have their own traditional dances.
In Norwegian Traditions, a Kveder is a person who sings Stevs. People of any age can be Kveder, but most Kveders are Older Teens and Young Adults. Young children can also be Kveders.
In fact, in 1996, a 3-year-old girl named Magnhild Aaker Gundersen became a very appreciated Kveder when she and her mom and older sisters made an album called Hallingdal, Hallingdal.
Some Schools in Norway, mainly in provinces where Stevs originated, like Hallingdal and Telemark, Teach Stevs in Secondary schools and College.
If you want to be a Kveder, there are rules. Altering a Stev (such as performing it slower or faster than its instructed speed, adding instrumentals, or altering lyrics) is considered disrespectful.
Another rule that is not mandatory but recommended is wearing a traditional Norwegian dress (such as The Bunad) while performing a Stev.
Stevs and Kveders today
Today, a lot of Norwegian folk music artists no longer base their music on Stevs. Norwegian folk music artists are using longer, newly found texts for lyrics, which means Norwegian folk music is becoming longer in song lengths, with Norwegian folk songs now being between 4 and 9 minutes, which is the opposite length of super-short Stevs.
There are very few Norwegian folk musicians, like Lena Willemark and Odd Nordstoga, who still perform Stevs. In the 1980s and 1990s, Stevs were hugely popular among the Scandinavian folk music community.
Some formerly known Kveders from the 80s and 90s include Arve Moen Bergset, Øyonn Groven Myhren, and Kirsten Bråten Berg.
Although forgotten, Stevs is a beautiful Norwegian musical tradition. So next time you look through a Nordic folk music playlist on YouTube, remember the great Kveders and their Stevs who helped shape the Scandinavian folk music community.