violinist Violinist

Two of the most gifted fiddle players in all of world, happen to hail from Norway and they just so happen to coexist in the same musical unit. Annbjørg Lien and Arve Moen Bergset have blazed a trail across the globe over the years, both individually and as members of Bukkene Bruse.

Arve is a professional folk music and classical philharmonic orchestra violin/fiddle player, a Norwegian Grammy Award winner and a world class kveding (a Norwegian folk singing style) vocalist. He is also a specialist in interpreting the works of Grieg and Tveitt for fiddle.

Annbjørg Lien is a professional Hardanger fiddle and nyckelharpa player, Norwegian Grammy Award winner, Gammleng and Hilmar Prize classical folk music award winner and she has an extensive discography having been a part of recording and releasing 18 albums, in multiple musical genres including traditional Norwegian Folk, New Age and Jazz.

Together they set the stage on fire. You will not discover a more formidable pair of Hardanger fiddle players anywhere else in the world. I had the pleasure to sit down with both Annbjørg and Arve to discuss all things fiddle.

Q. How did you first start playing the fiddle? What was it about the fiddle that first attracted you?

Arve Moen Bergset: I saw a youth string orchestra on TV when I was ten years old, and was really fascinated about the music. The sound was captivating. We happened to have a fiddle in the house, and I loved to play the fiddle from that day.

Annbjørg Lien: The sound and the sweeping power in the music is what first moved me to the fiddle.

Q. What is your favorite fiddle brand to play? What brand of fiddle and accompanied products do you use/endorse?

Arve Moen Bergset: Both fiddle styles fascinate me. The violin and the Hardanger fiddle are fantastic types of instruments both of them, so I can´t pick one here either. I use “Dominant” G, D and A strings and “Kaplan” E string for the violin and “Fanitullen” strings for the Hardanger fiddle. I use “Nyman” or rosin, as you call it and “Kun” shoulder-rest for both instruments.
I am not very conscious when it comes to which accompanied product to use, I must admit..

Annbjørg Lien:  I play on an Olav G. Helland Hardanger made in 1898, and he was a great hardanger fiddle maker. My nyckelharpe is made by Bertil Persson in Sweden and my fiddle is made by Gunnar Røstad from Norway in 1930.

Q. Please explain the differences between a Hardanger fiddle and a regular fiddle; both physical characteristics and playing modality.

Annbjørg Lien:  The Hardanger fiddle has four or five sympathetic strings placed under the fingerboard in addition to the “regular” strings. It´s easy to strike several strings at the same time because the bridge is quite plain, (less curved than on an ordinary violin.) The instrument is beautifully decorated with floral designs and the fingerboard with mother-of-pearl. The end of the peg box is carved into a lion or dragon´s head.

Q. Annbjørg, how did you decide to learn to play the nyckelharpa and is it easier or harder to learn to play than the fiddle?

Annbjørg Lien:  I got my nyckelharpe from the local dance group Ivar Aasen in Ålesund where I grew up. I was a musician for this dance group from I was 10 years old and for several years, and we travelled to international folk dance festivals to perform and meet other dance groups. One of the places we went every year was Västerås in Sweden, where I met fantastic musicians and also got to try a nyckelharpe. After coming home to Ålesund from one of these trips, Ivar Aasen  gave it to me as a gift for the years of playing for them  . I learned to play it after learning the fiddle, so I got some technique “for free” from the fiddle – like related bow hand. I think all instruments are the same in difficulty, they all the time have secrets to explore 

Q. You played nyckelharpa on Loreena McKennitt’s 2006 album, “An Ancient Muse” –how did this gig come about? Did you play live on her tour?

Annbjørg Lien:  I was asked to join her album, and we recorded it in Real World Studios in Bath, together with wonderful musicians, and Loreena is a warm and gentle woman. I was asked to tour with her, but I had just become a mom at that time, so could not go on long tours. But it was an honor to be asked.

Q. How did you come together to play in Bukkene Bruse?

Arve Moen Bergset: Annbjørg, Steinar (Ofsdal) and I performed as solo artists in the same concert in Bærum, Norway back in 1989. The arranger of the concert had this splendid idea that we could play one tune together. We did, and liked it so much that we continued as a trio. Some years later Bjørn Ole (Rasch) joined us, and we became a quartet.

Q. It’s been over six years since the last Bukkene Bruse record, are there plans to release a new album soon. Are there plans to perform live again?

Arve Moen Bergset: We have no concrete plans about when to start playing together again,- but I think we one day will. A main reason for our long pause is me, really. I haven’t had much time lately to keep my voice performance at a high level. The singing/kveding is an important part of what I do in our group. But we love to play together, so one day hopefully!

Q. Bukkene Bruse were selected as official Olympic Musicians for the Lillehammer Olympic Games in Norway and performed at the closing ceremony. That must have been a tremendous honor.

Annbjørg Lien: It certainly was! Musicians were selected from different musical genres such as classical and jazz, and we were to represent the folk music. We were honored to participate and it was a very pleasant experience.

Q. Where does the name Bukkene Bruse come from? I’ve heard it came from a The name derived from the old folk tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff (lang-no|De tre bukkene Bruse), but I’ve also heard you took the name from the famous flying boat of the same name who crashed in Trondheim, Norway in 1948. Famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell was among the survivors.

Annbjørg Lien: We took our group name from the ancient fairytale. Bukkene Bruse is indeed Norwegian for “Billy Goats Gruff.” I didn´t know about the flying boat crash, how interesting and sad.

Q. What are some of your musical influences? And what was it about these people that influenced you so?

Annbjørg Lien: The main three fiddlers that was rocks in my music life, was my father Jan Lien who thought me from the age of 5. Then Sigmund Eikås, from Jolster , the place where my mother Sigrid Lien comes from. Every holiday we went there to visit family, and I went to Sigmund to play and learn. He is a great fiddler , and a fantastic musician for dancing. Very groovy and positive mind thinker. Then after moving to Oslo, I studied with Hauk Buen, who is a master on the hardanger from Jondalen. This was in the times before we got folk academies, so I lived in Hauk and his wife Tone`s home for periods of weeks, to get to know how he thinks, lives, what he was inspired by, listening, play together  - for each other or just talk.

Arve Moen Bergset:  Sondre Bratland, my teacher during eight years learned me much repertoire, and I hope I have adapted some of heis calmness in the way of singing. Other important sources for me are Ellen Nordstoga (my first teacher!), Talleiv Røysland, Aslak Høgetveit and Agnes Buen Garnås. In classical music I must mention the genious violinteacher Leif Jørgensen. He was my teacher in one year of my youth. Amongst his many qualities I will especially mention that he really saw who his students were,- and brought out the personality and musicality in each one. Then it is my hero, the 84 year old internationally known conductor Herbert Blomstedt. He is still going strong and every project with him is great! I know I can´t go on for ages with a long list, but I also have to mention the Romanian pianist Radu Lupu. For me his Schubert-recordings are really beyond this world, truly as musical and beautiful as possible.

Q. How many bowstrings do you both burn through in a single performance?

Arve Moen Bergset: Twenty-nine, sometimes even, just joking.

Annbjørg Lien: Zero. Sometimes a couple will wear down a bit.

(For whatever reason Arve and Annbjørg nervously danced around this question, as if the subject were taboo to talk about. I wasn’t aware of such a superstition, but maybe so.)

Q. What has been the oddest thing either onstage or off that you’ve seen/experienced while on tour? You know, your ‘Spinal Tap’ moment.

Arve Moen Bergset: I think one of the oddest things I´ve experienced onstage actually was in a concert with Bukkene Bruse at summer time many years ago. We played “Fanitullen” (“The devils tune”), and in our arrangement my role is basically to play one ostinato tone which grows stronger and stronger through the entire tune. Straight after I had placed the right finger on the fingerboard a mosquito came along and parked on that very finger. Of course I couldn´t move the finger, and the mosquito had a great meal and grew bigger and bigger during the tune.

Annbjørg Lien: That was a very bug-ridden concert. The audience used their hands more for slapping away bugs than clapping. There was more than one mosquito about that evening.

Q. What other solo projects are you both currently working on?

Annbjørg Lien:  Just finished a new solo album called “ Khoom Loy”, which is released in Norway at Grappa Records, and in North America and Canada on Compass Music Group.

Arve Moen Bergset:  The pianist Gudrun Skretting (who also happens to be my wife) and I have played together as a duo for more than twenty years now.  In our concerts we play music from the classical repertoire of course, and I play some “slåtter” on the Hardanger fiddle.
At the moment I have no solo projects in mind, actually.

Q. Annbjørg, your 1999 “Baba Yaga” solo album was a watermark for your career. Looking back, ten years plus onward, did you realize at the time that it would prove to be such an epic release?

Annbjørg Lien:  My albums have become very different from each other, a CD is just a window into where your mind is at that specific time it’s made. It’s impossible to plan who it hit, and how it will be received. You can never fool an audience, so the best is to be honest to yourself and your needs of exploring at the time there is a new production going on. My CDs are also leaning on each other, so the next album is always a reaction to the last one. It all goes hand in hand.

Q. Annbjørg, how did your 2008 project, “Waltz With Me” with American fiddle player and multi-instrumentalist Bruce Molsky arise?

Annbjørg Lien:  I was commissioned by Telemark Festival in Bø – Norway, to write music for a concert, and they gave me “blank sheets”. I have always had a dream of putting together a folk string quartet, and wanted it to be international. I asked some of my favorite musicians to join, and they all said yes!  Mikael Marin on viola from Sweden, Bruce Molsky from USA on fiddle, guitar and vocal, Christine Hanson from Canada on cello, and special guest  - the great folk singer Kirsten Bråten Berg from Norway. My wish was to try to find a melting point between these musicians and their traditions, also to bring in lyrics from great poets from Norway – Arnt Birkedal and Knut Buen.

Q. Are there any plans in the near future to regroup the String Sisters for recordings or performances?

Annbjørg Lien:  This summer we have had two great trips together trying out some new material, first NAFCO in Derry, Ireland and then Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia. It’s such a joy and inspiration for us all to be together, so there will be more tours and recording for sure.

Q. Annbjørg, one thing that people may not know about you is that you have a tremendous singing voice. Are there any plans to do a vocal-focused album any time soon?

Annbjørg Lien: Thank you I sing on my last solo album “Khoom Loy” and enjoy it a lot. I like to bring in lyrics, and try to tell the stories with words not only instrumental. It’s a good feeling to let the voice resonate with the fiddle and open up the whole system at the same time.

Q. Arve, in addition to your folk music projects you are also a violinist for the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. How different are the levels of musical satisfaction for you when performing in the different musical mediums?

Arve Moen Bergset: I´m satisfied with doing both, really. I have played much more classical music than folk music the last years. At its best it´s a real “kick” to sit in the middle of this big orchestral sound and actually take part in playing music made by the big composers. The folk music projects I have been in have also given me much musical satisfaction, of course. In that genre I have done quite much solo projects, and that has been both challenging and educational.

For more information on all things Annbjørg Lien, please go to her website:       

For more information on all things Arve Moen Bergset, please go to his website:

For more information on Arve’s involvement with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, please go to their website:

To learn more about Bukkene Bruse, please go to:

For more information about the Hardanger fiddle please go to the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America: