Hardingfele are decorated with black ink (or carved) designs and mother-of-pearl inlay, as well as elaborately carved scrolls, often in the shape of a woman's or lion's head.
According to the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America, the music is played primarily for dancers, including:
bygdedans (regional dances) such as springar and gangar. These dances are found in areas such as Hallingdal, Telemark, Setesdal, Valdres, and on the west coast of Norway in Voss, Jølster, and Sogn.Trying to imagine what a Hardingfele might sound like? Well, if you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you already know: it's a key part of the Rohan and Eowyn themes on the soundtrack for The Two Towers and Return of the King.
Here's a fantastic video of Annbjorg Lien performing on the Hardingfele, and a recording of Christian Borlaug (yes, it's just one performer). And here's a contestant on Norway's version of "So You Think You Can Dance", performing the Hallingdans, in bunad, to the accompaniment of a Hardingfele.
Photo: Salve Håkedal
I highly recommend Lief Sorbye's Springdans if you are interested in Norwegian folk music; this CD was on repeat during the first draft of Oleanna. Subsequent drafts were powered by Trio Mediaeval's Folk Songs, largely a capella renditions of mediaeval Norwegian songs, and I promise you, their voices will break your heart with their sheer beauty.
You can learn more at the Hardanger Fiddle Association of America or at Wikipedia.