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skalmeje

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At the beginning of 1912 the Danish music historian Hortense Panum (1856-1933) donated two skalmejer (folk clarinets) from the Salling peninsula in Jutland to the Brussels Musical Instrument Museum. Miss Panum visited the museum for the first time in 1888. Mainly in the years 1910 to 1912 she kept an intense and friendly correspondence with curator Victor Mahillon, notably about African lyres and Scandinavian stringed instruments, a subject on which she wrote several publications.

The first skalmeje (inventory number 3107) was sent to Mahillon from Copenhagen at the beginning of February 1912. Apparently Miss Panum informed him about a skalmeje with an additional cowhorn bell. On February 25, from his winter home at the French Riviera - Chalet Mathilde in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat - Mahillon sent her a letter asking her if she could provide him with such a skalmeje with a bell. Already at the beginning of March, almost by return of post, he received one at his French address (inventory number 3108). Hortense Panum wrote that the instrument was a double she had been given by the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

Most probably both skalmejer arrived in Copenhagen via Niels Sørensen (1863-1919), a timber merchant and folklorist from Lem (Skive municipality) in Central Jutland region. Sørensen was a friend of the maker of the instruments, Peder Christian Jeppesen (1841-1917), a farmer from the neighbouring village of Lihme. He was commonly known as Peder Gaardsted, after the name of the farm where he was born, and where he also died.

Apparently Victor Mahillon was intrigued by the skalmeje and he asked Miss Panum for additional information. On August 23, 1912 she forwarded information she had just received in writing from Jutland, undoubtedly from Niels Sørensen. She added a photo of Peder Gaardsted. She wrote:

'The instrument is thought to be very old in Salling (...). For a very long time it was a musical instrument that the farmers from that area made for their own pleasure. All  elderly people there remember the instrument from their childhood. The maker, P. Chr. Gaardsted, who was born in 1841, learned how to make such a skalmeje when he was boy of seven or eight. At the time he was in service at Revsgaard, a farm in Salling west of  Skive (...). His master was a mill builder, who was then building a mill in the neighbourhood of  Revsgaard.' Peder Gaardsted was the last traditional skalmeje player. Nothing is known about what and how he played on the instrument. It also remains the question if the skalmeje goes back any further than the 19th century. According to the Danish organologist Mette Müller the instrument may have been inspired by the classical clarinet, which was introduced in Danish military bands at the end of the 18th century.

Peder Gaardsted's skalmeje is a folk clarinet with a remarkable construction. It is made of a little pinewood bar that is split lengthwise. In the back half a V-shaped  canal is cut out over nearly its entire length. The front half is thinned at its mouthpiece end to form a single reed. It also has a V-shaped canal over its remaining length. When both halves are fixed together, they form a bore with a diamond-shaped cross-section.

In the same letter of August 23 Hortense Panum further wrote that traditionally both parts were tied together with loops fitting into grooves cut around the  instrument, and that Peder Gaardsted had invented a new way of joining both halves, using sliding, slightly tapering dovetail shaped little strips of wood. This example has one single strip on one side, and two on the other side.

This skalmeje has four almost square finger holes. Mahillon recorded the scale f#-g#-a#-b-c#. According to him the bell had hardly any influence on the pitch or the timbre.

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Peder Gaardsted with his skalmeje in 1910 (photo Sine Christensen, Lem)