My Troll Flute

by Howard Fosdick
Troll Flute Troll Flute

Ever scroll through Etsy looking for interesting flutes?

I've found some gems there: an overtone flute from Ukraine, a quena flute from Argentina, a bass ocarina tuned to a mid-eastern scale, and an Indian bamboo flute. I've enjoyed playing these ethnic instruments and exploring their musical traditions.

Recently, I stumbled upon the flute pictured above.

It's a soprano recorder, hand-crafted from unfinished cherrywood. It's intricately carved along with a matching hand-made leather carrying case. The recorder features German fingering (rather than Baroque), and has no double-holes.

The beautifully-worked case gives the sole clue to the instrument's identity. It says tussefløyta, which I discovered meant “troll flute” in Norwegian. The outer flap of the case proclaims the date “1970”.

I researched this unusual instrument and was amazed by what I found. Here's the story...

Unraveling the Mystery

From web research, I learned that this flute was personally made by one Egil Storbekken. Mr Storbekken turned out not to be just any flute-maker. He was, in fact, a central figure in the revival and promotion of traditional Scandinavian music.

Storbekken was born in Tolga, Hedmark, Norway in 1911. From a musical family, he quickly developed interests in both musical instruments and Norwegian cultural traditions. He participated in choirs and other musical activities while working at a handicraft shop and in the insurance industry in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, a primary cultural movement of the 1930s was National Socialism, which in Norway was embodied in the fascist party Nasjonal Samling. Drawn in by his deep cultural interests, Storbekken became a party member in 1940. During the war years German Nazi occupation of Norway revealed to Storbekken the catastrophic consequences of this political movement, of which he later repented. He was arrested when the war ended and sentenced to three years of penal servitude, serving a little over two. Afterwards, Storbekken returned to Tolga, where he immersed himself in various musical and cultural activities.

Storbekken Plays His Troll Flute
Storbekken playing his troll flute in Norway

Starting in the early 1950s, Storbekken convened an annual cultural convention.  He composed songs, played on radio programs, created film soundtracks, and toured the country promoting traditional Norwegian music. He recorded six full albums between 1968 and 1984.

You can hear many of his recordings on Youtube's Storbekken channel. Perhaps his best-known melody is Fjelltrallen.

Storbekken's compositions reflect a specific cultural understanding of music I find fascinating. If you're interested in playing them, this website posts sheet music for sixteen of his best tunes. The sheet music is scored suitably for play on either concert flute or recorder. The posts include recordings of the songs so that you can hear how they sound. Here are a few sample tunes played on the troll flute:

Norsk Musikforlag sells Storbekken's sheet music in several printed songbooks.

Along with all the composing and performing, Storbekken invented his own version of the recorder, which he called the “troll flute”. He hand-crafted these in his small home workshop. He also created Norwegian versions of penny whistles from wood, and lurs, a type of Scandinavian alpine horn.

Storbekken also made willow flutes, a simple flute without fingering holes often referred to as the overtone flute. (You can read about how overtone flutes work in this article.) All of Storbekken's work focused on Scandinavian musical traditions and culture.

By the time of his passing in 2002, Mr Storbekken was widely acknowledged as an important champion of Norwegian folk music who single-handedly did much to revive the country's unique traditions.

To learn more about Storbekken, his life, and his instruments, read the more extensive biography here.

Storbekken Plays His Troll Flute in Costume / Storbekken Playes Norwegian Lur
Left: Storbekken plays his troll flute in costume. Right: Storbekken plays the Norwegian lur.

About the Author

Howard Fosdick is a computer scientist who once played concert woodwinds but today concentrates on folk flutes. You might enjoy his other articles on tonettes, song flutes, and flutophones or ocarinas, recorders, tin whistles, and Native American flutes.