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Biography of Lars Roverud



(The following was translated from Psalmodikon information I've received from friends in Norway and Sweden.)

One of the most original figures in the periods of church music was Lars Roverud. His father had hopes that he would study theology, but because Roverud studied to become a musician, his father disowned him.

By 1807 he was earning his living as a teacher of violin, piano and music theory. Roverud was one fire-soul with many ideas. He was determined that people should learn music for their own personal enjoyment One of his pupils was Halfdan Kjerulf, (1815-1868), who went on to be a composer and the first national romanticist in Norwegian music history.

The 1789 publication, "A Look at Music Conditions in Norway", tells of the concern about the poor quality of music in the church. Most churches do not have an organ and the songs were being directed by a Klokker, of which "1 in 50 knows a note of music". The old established traditional song culture was described as,"they sing according to their own taste in an off-key loud voice, often times with screaming louder than the Klokker and not suitable to a cultured ear in God's House".

There was a conflict between the old and new ideas within the church. This publication occupied Roverud strongly and it is not strange then that being a schooled musician, he decided to take it upon himself to better the situation. In Roverud's publication of 1815, "Music Conditions in Norway", he points out the unfortunate condition in that most of the churches are missing a suitable instrument to lead the singing and also an unschooled Klokker.

In 1819 Roverud travels to Leipzig, Germany to study class teaching. He then travels to Denmark and learns of the need for improved church singing there also. Here he meets J. W. Bruun, (1781-1836) who is using a simple musical instrument ( a one-stringer) similar to a Monochordet, whom already the Greek Philosopher Phytagors had occupied himself with. (The instrument was not being readily accepted because it was difficult to play).

Roverud returns to Norway to set up a Music Academy where he can teach 20-30 pupils at one time.

On a trip to Kristiania in 1825 he sees the Danish"one-stringer" in Herr Winther's Music Store. Roverud can see the possiblities of this instrument if he could make the tune more beautiful and easier to play. With the help of mathematician, Christopher Hansten, they design a raised catchboard using a mathematical system of measuring the "stair-steps".

For a greater range of notes, Roverud designs four long flat boards, to be placed above the catchboard. These are called Transposition tables. Roverud has now developed a clear and easily understood way to play notes in the most used major and minor kinds of tones and anyone with a musical ear would be able to play correctly. Roverud made bigger Psalmodicons of the same type, in alt-tenor and bass to teach four-part singing. Even a contra-bass Psalmodicon was tried, but they were very troublesome and uncomfortable to use.

In 1828 Roverud travels to Stockholm to study vocal music. He tells Johannes Dinner (1785-1862) about his Salmodicon and how simple it is to play and also for teaching, using the numerical method. ( Sifferskrift ).

Finally in 1835 Roverud receives official permission and authorization from the Foundation of Education of the Royal Resolution, to use the Psalmodikon, along with the Sifferscrift method, for the betterment of church singing. His first commission is the parish of Gudbrandsdalen & he's received with great enthusiasm by the children and adults. The evangelistic movement created a new interest in the Psalmodikon for use in the churches and also in the homes and schools. The immigrants even brought the Psalmodikon along with them to America.

Because of their popularity, there were many sizes and shapes of Psalmodikon. The Psalmodikon never became great in the line of folk instruments, and their use started to decline after 1930.