The exceptionally active and lively Western Finnish fiddle tradition and style of Kaustinen date back at least 300 years. In the 1600s, fiddling spread among the peasant population in Sweden. Seafaring, trade and increased mobility gradually made the instrument more common on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia (i.e. present western Finland) as well.


The new violin music was youth music. The earliest folk musicians in Kaustinen known by their name are found in the 1700s registers of church councils for having breached the prohibition to play in dances on Sundays. On the other hand, the relatively tolerant religious atmosphere has been regarded as one reason for the folk music boom in Kaustinen.


For example, in 1759 the Yliveteli chapel parish, to which Kaustinen belonged, imposed a fine of 12 öre on the host of a dance hall. The dancers and folk musicians at the event were allowed to choose between the stocks and a fine. At the parish catechetical meeting in 1784, Vicar Anders Chydenius himself disapproved of the dances.


Even though peasant melodies shared some features with the music favoured by the gentry, their sounds were different. The instruments, dances and part of the melodies originally came from foreign countries and from the gentry, but the musicians of the peasant community developed individual ways of playing that required talent and extensive practice.


In the peasant culture, the violin became the instrument played at weddings. The heyday of the fiddle tradition in the western part of Finland was in the 1700s and the 1800s. Big weddings could last for up to three days, and the best folk musicians would play there for hours in multiphase potpourri dances and ceremonies. Because big weddings were rare, people began to arrange other kinds of dance events as well. The best wedding musicians also played at the dances that lasted for days, while even one player of a more modest standard was enough for small “corner dances”.


In the late 1800s, violin music started to be accompanied first by the pipe organ and later by the harmonium. At the dawn of the 1900s, modern trends replaced the wedding tradition and a new kind of music culture gained ground. By the 1950s, only a few musicians still mastered the individual, old-world playing style – except for in Kaustinen, where the tradition was preserved through conscious revival. Instead of big weddings, people started to organise such musical events as youth association dances, folk music competitions and open jam sessions at the café of the heritage activist Santeri Isokangas. The wedding tradition, however, did not disappear completely. The 1950s radio recordings of the band Kaustisen Purppuripelimannit made folk music and Kaustinen known throughout the country. Particularly the popularity of Konsta Jylhä’s compositions and the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival at the end of the 1960s launched the folk music renaissance that continues to this day. Kaustinen became the centre of Finnish folk music.


Kaustinen Folk Music Festival in summer 2018 (photo: Yle 16.7.2018)


A member of the ensemble Salonkylän pelimannit stated in the mid-1980s that he had started to play in his teenage years, a little before the Winter War. His neighbours were playing actively, so he sometimes had to go and ask them how to read notes. Music was played in several houses of the village, and the young musician sometimes had a chance to play with skilled folk musicians.


The folk music boom that has persisted since the 1960s has been greatly influenced by Konsta Jylhä, Wiljami Niittykoski and many others after them, who started to compose songs that had their roots in the old tradition but also explored and crossed the boundaries of musical styles. In addition to the village ensembles from Kaustinen that play in the traditional style, such bands and composers from Kaustinen as JPPFriggVille KangasVille Ojanen and Häävi create modern folk music that is based on tradition and interests music lovers of all ages. The internationally renowned Näppäri Method was developed in Kaustinen to teach children and adolescents to make music.