Christmas Concert
Event 13
Friday 15th December, 8:00pm 
Little Missenden Church

The Longest Night - A Norwegian Fable
The Society of Strange
and Ancient Instruments

This is an archived event from the 2017 Programme.

Clare Salaman nyckelharpa  Benedicte Maurseth Hardanger fiddle, Norwegian traditional folksong  Jean Kelly clàrsach (Celtic harp)

This year, our renowned Christmas Concert will be presented by The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments, who will celebrate The Longest Night...when spirits, gnomes and trolls roam the land.

The Longest Night 

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks

John Donne (1572-1631)

"In Scandinavia there are two enduring traditions that celebrate the longest night or Lussinatten according to the Julian calendar. Although the date for the winter solstice moved from the 13th to the 21st of December in the mid-eighteenth century, these firmly established traditions are still celebrated on the earlier date. The name Lussi is associated with Lucia, meaning ‘light’, and also with Lucifer. This duality lies at the centre of Lussinatten - a night of extremes in which darkness and light, good and evil, reward and punishment and Protestant and Catholic rituals are all explored.

The lighter of these celebrations commemorates Saint Lucy or Lucia, a third-century martyr who brought food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs, using a candle to light her way. St Lucia’s day coincides with the Julian winter solstice and has become a Christian festival of light. For many Scandinavians it signals the arrival of Christmas and the light to come.

However, alongside this well-established, and relatively benign Catholic celebration, another tradition, established over hundreds of years, still endures.

Legend has it that on the longest night, Lussi, a terrifying enchantress and devilish overseer, flies through the sky, surrounded by smoke and flames, looking for and punishing those who haven’t made adequate preparations for Christmas. If she isn’t treated with respect, she will put her long arms through the chimney, blow out all the candles and hit people with her hand, causing immediate paralysis. She enlists the help of spirits, gnomes and trolls with whom she roams the earth in pursuit of the lazy and work-shy. Lussi is also a kidnapper and there are still people who will not venture outside on this night. This extraordinary legend, which reflects a Protestant work ethic, serves as an incentive for people to get ready in good time for Christmas.

We will be playing a mixture of traditional Norwegian music associated with Lussinatten, St. Lucia and Christmas; Hardanger fiddle tunes, Irish tunes and carols, an ancient troubadour Alba or dawn song, and music by Purcell and Marais. Benedicte, Jean and I hail from different and distinct musical backgrounds. In creating this programme we have tried to stay true to our roots while finding a common resonance in the rich vein of stories and tunes that are associated with this time of year."

Clare Salaman


Watch: The Longest Night (trailer)


Listen to: Daphne by Benedicte Maurseth

(based on a 17th Century John Playford tune)


Award-winning Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player and singer, Benedicte Maurseth, The Society of Strange and Ancient Instrument’s director, Clare Salaman, and harpist, Jean Kelly, play an array of beautiful and unusual instruments – Hardanger fiddles, Swedish nyckelharpa, and Celtic harp.

Their collaboration has resulted in a repertoire of songs, dances and instrumental pieces which includes music by Playford and Purcell alongside traditional Norwegian Hardanger fiddle tunes and ancient songs.

La Société des Instruments Anciens

The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments take their inspiration from a group of musicians, La Société des Instruments Anciens, who gave a series of ‘historical performances’ in the Salon Pleyel in Paris in the years around 1900. They played a collection of what were then considered wildly ‘exotic’ instruments; hurdy gurdy, viola d’amore, viola da gamba and harpsichord. To add to the atmosphere of a bygone age the concerts were usually given by candlelight. The programmes that they played were a strange mixture of what might now be described as “easy listening baroque”. Choice, single movements were abstracted from instrumental works and juxtaposed with well known arias from cantatas in a thoroughly entertaining and varied programme. The intention was to enthral the audience with unusual and fresh presentation of music that would have been mostly familiar to them.


We would like to acknowledge the financial assistance given by Music Norway towards Benedicte's costs in travelling to the UK to rehearse and perform at the Festival. The project would have been very difficult to realise without this support.