Leonard Finseth was a Norwegian-American folk fiddler, farmer, and factory worker in Mondovi, Wisconsin. Born February 11, 1911 after his parents emigrated to the United States from Norway, Finseth’s first musical training was from one of his two sisters who taught him the organ at a young age. He began to play the fiddle at age 17 after his uncle, Ed Quall, himself a fiddler of some renown, helped him get a fiddle through mail order and started to give him lessons. Finseth could and did read music, but his folk fiddling was more of an oral tradition learned from his uncle Ed, his neighbor Ingvald Syverson, and Otto Rindlisbacher (from Rice Lake, Wisconsin and of Swiss descent).
While continuing to maintain his farm in Mondovi, Finseth participated in folk festivals including the Fiddler’s Fest in Yankton, South Dakota, the Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, the Snoose Boulevard Festival in Minneapolis and the Festival of American Folklife held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in both 1974 and 1976. He was invited to the Smithsonian after being heard by scouts at the Snoose Boulevard Festival in Minneapolis.
His music is identified by some as being similar to that of Gudbrandsdalen, a region north of Oslo. Finseth also played organ, harmonica, guitar, and a Norwegian violin variant, the Hardanger fiddle or Hardingfele, a fiddle with four added sympathetic strings. Finseth recorded two albums of Norwegian folk music, The Hills of Old Wisconsin, and Scandinavian Old Time: Folk Fiddle from Wisconsin. He was also featured in Scandinavian-American Folk Dance Music Vol. 2 and Across the Fields: Fiddle Tunes and Button Accordion Melodies. Finseth died June 16th, 1991.
The collection consists primarily of home recordings Finseth made of himself often with accompanying musicians mostly recorded in the 1970s and 80s. Most of the recordings were indexed by Bob Andresen. The collection also includes photographs and correpondence.
Special thanks to The National Endowment for the Humanities for providing essential support for this online collection.
Original collection materials reside in the Mills Music Library. Materials in the collection are non-circulating but may be consulted in the library. Patrons wishing to consult materials may contact the reference librarian on duty.
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