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FOLK INSTRUMENTS OF UKRAINE


Bandura | Kobza | Mandolin | Tsymbaly | Guitar | Skrypka | Sopilka | Kuvytsi - Rebro | Trembita | Torban


Bandura

by Stephen Schoenfeldt
The bandura is a traditional plucked-string musical instrument from Ukraine. Its timbre resembles a harpsichord's. Although similar-sounding names appear in numerous European and Asian languages (Examples: Spanish bandurria, pandura of Savetian and central Asian societies, Indic tambura, and English bandore), the Ukrainian bandura evolved from a line of lute-like instruments in Ukraine. An 11-th century fresco in Kiev city's Saint Sofia Cathedral shows a possible anscestor. The main distingushing characteristics are 1) the absence of frets, which means that each string can sound only one note, as in a harp, and 2) the presence of treble strings stretched over the soundboard, off center from the bass strings which run along the neck. The result is an asymmetric body. As a homemade folk instrument, there are variations in the pattern.

From 15th to 18th centuries, bandura was played by kobzars (wandering minstrels, usually blind and sometimes led by a child), and kozaks (cossacks, or free warriors). In the villages and towns, kobzars sang epic songs (dumy) about the people's exploits and relations with Turks and Tatars, and later of their troubles with the Polish regime. Because the kobzars were a nationalistic force, the Soviet Union government liquidated them in the 1930s.

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Kobza

Source: Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Volume II, G-K, Page 574
An ancient string instrument of the lute family. Of eastern origin, it was known in Ukraine as early as th 11th century, but became popular only in the 16th century, when it was used to accompany the recitation of dumas. Eventually, it was supplanted be the bandura, which has a larger body, longer neck, and more strings. Today "kobza" and "bandura" are often used synonymously.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site
The history of the kobza can be traced back to 6th century Greek chronicles and it was often mentioned by wandering Arab scholars who visited Rus' in the 10-11th centuries. The term itself is thought to be of Middle Eastern extraction and was thought to have been introduced into the Ukrainian language in the 13th century with the migration of a large group of people from Abkhazia to the Poltava region. The term came to differentiate this instrument from other string instruments generically known as husli.

The kobza became a favorite instrument of the Ukrainian Cossacks and was widely played by the rural masses and in the courts of Polish kings and Russian tsars. Here it served a role similar to the lute in Western Europe. Unfortunately, the kobza, like its close cousin the lute, fell into disuse and was gradually replaced by the bandura, guitar and mandolin. The term kobza later became a synonym for the bandura. The instrument kobza was traditionally carved out of a single piece of wood and consisted of a soundboard with strings strung across it. The number of strings could vary from three to eight. Occasionally it would have frets made of gut, and three to four additional strings strung along the soundboard. The strings were either plucked with a plectrum or with the ends of the fingers.

In recent times attempts have been made to revive the original fretted kobza. In 1968-70 Kyivan instrument-maker Mykola Prokopenko has designed several fretted kobzas which have become the standard in Ukraine. (However this has met however with only limited success.) The contemporary fretted kobza is made in two versions. The first is a seven-stringed instrument that uses an open G tuning similar to that of the seven-string guitar. Other variants of this instrument having a six-string guitar tuning are becoming popular as well as a double course twelve string model.

The second is a four-stringed orchestral variant. The orchestral kobza is tuned in fifths like the strings of the mandolin and violin, and is played with a plectrum. It is used in orchestras of Ukrainian folk instruments, and is produced in prima, alto, tenor, bass and contrabass sizes. The Romanians and Moldovans also have a similar fretted instrument that they call a Cobsa which appeared in the 16th century and has eight to twelve gut or metal strings tuned in fourths or fifths. This instrument is thought to have originated in Bukovyna and is also the term used in Rumania to describe the guitar.

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Mandolin

The mandolin is thought to have replaced the fretted kobza in Ukraine and was first developed in Italy and became very popular in Europe and in Ukraine. There are two types. The Neapolitan, - with a round back, - and the Portuguese with a flat back. In Ukraine the mandolin was displaced by the four-string domra.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Tsymbaly (hammer dulcimer)

String-percussion instrument. The trembita is the Ukrainian version of the alpine horn. It is usually made of spruce that has been split, a central bore dug out and then glued together and bound with birch bark. It is usually some three meters (10 feet) long, being 2.3 to 5 cm (1-2 in.) wide at the mouthpiece and 6cm (3 1/2 in) wide at the bell. Shorter trembitas of half to one meter in length can be found. This shorter instruments are often called "vivcharska dudka" (shepherds pipe) or "syhnal'na truba." The mouthpiece is often made from a separate piece. The range is approximately three octaves, encompassing the natural harmonic series such as in the french horn. The trembita was primarily used in signaling events such as the coming of visitors, enemies or death in the mountain regions of Ukraine and thus a system of elaborate signals was devised. Carol motifs were also played on the instrument at Christmas. Like many of the instruments of Western Ukraine, the trembita is not unique to the Ukrainian people. Instruments such as the trombita, trabita, trebita can be found in Poland and the bucium in Romania.

The hammer dulcimer is an instrument that is well known in many countries. It's origins can be traced to the Middle East where it was known as the santur and it is thought that the instrument was first brought to Ukraine during the Crusades. It spread to Ukraine through Hungary and Rumania, where it is known as a cymbalom and was probably introduced into Ukraine by wandering Gypsy and Jewish musicians. The earliest mention of the Ukrainian term tsymbaly dates back only to the 17th century. In Moldova earlier mentions dating to 1546 can be found. The hammer dulcimer is similar in construction to the husli, consisting of a large wooden box with a soundboard on which strings are strung across in courses of three to five strings. Two bridges are placed on the soundboard over which the strings are stretched. These divide the strings so that each course of strings can produce two different notes. The strings are struck with wooden hammers. Usually the instrument is played in a seated position - placed on the knees of the performer - or in a standing position, with the aid of a long belt that goes around the neck of the performer.

In the 1950's the Ukrainian tsymbaly was chromaticised, and had legs and a damper pedal added. The Chernihiv factory began to manufacture these instruments in three different sizes: prima, alto and bass. In recent times however, the concert cymbalom developed in Hungary is becoming more popular. This instrument contains a full chromatic range of four and a half octaves. Such instruments are made at the Melnytso-Podilsk musical instrument factory.

The small tsymbaly are still played and known as "Hutsulski tsymbaly," to differentiate them from the concert version. Similar instruments can be found in Greece, Rumania, Lithuania, Poland, Byelorus', Bohemia, Latvia and Hungary. The tsymbaly are extremely popular in Western Canada where annual contests are held. Various regional tunings exist and a tradition that has diverged from those which exist in Ukraine. Instrument construction has developed independently.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Classical Guitar

The guitar first made its appearance in Spain in the second half of the 15th century and found its way to Russia in the 19th century. The guitars played in Ukraine are similar in construction and tuning to the Russian guitar where it is thought that they were first developed. These instruments have seven metal strings and are usually tuned to an open G tuning. The development of the seven-string guitar has been accredited to a Czech national - Andriy Sykhra [1773-1850]. The tuning used was taken from the Ukrainian torban. It is thought that Sykhra may have been a torbanist. The term "Russian" guitar was applied to this instrument due to the rise of Russian patriotism after the war of 1812. The Russian seven-string guitar tuning in recent times has become unpopular, especially among the youth, and is being replaced by the standard six-string guitar tuning used in the West.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Skrypka (violin, fiddle)

The traditional fiddle has now been replaced by the standard violin, however the folk tradition of playing the instrument is still alive. The fiddle is a prominent instrument at weddings, found in ensembles of troyista muzyka that usually perform dance music. Fiddlers also play solo works of a program type for listening. Many traditional fiddles were very crude in construction, some being just boards with strings attached. The Ukrainian writer, Ivan Franko, said that "in Galicia one has to make the fiddle from a pine tree struck by lightning. Then it will be loud."

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Sopilka

Free-reed instrument. Its' sound is similar to a flute. A flute-like woodwind instrument is known generically as "sopilka" in Ukrainian. The use of this term however, has caused much confusion in differentiating the various types of folk wind instruments. This is because technically the term sopilka, by its meaning, should only apply to a non-fipple folk-flute while the term dentsivka should apply to instruments of the fipple variety. Unfortunately this is not so, and great confusion surrounds the naming of these instruments.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Kuvytsi - Rebro (Svyryli, Naj)

The kuvytsi are one of the most ancient of folk instruments and are better known in the West as the Pan pipes. Pan pipes have been found in archeological excavations in Ukraine that date back some 5,000 years. The instrument consists of several pipes each of which, when blown endwise, produces one sound. Various versions of the kuvytsi exist in Ukraine, such as the one-sided kuvytsi, which consist of a system of pipes from large to small in one direction or double-sided kuvytsi, which have their largest pipe in the center.

These instruments were used by ensembles in Chernihiv Province and also widely in the Western Ukraine. In recent years the Moldovan concert version of the pan-pipes called the "Naj" has been introduced successfully. These instruments allow chromatic notes to be readily obtained, a semitone lower than the primary sound of the pipe. This is done by bending the angle of the pipes with relation to the player's lips. The air stream is thus broken on the far end of the pipe, rather than the end closest the lips.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Trembita

Woodwind instrument. The trembita is the Ukrainian version of the alpine horn. It is usually made of spruce that has been split, a central bore dug out and then glued together and bound with birch bark. It is usually some three meters (10 feet) long, being 2.3 to 5 cm (1-2 in.) wide at the mouthpiece and 6cm (3 1/2 in) wide at the bell. Shorter trembitas of half to one meter in length can be found. This shorter instruments are often called "vivcharska dudka" (shepherds pipe) or "syhnal'na truba." The mouthpiece is often made from a separate piece.

The range is approximately three octaves, encompassing the natural harmonic series such as in the french horn.

The trembita was primarily used in signaling events such as the coming of visitors, enemies or death in the mountain regions of Ukraine and thus a system of elaborate signals was devised. Carol motifs were also played on the instrument at Christmas. Like many of the instruments of Western Ukraine, the trembita is not unique to the Ukrainian people. Instruments such as the trombita, trabita, trebita can be found in Poland and the bucium in Romania.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Torban

The Torban is a variant of the bandura and is often called the gentlemen's or pans'ka bandura. The torban differs from the standard bandura in that the body is glued from ribs like that of a lute or mandolin. It has two pegboxes on the end of the neck, the additional one of which houses a second set of bass strings. Some torbans have frets on the neck which made them into a more universal instrument by combining aspects of the bandura and kobza. The torban has approximately 30 strings, usually made of gut, although instruments having up to 60 strings are known to have existed. These instruments were very popular among the gentry and nobility of Poland, Russia and Ukraine, and it is known that prominent Ukrainians such as Hetman Mazepa and Kyrylo Rozumovsky played the torban.

It is thought that the Torban was influenced by the French theorbo (teorbe) which the Cossacks under the command of Colonel Ivan Sirko would have observed during their campaigns with the French during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The Cossacks would have had bandurists among their ranks and it is thought that these bandurists may have been the first to develop the hybrid instrument. The torban began to fall into disuse in the 19th century. It was more difficult to play and make, and more expensive. In the early 1920's the torban was branded antiproletarian, because of its association with court aristocratic musical traditions. This marked the end of its use in Ukraine, where it was replaced by the guitar and bandura. Certain structural peculiarities of the torban have made an appearance in the contemporary bandura. These include such peculiarities as the doubled bass pegbox and the glued back. The later feature is being used extensively on the Lviv banduras.

Source: Victor Mishalow, web site

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Ukrainian Words of Interest

Topirets: walking stick/hatchet

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