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Povietkin V. I. (Russia) internet source

Wing-shaped gusli of the 11th c. "Slovisha". The instrument was found in 1975 on Troitski the 2nd excavation trench in layers of the 11th c... There was a surprising feature of the find, that the sound board was made from oak. The absence of any sound holes was the other feature of this component of gusli of the 11th c... Noting its beautiful sound of this instrument, the unique for today, I want to say, that with no sound holes they didn't lose the charm of a sound. The difference of sounding is so small, as it could be divined in theory than found in practice...

If the ancient gusli ever had sound holes, those holes, most probably, had natural origin, as it could be for example the hole formed by the missing knot...

It's detected that, gusli body had been made from damp (unseasoned) softwood. It can be proved this way. When maker was going to glue an oak sound board to an instrument body, he revealed at once, that while he was preparing the sound board, the body dried out a little and had warped. As a result of a warping the sound board adjoined the body not equally. Therefore he cut a bit the ledge of one side in a narrow part of an instrument. As the maker had removed the deformation, the overtension in a body was not allowed. For the better fixing he secured the sound board with pegs...

The tuning of horn from Olonetskaja province, that is known, coincide with the ancient tuning of the 5-stringed kantele. The similar check could be tried by sequential restoration of sopels (folk flutes), that were found in Novgorod. By the way, gusli tuning in practice with no tuning fork could be provided with the help of not only wind instruments, but also with the help of Jew's harp. The overtones played by division of a string to an equal two, three or five parts, most probably, worked as a orientation for correct tuning of intervals...

Povietkin V. I. Novgorodian guslis and gudoks. The experience of integrated research.
// translated from Russian by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Hannu Saha. (Finland)

Finnish kantele. There is a wealth of literature on the origin of the instruments played in the Baltic region and Novgorod, and the eleven kanteles discovered during excavations of the ancient city of Novgorod date from the 11th to 14th centuries...

Over the centuries the Finnish kantele has undergone many radical structural changes. It can, in terms of evolution and construction, be divided into three main categories: hollowed kanteles, box kanteles and mechanism kanteles.

The oldest kanteles were hollowed out of a single piece of wood, either from below, when the base remained open, or from above, in which case they had a separate lid. In shape the hollowed instrument has the most pleasing of lines: it resembles a triangle with one of the points chopped off but the sides and curves are all irregular. The folk kanteles were, furthermore, always unique in design, since each builder added something of him or herself, as is always the case in folk art...

The hollowed kanteles had few strings, usually only five. In ancient times the strings were made of horsehair, in later times of copper or metal wire. There was no bridge to support the strings, which were attached to pegs at one end and to a medal rod at the other. The 5-stringed kantele was tuned to a major or minor pentachord (according to the five first notes of diatonic scale), though the middle third was sometimes neutral, i.e. somewhere between a major and minor third...

Hannu Saha The Kantele — from Epic to Eclectism.
// Text originally published in Finnish Music Quarterly 2/1998.

Miekhnietsov A. M. (Russia)

Крыловидные гусли (д. Кунцово Хвойницкого района Новгородской обл.)Russian gusli of XI—XX cc. In Russian musical art from XII—XVIII cc. name gusli assigned to that kinds of stringed instruments of various origin (and also instruments adopted from European musical practice), construction of ones answers the one of the main principles of gusli design - the strings are arranged parallel to sound board: triangular and helm-shaped gusli (gusli-psalterium), gusli-zithers (titra - Pskov dialect,) rectangular (clavier-shaped or table-shaped) gusli, as well as contemporary modernized instruments...

On a base of common constructive principle there are instruments of the same type, or just very similar to gusli, forming in various ethnic cultures. There are kantele (Karelians, Finns), kannel (Estonians), kokle (Latvians), kankles (Lithuanians)...

Supporting board (stub-wing; wing; otkrylok) - the extension of a gusli body face, jutting over the pin-line...

The main material for gusli body is fine-grained spruce, pine; in Novgorod oblast the alder tree is mainly using. The spruce in used for the sound boards almost everywhere...

Miekhnietsov A.M. Russian gusli.
// Gusli — Russian folk musical instrument: an exhibition catalogue -
SPb.: The Center of Folklore and Ethnography, 2003. — 112 p., ill.
// translated from Russian by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Nazina I. Dz. (Belarus)

Gusli of wing-shaped zither type. Nowadays the fact that Belarusans had gusli and gudok is incontrovertible, as well as the other Easten Slavonic nations had. But ad interim there is nothing of any documental illustrations of the fact of their existence found for now...

As it is known, gusli is usually mentioning in Bielarusan folk calendar agricultural and wedding songs, tales and legends, what can be rated as the evidence of the ancient origin of the instrument. Ancient Russian and ancient Bielarusan literary sources frequently mention it... But ad interim that Bielarusan really had gusli of wing-shaped zither type is still unproved...

Unfortunately, E. Ramanau, as well as N. Privalov, did not specify the nationality of a person, who sold the instrument, but this evidence seems to us the most important, as far as Ramanau's collection of folk musical instruments, as it was mentioned by himself, was collected from Belarusans, Letts and Hebrews. That's undoubtedly, that mixed ethnic environment of Siebiezh and Lucyn uyezds of Viciebsk province was rather favorable for the interaction of musical traditions of various nations, therefore it was also favorable for usage of the same musical instruments...

Thereby, neither facts, published by Privalov, nor items, collected by Privalov and Ramanau, can not be a direct proof of gusli widespread through all the native territory of Belarusans.

The multiple meaning of a term gusli could be traced also through the Russian Federation territory, in Smolensk and Kalinin regions. So, V. Dobrovolski, who studied the Western part of Smolensk region, that has a common border with Belarus, noted, that names gusli and dudki are synonyms there...

In one of folk songs there are some words about dvajcastyja gusli:

A ja pajdu, maladzieńka,
U zilonuju rosču,
A ja vykalu, maladzieńka,
Klanovuju dosku,
A ja zdzielaju, maladzieńka,
Dvajcastyja husli.
Kamu ŭ husli jhraci,
Kamu tancuvaci?
Ivanuski ŭ husli jhrać,
A Marji plasać...

And I'll go, as young I am,
To a green grove,
And I'll cut, as young I am,
A maple board,
And I'll make, as young I am,
A twofold gusli
Who will those gusli play?
Who will dance?
Ivanuska will play,
And Marja will dance...

V. Dobrovolski, who noted this song at Smolensk Region, left a comment: "Dvajcastyji gusli — gusli in two rows". Whereas there are evidences by K. Kvitka and F. Rubtsov, it can be conceded, that the song tells about twin pipes.

Nazina I. Dz. Bielarusan folk musical instruments: Stringed. —
Minsk: Nauka i technika, 1982. — 120 pages, illustrated.
// translated from Russian by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Pryvalaŭ N. I. (Russia, St. Petersburg)

Stringed instruments. Psalterium kind. (...) The Slavs, who came to Eastern Slavonic lands from South-Western side, much later then Finns, cut into Finnish mass on their way to Baltic Sea and established close relations with it later.

They brought their customary instrument gusli (from the verb husci, means drone), Slavs grow fond of Finnish kantele as well and step by step absorbed it, fixing a name gusli to a kantele. In spite of a basic difference: gusli was an instrument of an other type, a bowed one.

South Slavs gusli, that till nowadays are very popular among Serbs, Dalmatian, Montenegrins and partly Bulgarians, so at Balkan Peninsula, are the prototype of a bowed instrument, brought from the East: this is a one stringed violin, that is hold vertically while playing — a bit inclined, as a modern cello (its body is pear-shaped, see pic. 17 [pic]). The bow has a curved bow shape, means it has a primitive form; they rub its string (made of a horse tail flock) by resin or colophony, and run over the similar horsehair single string; with the left hand fingers press the string, getting various pitches. Instead of a sound board, the instrument covered with skin, absolutely preserving the Eastern kind, as Arabic rebab (invented in the 1st century of Aristotelian era), which Balkan instrument is descended from. The usage of gusli is the same as Arabic one: blind musicians are singing epic and historical songs only with an accompaniment of buzzing and droning of a string.

(...) After this digression — let's return to the Finnish gusli kantele.

Adopted by Eastern Slavs this instrument, that got, as it was mentioned, old name gusli, become immensely popular; gusli - comparing with kantele - had got some changes in Slavonic culture, also it got an epithet zvancatyja (zvonchatyje, means jingling), because of typical way of playing; the strings - for strengthening - became steel ones, due to it the power of a right hand had grown. The right hand usually held a wooden stick or chip, a piece of a bone, split piece of an eagle feather or any other variant of a plectrum. A left hand, as well as a kantele player's left hand, was a damper, bur its fingers were put down between the strings. Number of strings was from 7 to 13 from place to place.

Not so long ago there were guslars, who made their simple instruments by theirselves, adopted this art from their ancestors.

Afterwards gusli became one of Russian folk instruments renewed by V. Andreev and me and was included into Orchestra of Great Russia. It also played in a solitary chorus, for example in a Proletarskaja Gusli Studio factory Cyrvony Trykutnic (The Red Triangle) managed by N. Holasaŭ.

There is a picture of Bielarusan gusli from Viciebsk region on a pic. 19 [pic] . This exemplar has 13 metal strings. Pegs are metal as well. There are various round-shaped halasniki (sound holes) cut though the upper board. The extension of the upper board over the resonator box (A position, adkrylak, a stub-wing) serve as a support for the left hand elbow while playing, when the left hand is used to damp the strings with its fingers. This technique is simple to comprehend while seeing the pic. 20 [pic]. There is a guslar (gusli player) on a picture. Sometimes there's no stub-wing made and gusli goes over kantele shape.

Gusli tuning inherently has a diatonic major scale with a sustain pedal, as if it is pressed all the time (fifth, fourth or octave lower - from last the most longer string). There are some other local variants of tuning, but they based at diatonic scale.

The prevailing gusli tuning is: e, h, e', fis', gis', a', h', cis2, e2.

Nowadays though zvancatyja gusli could be found in Belarus, but few and far, - they are going out of fashion; there no gusli of this kind in Ukraine at all.

Pryvalaŭ N. Folk musical instruments of Belarus. — ?, 192? // translated from Bielarusan by Aleś Čumakoŭ / pictures by Pryvalaŭ N.

Palubinskiene, Vida (Lithuania)

The Western-Aukstaitian and Zemaitian kankles way of playing. ...It happens that pins became loosened after tightening. To avoid this, we are recommend you to knock at the pins with a tuning wrench carefully. After this the pins go deeper in the pin holes and do not become loosened.

If the pins do not keep the tension afterwards, you should unscrew them and rum a chalk into a pin holes. This operation improves a grip between pins and pin holes surface and do not allow the pins to turn over under the string tension.

Old guslars didn't know any music keys. Each of them tuned their kankles according to their folk ears and according to diapason of a folk violin later folk accordion (harmonica), accordion or even piano, even they never had an ensemble playing kankles with that instrument except violin. We will not violate the tradition if we tune kankles in harmony with harmonica, violin, accordion or even piano. However this way of tuning is the posterior fact, because the mentioning of violin in historical sources dates back since 16th century. Harmonicas have appeared in our estates only in the 4th decade of the 19th century. Accordion had appeared only in the first half of the 20th century. That's undoubtedly that guslars tuned their instruments by ear only. That's why it would be the best for the kankles beginners to be good in tuning the strings not only with the help of any other instruments, but by ear as well. Moreover the modern musical instruments has a tempered tuning, while scale of ethnic music (and kankles as well) was a natural scale.

Here is a scheme illustrating a proportion in cents between the tempered major scale and the natural one:

We see that all the major seconds of the tempered scale has 200 cents interval, and minor ones (framed) has 100. All the intervals of a natural scale are different. Comparing with a tempered scale, the third, the sixth and the seventh notes (marked with minus) are lower, and the second, the forth and the fifth ones (marked with plus) are higher.

If you tune kankles according to this example, their scale will be natural and they will have sound more or less as it was played by old guslars. It is possible to tune a kankles by ear when if you have no special equipment. If it was tuned tempered scale previously, just slightly loosen the 7th string pin, lower a bit the mediant of a major scale (the 7th string). Even this operation only is enough to make the sound more clear. If you want to get closer to a natural sound, you should slightly heighten the 6th and the 9th strings and rather perceptibly heighten the 8th one. Then lower a bit the 10th and the 11th strings. After that the sound of kankles becomes almost natural.

Suvalkian kankles way of playing. If you are good in all the styles of playing the Western-Aukstaitian and Zemaitian kankles, it will be not so hard to learn how to play Suvalkian kankles, as Suvalkian musicians used the same finger positions as Zemaitian ones... they picked sixteenth notes with the left hand fingers, and passed over the strings not only from highs to lows, but from lows to highs as well. Their playing does not differ greatly from the Western-Aukstaitian and Zemaitian one.

Pranas Puskinigis and other Suvalkian guslars used numbered tablature to simplify playing. They wrote down numbers on a paper ribbon so each number matches the proper string after putting this ribbon under the strings on the right corner of an instrument:

A number above the stave means what note you should play, and counting above means how many times. Unfortunately this way of notation does not represent the length of a sound.

Palubinskiene, Vida Ethninės Veiklos Realijos: Tradicinio repertuaro kankliavimas.
// translated from Lithuanian by Aleś Mikus, translated into English by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Nazina I. Dz. (Belarus)

Царь Давыд играет на гуслях. Фрагмент гравюры на титульном листе 2-й книги 'Царства'. Прага. 1518Gusli in Belarus (the term and the actual). In old Bielarusan ecclesial literature of the 16th century the word gusli mostly used together with the word psaltery. The comparative description of the instruments with these names is given in Preface to Psaltery by F. Skaryna: "This musical instrument, that is called Psaltery, has much in common with gusli... As the king and the prophet himself sings proclaiming: "Glorify the Lord with Psalteries and guslis!" And the present day the king have chosen four persons among all the people - Azaf and Eman and Efan and Idifum for playing music before the icon case of the Lord's testament and to sing psalms for ever and ever as it is written in the earliest books of Paralipomenon.

There is a difference between Psaltery and gusli. Gusli has a lot of strings, Psaltery has only ten strings, as it is written: "Glorify the Lord with Psalteries the 10-stringed!" You can find pictures of the King David that holds gusli (a harp-shaped instrument) on some engraving in F. Skaryna Bibles (the facing page 65 of the second book "Kingdoms", 1518. [pic]; p. 1 and 16 "Psalter", 1517). The first listed engraving has a sign: "The King David plays gusle while carrying the icon case". Being an inalienable attribute of the legendary Psalm singer and musician David the Kind, this instrument has got a name "David's gusli "...

Nazina I. Dz. Gusli in Belarus (the term and the actual)
// "Bielarusan Renaissance monuments of artistic culture" — 
Minsk "Navuka i technika ", 1994.
// translated from Bielarusan by Aleś Čumakoŭ

Povietkin V. I. (Russia)

Interview at "Radio Svaboda" 10.08.2003. The first settlers also had the bowed stringed instrument of the most complicated construction for that time, that is called gudok in later tradition. In ancient Novgorod, most probably, they called it the same way as gusli played by plucking — gusli. Generally, the history of Novgorod, the beginning of the ancient Novgorod, it can be said, are related with an aristocratism. Because among the solitary finds of the archaeological layer there are various musical finds. We've found 3-stringed gudoks (bowed stringed musical instruments), single-stringed ones (it's also a sensational discovery), so-called gusli-psalterium was discover among the gusli finds; gusli zvonchatyje, with small number of strings, with fan-shaped string organization, so-called wing-shaped after later classification. And the most significant find is a lyre-shaped gusli.

Lyre-shaped gusli according to its construction has antique Greece background, then after antique Greece background they has ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia background. They say: "gusli is a primordial Russian folk musical instrument", but it is an incorrect wording. Because it sounds as if Russians were the inventors of the instrument from the very construction idea. But in fact, the construction idea is universal heritage.

''Ananjev gusli''. In 1889 the instrument was bought from a peasant Trofim Ananjev (Luzhski uyezd, SPb province).A. Famincyn had found the only instance of gusli playing in the late 19th century. He found Trofim Ananjev, 96 years old. Not only A. Famincyn, but professors of St. Petersburg conservatoire heard what Trofim Ananjev told and showed them playing gusli. But whereas conservatoire professors get accustomed to professional European language, they did not comprehend the intelligence of a simple country man. They did not understand why he plays mainly with only two chords. He recounted, but they did not understand all the same. And suddenly in the late 20th century, when a hundred years have passed, we realize the gusli tradition. When we came to a village in Novgorodian region with a renewed country instrument and asked to play, they say that it is impossible, because they played 60 years ago last time. But as far as we had fully functional instrument, nevertheless someone wished to touch the strings. And to their surprise, the old country men received evidence that their fingers remember more then their minds. Surely, the important part was that people minds kept tunes and melodies, that still sound on holidays played by other instruments — guitar, harmonica.

Povietkin V.I. Radio Svaboda. 10.08.2003.
Russia the civilization // Birch bark letters.
// translated from Russian by Aleś Čumakoŭ.
Photo: V. A. Gordeev

Arnolds Klotiņš, Valdis Muktupāvels (Lithuania, Latvia)

From Liaudies kultūra magazine. Chordophones have mentioned in 647 dainas. It is 41,8 per cents of all daina texts, related to musical instruments. The most frequently mentioned in dainas - gusli, kokle (274 dainas). The contexts, where kokle have mentioned, are understandable and rather monotonous. In 23 per cents of dainas they have mentioned relating to the custom of a bride kidnapping: bride family, while searching for the sister and her kidnappers, meet a raven, that plays kokle on a tree, or meet guslars, that play kokle on a high hillock; they give an advice to the family, which way to go. Moreover, the raven acts as a further storyteller. In 16 dainas various mythic creatures played kokle. They are God sons (Dievo deli; Dievs is the main God of heaven in Lettish mythology), Janis (he is also a son of God related to the middle summer rituals of fertility) and Sun (Saule; personified mythic sun). In 45 dainas they said about kokle sound and about kokle playing as well from the aspect of aesthetic phenomenon. The sound of kokle can be joyous or sad, often used as lyric background of mourning, when mother or father dies. Kokle are mentioned only in 10 herdsman dainas, and only 3 dainas (1 per cent) mention kokle as an instrument accompanying dances. There are great number of variants of Latvian ballad "Singing bones" (Dziedosie kauli): 39. Dainas tell that the youngest daughter sank, the river brought her to the sea, sea waves brought her to the shore and a linden grows accurately at that place. Her brothers made a kokle from that linden and her mother recognized her voice in kokles sound. It's important that kokle is the instrument that helps a man to touch the overnatural spirits. Secondly, it is an instrument the most close to a man's voice. This idea is supported by Lettish dainas, that tells about kokle made from linden or oak only, while these wood both are totem ones in a traditional mentality (linden for female, oak for male).

Tradiciniai muzikos instrumentai ir jų funkcijų latvių liaudies dainose semantika
(Traditional musical instruments and their functions semantics in Latvian folk dainas)
// Liaudies kultūra, №4, 2001. p. 36.
// translated from Lithuanian by Aleś Mikus, translated into English by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Povietkin V. I. (Russia)

The lay of musical archeology of Russia Musical archeology spontaneously appeared in general concept of Russian archeology as absolutely new subject or branch and has become usual and natural, especially in last years. It should be noted that this subject has been known abroad much earlier, for example in Western Europe. To a considerable extent this fact furthers the opinion about Ancient Rus culture as a Culture of Great Silence.

It seemed that it couldn't be succeeded to understand how the instruments that were mentioned in Russian folklore and written sources as gusli did sound and did look like. The question still remained infinitely disputable: after all what are the instruments (are they local or foreign?), that were depicted in Ancient Rus books, mural paintings, sculptures, items of decorative and applied arts.

There were attempts to correlate forms of musical instruments known in late Russian tradition with information from ancient historians, starting from Theophylact Simocatta, who lived in the 6th century and who told in his History about three Slavic musicians. Single archaeological evidences in the form of images of musical scenes for example gusli player with a gusli, engraved on a precious hoop from the treasures of Kiev (the 12th century) or moreover aurochs horns from Chernaja Mogila in Chernigiv (the 10th century), that were firstly interpreted as hunting signal instruments — these all involved the researchers into the world of imagination more and more.

At the same time one cannot but admire progress of Russian instrumental science historians such as A. Famincyn, N. Privalov, N. Findejzen. They worked in the late 19th — early 20th centuries. Some of their conclusions and reasoning, that seemed too bold for that time, amaze with their accuracy today. However some sort of a main source for the rich collection of the Russian musical instruments materials they had collected was been missing. It should be that kind of a source that will provide an indisputable explanation.

The extraction of the evidences of musical instruments — metal, clay, bone and, what is the most important, wooden ones — from the wet archaeological layer started at Nerevski excavation trench in 1951. But only in the second half of 1960s the outstanding figure of Novgorodian archeology Boris Ivanovich Kolchin succeeded to identify mysterious parts and fragments as old Jew's harps, gudoks, guslis, sopels. As a corollary of this discovery, the scientist's efforts were aimed at the restoration of an original appearance of the old instruments. Without going into details of the afore-mentioned actions, let's note that the typological range of musical instruments studied by B. A. Kolchin remained invariable since 1968 till 1980. That range included two kinds of small number of strings gusli: the earliest one with a playing window aka lyre-shaped and gusli without a playing window aka zvonchatyje that came up to take place of lyre-shaped ones (according to K. A. Vertkov these both kinds are reckoned among wing-shaped gusli kind); a bowed instrument — three stringed gudok; an edge-blown aerophone — sopel; and a plucked idiophone — Jew's harp.

...Works of B. A. Kolchin started the inimitable in Russia and Europe practices of the archeological remains of musical antiquities identification, practices of their reconstruction and synchronous harmonization with folklore, written, graphic and in general all the long ago and recent evidences of Russian everyday life usage of sounding tools. That practices were increased later.

The collection of musical antiquities of Novgorod is the largest in Europe. For example there are more then 84 evidences of various stringed instruments alone detected till the end of 1996. This collection furthered the correct identification, and sometimes even convincing reconstruction, of a whole number of archaeological finds of musical instruments at other distant from Novgorod excavations. The obvious likeness with Novgorodian ancient gudoks and guslis, their parts and workpieces is detected by archaeologists in Haithabu (a border between Germany and Denmark), in Poland in cities Opole and Gdansk, on Russian territory in Pskov and not so long ago in Staraja Ladoga. The find from Staraja Ladoga is a wooden peg (pin) made not later then the 10th c. The illustration provided by Z. D. Bessarabova (pic.). By its construction the peg could belong to gusli or gudok as well, but in consideration of its use time it was most probably a part of gudok: due to materials of Novgorod archeology there are bowed gudoks exactly registered confidently in layers of the 10th c. Staraja Ladoga is the third city in Russia after Novgorod and Pskov, where such important evidence as a wooden part of ancient complicated musical instrument was found.

The preservation of wooden pieces, particularly, remains of musical instruments is furthered by water-logged archaeological beddings, peculiar to area of Russian North-West. A big set of musical instruments including "noble" wooden ones — stringed and wind — probably was used in other cities and settlements of Ancient Rus, where archaeological layers formed not so favorably for wood preservation. As the confirmation for this fact there are well-known precious hoops from prince's and boyar's hidden treasures of the 12-13th c., where ritual pre-Christian scenes with skomorokh musicians were illustrated. The hoop from Staraja Ryazan is the most significant one. On its leafs there are dancer dressed in clothes with long sleeves and two musicians with gusli and sopel. And these instruments both have striking resemblance to wooden sopels and guslis exemplars discovered in Novgorod, being demonstrative restored in its appearance and sound nowadays.

Povetkin V. I. "Novgorod and Novgorodian Land. History and archeology". Scientific conference data. 11/97.
// translated from Russian by Aleś Čumakoŭ.

Alieś Čumakoŭ, 2012.