© Valdis Muktupāvels

Musical Instruments in the Baltic Region: Historiography and Traditions




The Baltic—a term with conventional rather than rational implications—can be used as a general frame to arrange a multitude of organological facts from historically, linguistically, and confessionally different musical cultures—Estonian (EE), Latvian (LV) and Lithuanian (LT). The first part of the article deals with the documentation of instrumental music, as well as the research and significant publications of the period from the 13th century until the end of the 20th century. Arranged in chronological groups, these publications mark a synchronic regional perspective and outline some significant steps in the development of organological/organographical thought. Basic functional groups of musical instruments and music are discussed in the second part. Thus, this article describes the instruments and the music related to the Baltic people’s economic (mainly herding) activities, social events and religious practices. Further, it examines musical instruments used for contemplation and dance in their terminological, morphological, musical, symbolic, and historical contexts.


1. Introduction


Can the Baltic be regarded as a region from the organological point of view?1 The geographical contents of the term “Baltic” has changed over the course of time, and thus it can be treated differently from different points of view. Politically and historically, since the end of World War I, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been denoted by that term. Latvia and Estonia are successors to the Livonian Confederation, which had been established in the 13th century by Crusaders and the Roman Catholic Church. Lithuania is the successor to a part of the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the latter Polish-Lithuanian Confederation. Linguistically, Latvian and Lithuanian, together with the extinct Old Prussian, are Baltic languages, and Estonian is Finno-Ugric. Denominationally, Lutheranism is dominant in most of Estonia and Latvia (except for the southeastern Latvian Catholic region called Latgale), whereas the main part of Lithuania is Catholic. In addition, a small southeastern district of Estonia called Setumaa is predominantly Russian Orthodox. (For details regarding the history, linguistic landscape, etc., of the Baltic region, see the article by Boiko in this volume.)

Musical instruments and instrumental music are not so closely tied to language as vocal music, making historical and confessional factors more important than linguistic ones. Thus, one might expect more similarities in the instrumental music of Estonia and most of Latvia (its central, western and northern parts) on the one hand and Lithuania and Latgale on the other. This does seems to be true in regard to the predominant dance music styles and instruments. But some relatively homogeneous musical forms and instruments are spread throughout the entire Baltic region, above all shepherd music and the Baltic psaltery (kannel EE, kokles LV, kanklės LT). Yet it should be admitted that these do not determine Baltic regionalism, as their actual prevalence is much wider. For example, similar shepherd music and instruments are known in northern European territories from the Vistula River in the west to the upper Volga in the east, and from the polar circle to the Pripet River in the south. The Baltic psaltery is documented in most of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, but also in northwestern Russia, Karelia, and southern and central Finland.

On the basis of such examples, we could conclude that Baltic organology should be considered a designation which is conditioned more in terms of politics than culture, but actually certain deep common cultural traits or structural similarities do exist between the three musical cultures. In approach towards the reasons behind these similarities, we must take into account some general geographical, historical, and cultural considerations.

The Baltic territory is largely covered with forests, with a quite dense network of rivers, lakes and many swamps. For this reason, it has been rather isolated, which resulted in comparatively late Christianization; this took place in Latvia and Estonia only in the 13th century and in Lithuania at the end of the 14th century. Further, “official” Christianity coexisted for a long time with pre-Christian beliefs and practices, and only after the reformation in the 16th century and in the following centuries did it gradually gain broader acceptance among the rural population.

The feudal institutions imposed ethnic or, at the least, linguistic distinctions upon the social structure. Thus peasants and the lowest townsfolk were indigenous people (Lithuanians, Latvians, Livs, Estonians), whereas the aristocracy, merchants and most of the clergy were Germans, Poles, Swedes or at least speakers of German, Polish, or Swedish.

The medieval total population of the Baltic was comparatively small, and this promoted the development of a peaceful and extraordinary tolerant character among its peoples. For example, non-Christian Jews were permitted to settle in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 13th century, and after its confederation with Poland, this region offered the most favourable environment for Jews in Europe. Large Jewish communities formed in Lithuania from this time and in Livonia as well from the second half of the 16th century; soon Vilnius became famous as the “Northern Jerusalem.”


2. Insights into Baltic Organological Historiography

2.1. Written Sources and Iconography of the 13th to 16th Centuries


The oldest iconographical evidence related to musical instruments in the Baltic region is a picture imprinted on a clay tablet, found in archaeological excavations in Tērvete (Latvia) and dated from the 13th century. On it is depicted a piper’s portrait and a conical pipe with four fingerholes. Generally, though, musical instruments and music making in Livonia did not attract the serious attention of chroniclists of the time, and only a few works contain information of some significance. The 13th-century Livonian Chronicle of Heinricus and the Rhymed Chronicle may be considered to be the oldest written sources.

The Chronicle of Heinricus, written in Latin, deals with events in the Baltic region during the end of the 12th and the first decades of the 13th centuries (Heinricus 1993). Quite frequently church bells, or campanas, are mentioned. Referred to as “war bells,” they were used for signaling an enemy attack and were considered to be a good war trophy. A string instrument of Riga inhabitants called cythara Rigensium is also mentioned in this chronicle, perhaps as a metaphor for the townsfolk’s sorrow. During the Estonian siege of Beverin Castle, a Latvian priest is described as praying to God to the accompaniment of a musical instrument, whose harsh tone in conjunction with prayer surprised the Estonians. Drums with pipes (tympanum et fistulas), or with some other musical instrument, are played before an attack as well as afterwards, especially if it has been successful. To stay awake during a night attack, swords are beaten against shields, drums and pipes, and other musical instruments are played.

Musical instruments are also described in the Rhymed Chronicle of the second half of the 13th century (Reimchronik 1998), but not as extensively as in the chronicle of Heinricus. The military trumpet herhorn made of animal horn is mentioned the most often to announce the beginning of a military expedition or for some other signaling purpose. Only once is the big bell (grōzen glocken) mentioned as a signal for the army to gather.

Though they do not describe musical instruments directly, historical documents of the 13th to 14th centuries are the oldest, and thus most valuable, sources. Though some biases emerge in the texts of the oldest chronicles, nevertheless some details, including those connected with the use of musical instruments, are rather realistic and exact.

A picture of music making in Livonia was published in Cosmographey by the Basel scholar Sebastian Münster (Münster 1550/1598). It is possible that this picture was sent to the publisher by the wandering literati Hans Hasentödter in 1547. The engraving shows devils and witches dancing and three musicians—a lutist, a bagpipe and a hurdy-gurdy player—accompanying them.

The Livonian Chronicle, written by Balthasar Russow up to 1583 and published a year later, contains several references to the use of musical instruments in 16th-century Livonia (Russow 1584). Just as mentioned in the chronicles of the 13th century, church bells seem to have been a good war trophy. Military kettledrums and trumpets played separately or in ensemble, are mentioned rather frequently. Kettledrums were broadly distributed in Europe by the middle of the 15th century. They were used as a signal instrument in church towers, and Russow possibly referred to this use when he wrote of “leather bells.” Pipes and drums were played in towns, and towns’ drummers and musicians were also mentioned. Organs were used in churches, and the bells rung during wartime were referred to as “the bells of horror.” There are several references to bagpipes: the large bagpipe, well known in every village, and the peasant bagpipe. The ensemble playing of many bagpipes is vividly described.

The written sources about Lithuanian instruments are comparatively late. Annals and chronicles that mention musical instruments date in Prussian Lithuania from the 16th century, with real descriptions appearing first during the 17th century. In Lithuania proper, such references to instruments only appeared two centuries later after that. The long trumpets attracted special attention, and several informants of the 16th century (such as the Swedish historian Olaus Magnus, Italian traveler Guagnini and Polish historian Mateus Stryjkowski) mentioned them.

Particularly interesting from organological point of view is the first translation of the Bible into Lithuanian, which was made by Jonas Bretkūnas and published in Prussian Lithuania in 1591. The last page of the sixth volume contains a list of the Lithuanian and German names of thirteen musical instruments: harp, lute, hurdy-gurdy, organ, kettledrum, fiddle, shawm, trumpet, psaltery (kanklės LT), pipe, a set of single-tone pipes (tutuklės LT), and large and small bagpipes. The translator may have provided such a list in order to explain his translations of the corresponding Biblical terms.


2.2. From the 17th to the Mid-19th Centuries


Organological information contained in the sources of this period is largely sporadic. Besides terminology, we can also find important details regarding construction, playing, use and symbolism. Names of musical instruments and of their parts are mentioned in dictionaries or in translations of Christian writings. There are some significant remarks about the use of instruments, for example in the 17th-century Latvian phraseological materials of Georg Mancelius. Mancelius describes in these the relations of musical instruments to different spheres of human life and activities. Thus he refers to stick rattles and kokles as peasant (Baur) instruments, drums, copper drums (kettle drums) and trumpets as military (Heer, Hehr) instruments. New names of instruments and idiomatic expressions appear in the 17th-century texts of Georg Elger, but especially in the Latvian-German dictionaries of the linguist and theologian Christopher Fürecker and of the priest Johann Langius. Fürecker’s dictionary is particularly important, as most authors of the 18th and 19th centuries authors subsequently used it and adopted its materials. The Lithuanian-German and German-Lithuanian dictionary of Philip Ruhig also has a certain value, with its list of names of Lithuanian instruments.

The first complete translation into Latvian of the Old and New Testaments was published by Ernst Glück in 1685 to 1691. It contains expressions concerning playing situations and the names of instruments, such as trombone, trumpet, pipe, bagpipe, psaltery (kokles LV), violin, drums, all mentioned in rather positive contexts. The translator surely looked for terms and expressions that were in current use and that could be properly understood by as many readers as possible. His work therefore provides an insight into some aspects of musical life of that time.

Remarkable moments of Livonian musical life have caught the attention of travellers, historians and ethnographers. The playing of the bagpipe at a wedding is pictured in Adamus Olearius’s Vermehrte newe Beschreibung der Muscowitischen und Persischen Reyse (1647). August Wilhelm Hupel (1777) displayed his sceptical attitude regarding the musical possibilities of kokles, whereas he is very positive towards the bagpipe, designating it the most beloved instrument of Latvians and Estonians. Two sets of bagpipes and wedding rattles are depicted by Johann Christoph Brotze at the end of the 18th century in his Monumente (Brotze 1771–1818). Estonian and Latvian bagpipes are compared in Johann Christoph Petri’s geographical and cultural essays about Estonia and Estonians (Petri 1802, 1809). Johann Georg Kohl (1841) describes the playing of kokles, but most of his attention is paid to bagpipes and other wind instruments such as pipes and horns.

The first significant drawings and descriptions of native Lithuanian instruments were published in Lithuania Minor and in Prussian Lithuania: Theodor Lepner’s work Der preusche Littauer (1744:94–98) and Matthäus Prätorius’s Deliciae Prussicae oder Preussische Schaubühne (1871), both finished in the 1690s. The former contains a picture of kanklės, drums, trumpet and pipe and a small chapter about Lithuanian music and instruments, while the latter shows a picture of musicians playing pipe, drums and bagpipe to accompany dance. Valuable information on kanklės and other instruments as well as on traditional singing was provided one-and-a-half centuries later by Friedrich August Gotthold in his work (1847) Über die Kanklys und die Volksmelodien der Litthauer.

In the beginning of the 19th century, scholars from Lithuania proper began to pay attention to Lithuanian traditional music and instruments. Historian and ethnographer Simonas Daukantas (1845) wrote about instruments in village musical life: long trumpets, pipes, clay pipes, kanklės and violins. Ethnographer Liudwik Adam Jucewicz (1846) classified instruments into “migrated” (e.g., violin, clarinet, gensle, bandura, flute. etc.) and “local original” (pipe, primitive clarinet, whistle, dzindzinis, clay pipe, bagpipe, long trumpet).


2.3. From the Second Half of the 19th to the Mid-20th Centuries


One of valuable sources of the period when rural instrumental traditions were still alive is the collection of Andrejs Jurjāns. While he also published his field observations (Jurjāns 1879; 1892), the most important are his descriptions of musical materials (Jurjāns 1912; 1921). In his articles he described the construction, technology, use, provenance and other aspects of many instruments, including the trumpet, goat horn, drums, frame drum, stick rattles, jew’s harp, hammered dulcimer, pipe, reed, bagpipe, violin, kokles and others. A unique and extraordinary ensemble from the small Suiti district is mentioned that contained seven bagpipers and eight players of goat horns. This ensemble made music on the occasion of the visit of the Russian crown prince to Liepāja.

The first Latvian ethnographic exhibition was organized in Riga in 1896, and its catalogue, written by the priest Wilis Plutte (1896), is notable for quite extensive list of instruments. Listed as instruments of olden times are: the frame drum, stick rattles, whistles, trumpets, double-reed pipes, goat horn, aurochs horn, bagpipe, musical bow, kokles with five, six, nine, ten and twelve strings, hammered dulcimer and the jew’s harp. The violin, zither, viola, cello and double bass are referred to as instruments of modern times.

Some publications of Lithuanian folklore or ethnography also contain significant comments about instrumental traditions. Thus Antanas Juška-Juškevič (1880) commented on dance music instruments (bagpipe, goat horn, kanklės, violin) as well as on ritual instruments (pipes, horns, violin, drums and trumpets). Particularly important were the activities of the Russian Geographical Society, whose member Professor Eduard Wolter was one of the most fruitful collectors of Lithuanian and Latvian ethnographic materials. In addition to vocal music, he also focused on musical instruments (Wolter 1892) in his writings, especially on the psaltery, of which he collected and documented several examples. Wolter theorized that the instrument stemmed from the Finnish kantele, thus opposing the views of the recognized Russian organologist Aleksej Famincyn (1890).

In the second volume of his collection of Lithuanian folksongs for German readers, Christian Bartsch (1889) provided a brief essay on Lithuanian instruments called Über littauische Musikinstrumente. Based on the materials of Theodor Lepner, Matthäus Prätorius, Friedrich August Gotthold and others, this essay adds new pictures and more information on kanklės, trumpets and pipes. Some of these illustrations have been reproduced in a number of later works. Similarly, Franz Oskar Tetzner based his 1897 study on earlier materials, which he supplemented with pictures, information and new ideas about the kanklės, trumpet, drum, jew’s harp, single-tone pipe, clarinet and hammered dulcimer.

Adolfas Sabaliauskas is regarded as the first Lithuanian researcher to study musical instruments and music specifically. He extensively collected vocal and instrumental music from the Aukštaitija region and published his observations in several works. In his first publication about the polyphonic vocal style sutartinės and musical instruments (Sabaliauskas 1904) he describes instruments of northeastern Lithuania (e.g., the five-stringed kanklės, a set of end-blown single-tone pipes, a set of trumpets, long trumpets, pipes, the goat horn, clarinets) and the essential features of instrumental music. Revised and supplemented, this material was republished later (Sabaliauskas 1911a:96–108; 1911b). Another work of Sabaliauskas (Music of Lithuanian songs and hymns, 1916) was published in Finland and contains more than 40 instrumental melodies and drawings of instruments.

A small study on Lithuanian instruments was written by Curt Sachs (1916) which was published in the journal Internationales Archiv für Ethnographie. Introducing the Lithuanian instruments in the collection of Berlin’s Königliche Sammlung für deutsche Volkskunde, he comments on their provenance and role in Lithuanian culture.

In 1918 August Bielenstein published an important work in two volumes, Die Holzbauten und Holzgeräte der Letten. The ninth chapter of the second volume is devoted to musical instruments. All materials are arranged into chapters entitled “Woodwinds,” “String instruments,” and “Percussion instruments.” Information about wooden cowbells and children toys can be found in other chapters. August Bielenstein describes types and forms and the construction and technology of the instruments, in addition to terminology, purpose and provenance. Generally one might say that his work is the most extensive and significant organological work in Latvia in the first half of the 20th century. In some cases, its contents might be regarded as unique, as later several of the described artefacts no longer existed in the living tradition, nor are to be found in museum collections or other descriptions.

The well-known Finnish ethnomusicologist Armas Otto Väisänen wrote a series of excellent articles in which he attempted to clear up several issues regarding the origin and distribution of kantele and related Baltic instruments (1928a, 1928b, 1934, 1937). Thus, disputing Famincyn’s hypothesis, he argued strongly that the Baltic psaltery is quite distinct from the Russian gusli in construction and overall design, and that it has a separate history.

In the period between 1923 and 1930, the music school of Klaipėda became an important center for the collection of traditional music, including instrumental music and instruments. The composer Juozas Žilevičius organized and directed these activities, later publishing the results in several articles, the most important of which is “Lithuanian Folk Music Instruments” (1927). In this article, he names and classifies 26 different instruments according to their morphology and origin. From the viewpoint of origin, he forms three groups for these instruments: 1) local original instruments, 2) transmigrational, which were brought to Lithuania, temporally existed and disappeared, and 3) superstratial, which were brought to Lithuania, adopted and became established in traditional musical life.

Juozas Žilevičius settled in Chicago in 1929, publishing articles there on “Native Lithuanian Musical Instruments” (1935) and on the kanklės (1937), in addition to working for years on a bibliography concerning Lithuanian musical instruments.

Elmar Arro, the eminent Estonian musicologist, completed a remarkably thorough and well documented study called “Zum Problem der Kannel”; it was presented as a paper to the Estonian Learned Society in 1929, and published in 1931. This article examines the structure of the instruments of the kannel-kokles group and the distribution of its subtypes, at least in Estonia and Latvia.

Profound scholarly studies of Lithuanian instruments are executed by Zenonas Slaviūnas-Slavinskas. After finishing his extensive fieldwork in 1930s, he published the results, two of which are considered basic, “Lithuanian kanklės” (1937) and “Musical bow—A Primitive Lithuanian Musical Instrument” (1939). The former article is of particular significance, dealing with the problems of the historiography, terminology and chronology of the kanklės. Slaviūnas defined three basic groups of the instrument—primitive, simple and composite kanklės—an approach that is still valid nowadays. In addition, he also describes instruments, music and players. It should be mentioned that Zenonas Slaviūnas contributed to recording traditional music on wax cylinders and to classifying the recorded material. Later he published three volumes of sutartinės—traditional vocal and instrumental polyphonic melodies—which include 81 melodies for different instrumental groups and for kanklės.

In the publication of Elza Siliņa about Latvian dance (1939), a chapter on musical instruments is included. Dealing with issues of dance accompaniment, she discusses clapping, stomping and the use of clappers and rattles, especially in terms of their magical aspect. Other instruments (whistles, pipes, kokles, bladder fiddle and bagpipes) are characterized, mostly from the viewpoint of their relationship to dancing.

Jūlijs Sproģis’ unpublished book, Ancient Musical Instruments and Melodies of Work and Celebration Songs in Latvia (1943) was the most extensive organological work up to that time. Trying to view Latvian instrumental music problems in regional and historical contexts, he describes percussion instruments (drums, stick rattles), woodwinds (trumpet, horn, and—less extensively—jew’s harp, pipe, whistle, panpipes, bagpipe), and string instruments (musical bow, bladder fiddle, monochord, hammered dulcimer, kokles). Folklore texts mentioning musical instruments are used in this study together with historical and ethnographical facts. Forty-six instrumental tunes played on the trumpet, goat horn, pipe, bagpipe and kokles are included. Unfortunately, the Sproģis’ book did not mark a new period of Latvian organology. Being prepared for publication in 1943, in the end it was not published due to some unclear wartime obstacles. A proof copy remains in the Latvian Folklore Archive.

Composer and folk music collector Emilis Melngailis did extensive fieldwork in 1920s to 1940s. He collected mostly vocal music but also paid attention to instrumental music as well. Most of his organological materials are published in Latviešu dancis (1949), where alongside the description of musical instruments and their construction and use, some ideas on the revival of instrumental music are expressed. More than 50 instrumental tunes (e.g., trumpet, goat horn, pipe, bagpipe, kokles melodies) are included in the book, and most of these melodies reappear two years later in the first volume of his collection of Latvian musical folklore materials (Melngailis 1951).

Some linguistic studies have been published that touch, to different extents, on certain organological problems. Terminology, names of instruments and their parts, comments and explanations can be found in Ulmann’s dictionary of the Latvian language (1872–80). Johann Sehwers (1924) studied organological information contained in linguistic materials, including dictionaries, Christian texts, and songbooks, basically of the 17th to 19th centuries. Almost 30 years later, he published his revised article in German translation as the eleventh chapter, called “Musikinstrumente,” in his study on the influence of Germany on Latvian (Sehwers 1953). Studying personal names and surnames in the sources of the 13th to 16th centuries, Ernsts Blese (1929) discovered some “instrumental” names, pointing either towards the profession of musician or instrument maker, or having some other relation to musical instruments. The Latvian language dictionary of Kārlis Mühlenbachs, edited by Jānis Endzelīns (Mühlenbachs 1923–32), can be regarded as the most important source of linguistic materials. Besides terminology, descriptions concerning technology, playing, and use can be found in the dictionary, therefore providing the possibility for some etymological study.


2.4. The Second Half of the 20th Century


The unpublished work of Jūlijs Sproģis foreshadowed the complicated and generally fruitless post-war period in Latvia, which was only interrupted by a couple of delayed publications by Melngailis. The situation was similar in Estonia and Lithuania, where only one publication can be mentioned: the research of Stasys Paliulis on Lithuanian traditional instrumental music (1959). This detailed study of wind instruments (a set of end-blown, one-tone pipes, trumpets, pipes, and others) and their playing traditions is supplemented with 366 documented instrumental tunes.

It was only in the early 1960s that a new level of research was established by the works of Joachim Braun. He started his organological studies with investigations of the history of bowed instruments in Latvia, and the first significant result of his research was the book Development of the Art of Violin-playing in Latvia: A Review (Braun 1962a). This was followed by several articles in Latvian, Russian, German and other periodicals and collections of articles (e.g., Braun 1962b, 1971, 1975). His works are based on an extensive study of previous literature, materials of the Riga city archives and other sources. He focused on the problems of the history of instrumental music and gradually expanded into the field of musical archaeology. Having reconstructed a general picture of music cultures of different historical periods, he argues certain views regarding, e. g., the “Latvian” origin or the age of certain instruments. He touched on ideas about the role of ethnic contact, the professionality of musicians, the relation of the phenomena of instrumental music to certain aspects of legal systems, traditions, social spheres, etc. Yet the scholarly activities of Joachim Braun were not evaluated properly in Soviet-occupied Latvia. Because of his emigration to Israel, Braun’s later research was not published, and no reference to his works was permitted for almost 20 years.

The Finnish linguist Eino Nieminen studied Finnish kantele and the names of related Baltic instruments (Nieminen 1963). He has proposed the hypothetical *kantlīs/*kantlēs as the primitive Baltic prototype of the Baltic and Finno-Ugric names known today. Information about Baltic musical instruments has been published in the Atlas of musical instruments of the peoples inhabiting the USSR (Vertkov, Blagodatov et al. 1963, 1975). The chapter of this book on Baltic instruments was compiled by Elza Jazovickaja, with the colaboration of Herbert Tampere from the Estonian side, Jēkabs Vītoliņš, Emilis Melngailis and Sergejs Krasnopjorovs from the Latvian side, and Jadviga Čiurlionytė and Jonas Švedas from the Lithuanian side. In addition, there are references to the works of August Bielenstein, Andrejs Jurjāns, Stasys Paliulis, Antanas Sabaliauskas, Curt Sachs, Zenonas Slaviūnas, Jūlijs Sproģis and Pranas Stepulis as well. For this atlas, the editor-in-chief Konstantin Vertkov proposed his own system of classification, which he claimed to be derived from the Hornbostel-Sachs system, but which in fact had no resemblance even at the first level of classification. The traditional aerophones, chordophones, membranophones and idiophones are described, alongside with much information on so-called “modernized” instruments. On the whole, the atlas may be regarded as one of the first coherent descriptions of Baltic musical instruments; unfortunately, it cannot be used as a reliable source because of the lack of references and because of imprecise or even false information. For example, piping is mentioned as used for seeing off poor people and orphans who have been conscripted for military service. Further, the atlas describes the double-reed, single-pitched pipe as being good for playing melodies, the kokles as an indispensable wedding instrument and drums as instruments that had already long disappeared.

A chapter on Baltic instruments is included in Czech organologist Alexander Buchner’s Musikinstrumente der Völker (Buchner 1968:206–208). Many Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian instruments are described here, but a certain disposition towards “original ethnic sound tools” is evident; such popular, but “international,” instruments as the violin, bagpipes (except Estonian), concertina or jew’s harp can scarcely be found. Besides, descriptions of traditional instruments are mixed up with the so-called “modernized” instruments—a typical result of Soviet pseudo-folklorism. The strange spelling of original Baltic terms suggests that the source of the article is some Russian publication, and indeed the first edition of the Atlas of Musical Instruments of the Peoples Inhabiting the USSR is indicated in the bibliography.

Latvian scholars used to refer to folklore texts as a source of organological information, but the first serious analyses of folk songs from the viewpoint of ethnomusicology was carried out by Karl Brambats. In his article “Die lettische Volkspoesie in musikwissenschaftlicher Sicht” (1969), Brambats surveys important periods of Latvian ethnogenesis, describes formal characteristics and the cultural and historical value of folk poetry, and touches on problems of chronology. On the whole, folk songs about musical instruments are more archaic than those about singing; nevertheless, their information is too scanty to characterize certain historical periods.

Data about Latvian archaeological instruments have been summarized by Vladislavs Urtāns. He has described bone whistles and flutes, the oldest of which have survived from the Neolithic period: a trumpet mouthpiece, a bronze trumpet of the late Bronze age, jew’s harps of the 13th to 17th centuries, and an ornamented piece of kokles resonator (Urtāns 1970). Almost two decades later, Arvydas Karaška (1989) conducted a similar study by in Lithuania.

The prominent researcher of Latvian traditional vocal music Jēkabs Vītoliņš has also published work on instruments and instrumental music (Vītoliņš 1972). Therein he briefly discusses the role of musical instruments in the life of Latvians of past times and characterizes the most important idiophones, membranophones, aerophones and chordophones. His publication is based on the works of Andrejs Jurjāns, August Bielenstein, Jūlijs Sproģis, Emilis Melngailis and Vladislavs Urtāns. The work, on the whole, does not provide new materials or views and contains some essential mistakes, among them classificatory.

A few years later a similar study was done on Estonian instruments by the prominent researcher of Estonian traditional vocal music, Herbert Tampere (1975). He describes such aspects of the instruments as terminology, ergology, musical features and playing techniques, repertory, functions, history, group playing, ensembles and makers. His chosen sequence of instrument classification is the same as that of Jēkabs Vītoliņš: idiophones, membranophones, aerophones and chordophones. The publication is illustrated with musical examples, photos, historical documents and archive materials, as well as with folklore texts showing the use and symbolics of the instruments. An important chapter includes a classic collection of instrumental tunes for different instruments, including pipes, clarinets, bagpipes, horns, trumpets, kannel, bowed harp and violin, numbering altogether 125 tunes; many more tunes for bagpipes, violin and accordion appear in the subsequent dance tune chapter. Thus Herbert Tampere’s book is the most general and informative publication about Estonian musical instruments and instrumental music in 1970s and 1980s.

Three years later, a catalogue of musical instruments found in the Theatre and Music Museum of Tallinn was published (Laanepõld 1978), with more than 50 photos and drawings of Estonian traditional instruments. About the same time the Latvian Open-Air Museum published a brochure that gave a general insight into all groups of Latvian traditional instruments (Priedīte 1978).

Issues dealing with Baltic musical instruments are discussed in two articles by Stephen Reynolds, a professor at Oregon State University (USA). He describes the Baltic psaltery, its ergological type, and comments on iconography, terminology, provenience and research problems (Reynolds 1973). In his article “The Baltic psaltery and musical instruments of gods and devils” (1983), he accentuates symbolism and mythological views, whereby the semantics of musical instruments is analysed in early historical sources and in folklore materials. His conclusion is that a dual cosmogony dominates over the expected tripartite scheme of Dumesil, and the main division character is “upwards” or “downwards.”

Significant research on the Baltic (Latvian and Lithuanian) psaltery was conducted by Christina Jaremko for her master’s thesis (1980). With analyses of Baltic cultural history in the background, she reviews the role of musical instruments in peasant society. Folklore materials are discussed, paying particular attention to significant motifs such as “golden kokles,” “God’s kokles,” “singing bones,” ornamental patterns, etc. Musical instruments have played a vital role in Baltic nationalistic movements; the same is true in respect to cultural life in emigrant communities.

The Lithuanian scholar Marija Baltrėnienė has prepared a publication in two volumes on Lithuanian folk music instruments (1980). The first volume deals with the historiography of Lithuanian instruments and with their modernization, including an extensive list of names of instruments and a good bibliography. Aerophones, chordophones, membranophones and idiophones are presented in the second volume, in a sequence similar to that of the Atlas of Musical Instruments of the Peoples Inhabiting the USSR. Baltrėnienė outlines the construction, musical properties, tuning, use, and history of each instrument, paying particular attention to their modernization and utilization in the musical scene between the 1950s and 1970s. There are no pictures included and only a few musical examples appear at the end, yet still the two volumes summarize organological knowledge and provide sufficient detail.

The first book devoted solely to Latvian musical instruments is the work of Īrisa Priedīte What They Played in the Olden Days (Priedīte 1983). This work sums up most published facts and stories about Latvian instruments and their groups. New information, particularly from the archive of the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, is included, especially about instrument makers, players and their ensembles. The pub’s role in the development of rural music traditions is shown. It should be added that the information published about Latvian instruments in the New Grove’s dictionary is mostly compiled by Lilija Zobens from Īrisa Priedīte’s book (New Grove 1984). Lilija Zobens seems to have compiled most Estonian articles as well except that about kannel, which was written by the Estonian folklorist Ingrid Rüütel. Lithuanian materials were written by the Lithuanian organologist Arvydas Karaška.

Īrisa Priedīte’s book is substantially analysed in two articles by Karl Brambats, published in the journal Latvju mūzika (Brambats 1987, 1988). Disputing the theoretical basis and the classification used by Priedīte, Brambats lays out contemporary standards for such a work in his review. Regional, cultural and other parallels are given for the most important or problematic instruments and their groups, so that Karl Brambats’ work can be regarded as new, significant research in Latvian organology.

Īrisa Priedīte discusses particular problems in the ethnography of musical instruments in several publications (1984, 1985, 1992). Summing up information from all museums in Latvia, she has prepared two significant catalogues: Folk Music Instruments (1988) and Zithers and Their Makers (1993). The first catalogue presents all categories of instruments, together with archaeological findings, while the second deals with zithers and zither-like kokles, along with references and descriptions from the scientific archive of the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum. Those two catalogues were compiled almost a century after the first of their kind was published (Plutte 1896), indicating the changes that Latvian organology has undergone.

An authority on Estonian organology, Igor Tõnurist, began his studies on musical instruments of the Estonian and Baltic regions with his graduation thesis, On the Problem of the Origin of gusli and kantele (1969). In the next years, a series of articles followed on various organological subjects.2 A selection of his works (translated into Estonian if this was not the original language) was collected into a single volume in 1996, with German summaries accompanying each article.

On the whole, Igor Tõnurist focused on musical life in Estonian villages and did excellent work that studied instruments from the viewpoint of musical ethnography. He used extensive historical and ethnographical materials from Estonia and neighbouring regions, thus drawing conclusions that are significant to the general study of Baltic instruments. This pertains particularly to the scheme of how two basic types of kannel-kokles have emerged and developed.

Antoher Estonian organological study that should be mentioned here was compiled by the musicologist U. Haasma on the goat horn and its music (1986). Having described instruments, players and use, he then focuses on analyses of recorded goat horn tunes.

Valdis Muktupāvels has studied the problems of classification, use and semantics, playing, etc., of Latvian musical instruments since the early 1980s. In his work Folk Music Instruments in the Territory of the Latvian SSR (1987), he classified Latvian instruments according to the system of Hornbostel and Sachs and described them according to the scheme developed by Oskár Elschek and Erich Stockmann. In several articles he has discussed traditional functions, symbolism and semantics of instrument use (Klotiņš & Muktupāvels 1985, 1989; Muktupāvels 1986, 1991a, 1993a). Muktupāvels has also published more generalized reviews for teaching purposes (Muktupāvels 1988, 1991b, Avramecs & Muktupāvels 1997) or for popular publications (Muktupāvels 1993b, 1998), the latter written in the English language. A review of what has been written and published about traditional musical instruments in Latvia, “Historiography of Latvian Musical Instruments,” has appeared in the scholarly magazine Letonica (Muktupāvels 1999). A brief chapter on instruments is included in the article on Latvian music in the European volume of the Garland Encyclopaedia of World Music (2000).

In his review of Latvian ethnomusicology, Martin Boiko discusses in a general outline the most significant organological developments as well from the end of the 19th century to the early 1990s (Boiko 1994). He also clearly shows, incidentally, that the study of traditional vocal music has dominated the field of Latvian ethnomusicology, and that the considerable accomplishments in the area of organology are the results of individual, rather than institutionalized, activities.

In collaboration with colleagues, the prominent Swedish scholar, publisher and photographer Per-Ulf Allmo published an extensive study on bagpipes in northern Europe (1990). A chapter written by Bo Nyberg is devoted to Estonian-Swedish piping traditions, and in it he describes instruments, music, players, and historical facts in detail. The chapter on Finnish and Baltic piping contains historical as well as contemporary materials on Estonia, including quite a bit on Latvia.

The most extensive and general work on Lithuanian instruments is the 1991 book by Marija Baltrėnienė and Romualdas Apanavičius entitled Lithuanian Traditional Musical Instruments. Formally, the sequence of the instrument categories follow here that of Hornbostel and Sachs, but in fact two more categories are added: 1) objects utilized as musical instruments and lesser known instruments and 2) foreign and classical instruments. It is difficult to understand the criteria according to which the instruments are classified into Hornbostel and Sachs’ categories or into these two added categories. The reader is expected to simply accept the fact that the jew’s harp, zither, hammered dulcimer, violin, bagpipe or concertina are “borrowed” or “classical” instruments, while the modernized wooden cowbell-xylophone, concert kanklės or “elaborated” clarinets are treated as traditional rural instruments. Nevertheless, descriptions of each instrument are as thorough as possible, and, together with previously published information, substantial amounts of new material from museum collections and archives are used. In addition, the book contains many photos, musical examples and spectrograms of selected instruments.

A significant study of the traditional kanklės has been made by a group of authors led by Romualdas Apanavičius (Apanavičius & Alenskas, et al., 1990, 1994). Such aspects as typology, provenance, terminology and chronology are discussed, treating as well the ritual use of instruments and the ethnic backgrounds of players. The authors define three basic types of kanklės and determine their distribution in the eastern Baltic as being arranged in three geographical regions that are longitudinally oriented. Kanklės and the players of different Lithuanian ethnographic regions are characterized in detail, focusing upon the playing traditions, technology and repertoires.

Issues involving the instruments of the kannel-kokles-kanklės group have been treated in a series of symposia that has been held every third year since 1991. Proceedings of the second symposium in Vilnius were published in a brochure (Kanklės 1994), thus making it possible to follow the main research interests and directions.

In a series of works, Romualdas Apanavičius has studied the relationship between the ethnogenesis of the Baltic peoples and the provenance of musical instruments (1992, 1994, 1997). On the one hand, without defining the conceptual basis of the approach, correlations between archaeological cultures and traditional musical styles or instrumentarium are rather disputable. On the other, the study draws our attention towards some neglected or only hesitantly approached problems, such as the stylistic and generic strata of instrumental music in the Baltic and in neighboring regions, the functions of instrumental music in village community life and rituals, etc. The subsequent comparative study of instruments in northern Europe appeared in the collection of essays, Ritual and Music (Apanavičius 1999). This study focuses on the instruments played during calendar celebrations and rituals; besides describing the functions of instruments, some mythology motifs and ethymological considerations are also discussed. Two more interesting organological studies are included in this 1999 collection: Gaila Kirdienė’s article (1999) on Lithuanian fiddle music in wedding rites and ceremonies and Gvidas Vilys’s article (1999) on percussion plaques used for ritual signaling in Lithuania and northeastern Europe.

Chapters dealing with all categories of Lithuanian instruments are included in the illustrated encyclopaedia Musical Instruments of the World (Vyčinas 1999). Together with short commentaries on most Lithuanian instruments, about 50 drawings are included.


3. Musical Instruments in Traditional Life


The following review of musical instruments and instrumental music in the Baltic focuses on the functionality of instruments and their semantics. Though each particular instrument has one or several characteristic applications, there is usually one dominating function. From this viewpoint, some general functional groups can be distinguished within Baltic peasant society: 1) instruments and music accompanying a community’s economic (basically herding) activities, 2) instruments and music of social events (e.g., calendar festivities and family celebrations), as well as of religious practices, 3) instruments and music of contemplation and 4) dance music instruments. Signaling music pertains to several of these groups—specifically, 1, 2, and 4—and therefore has not been treated separately.


3.1. Instruments and Music Accompanying a Community’s Economic Activities


Herding activities are closely related to the use of different musical instruments, mostly aerophones, as well as idiophones. Wooden or metal cowbells (krapp, kell EE, koka zvans, grebulis, skrabals, govju zvans, govs pulkstenis LV, skrabalas, varpelis LT) are tied onto the cows’ necks. The animals can thus signal their location, especially when in forested pastures, and the sound of a ringing bell is also meant to frighten away wolves and evil spirits. Wooden bells are carved out of a single piece of hard wood and have one to five hanging wooden clappers inside. Metal bells are made of brass or bronze plates, with a hanging metal clapper inside.

Several simple aerophones are used mostly for amusement during herding, for instance whistles and some pipes and reeds, whereas horns, birch bark or wooden trumpets are tools of the senior shepherd. Single-pitched whistles (pajupill EE, svilpe, svelpīte, dūda LV, švilpukas LT) are made of a willow or osier branch; they have a wooden block (or fibble) at one end, while the other is stopped. A “piston-type” whistle with sliding stopper is also known. In making the whistle, a kind of “symbolic” or “magic” technology is applied: a spell is chanted during the loosening of bark from the branch. Vessel-shaped whistles without fingerholes or with one to six fingerholes (savipiilu, pardipill EE, svilpaunieks, pīlīte LV, molinukas LT) are made of clay in the form of a bird, horse or devil; birdsong imitations or playful variations of simple motifs are played on these. Pipes (vilepill EE, stabule LV, lamzdelis, vamzdelis, dūdelė LT) are made either of bark or wood. The time of year for making bark pipes is late spring and early summer, when it is possible to “twist off” the bark from 20- to 50-cm-long, straight branches. A block from the same branch is inserted in one end, and three to six fingerholes are cut. Bark pipes, about 50 to 70 cm long and without fingerholes, are used as overtone instruments; the playing technique involves overblowing, combined with the stopping and opening of the end hole with a finger. An open pipe without the block and with three or four fingerholes is known in Estonia. Wooden flutes are made of different kinds of wood, mostly ash-tree, apple-tree, maple or lime. The end with the block may be cut flat or may have a nose-like shape. These flutes are 25 to 45 cm long and often have six fingerholes on the upper side and one beneath. Clay flutes are made in eastern Latvia and Lithuania, while archaeological bone flutes mostly from the 10th to 17th centuries have been found throughout the Baltic region. The style of the known flute or pipe tunes is purely instrumental, and not an instrumental version of vocal or dance music. In some cases short tetrachordic or pentatonic motifs are repeated with variations.

To make simple clarinets (roopill EE, birbīne, niedru stabule, dūde, spendele LV, birbynė, dūdelė, plunksna, šiaudelis LT), straw, reed, wooden branch or bird’s feathers are used. An idioglot reed is cut close to the stopped end and two to five fingerholes can be made. These instruments are mainly used by young shepherds for entertainment, whereas more solid instruments are looked upon as useful for supporting the herding process. This latter status can be attributed to a kind of hornpipe: this is a wooden clarinet with a heteroglot reed on one end, a cow-horn on the other, and with three to six fingerholes (sarvepill EE, ganurags, birbīne LV, birbynė, trūba su parputu, klernetas LT). This is a tool of the senior shepherd, who uses it to collect his herd, to direct it to pasture and to communicate with other shepherds. Hornpipes may be used for amusement as well; birdsong imitations, song tunes or free improvisations are played on it.

Trumpets (karjapasun, tõri, tõru EE, taure, strumpe, trūba LV, trimitas, triūba LT) are made either of bark or wood, and two different technologies exist for their production. In the first, a band of alder or birch bark is rolled up to make a conical tube about 60–70 cm long. A wooden needle is pierced through the broad end to hold the roll tight, while the narrow end is cut even, or a wooden mouthpiece is inserted into it. It is usual to supply the bark trumpet (lepatoru EE, ganutaure LV, žievės triūba LT) with a single heteroglot reed, in which case the instrument is side-blown and is characterized by a loud and far-reaching tone. To make a wooden trumpet, a slender trunk is sawn longitudinally and each half is hollowed out. Both halves are then put back together and fastened with bast (or other natural fibers) or with birch bark, which is tightly rolled around the two halves. The length of wooden trumpets may vary considerably, from 45 cm to almost 2 m. The trumpet is an important instrument of the senior shepherd; it is played early in the morning to collect the herd, but especially in the afternoon, when driving the herd home. The trumpet sound signals the location of the herd and the shepherd, and it is believed that wolves keep away from the herd as long as they hear the trumpet. Bark trumpets are predominantly single-tone instruments, but it is possible to vary the intonation considerably through the player’s lips. Wooden trumpets are overtone instruments, and sequences of longer and shorter overtone motifs are available to the player. A relatively short wooden trumpet (ingeri karjapasun EE) with fingerholes is known in northeastern Estonia, where Ingrian Finns lived. The instrument, with its four to six fingerholes, is suitable for playing certain dance tunes.

Horns are made of different animal materials, including goat, cow, ox and others, but the most important is the goat horn (sikusarv, sokusarv, pukasarv, lutusarv, karjasarv, luik, karjaluik EE, āžrags, bukarags, čučarags, dūduls LV, ožragis, tirlitas LT). The narrow end is cut off and a mouthhole is hollowed, then usually three to four fingerholes are bored or burned out. Intense lip pressure is needed to play it, and the sound is strong and piercing, thus heard at a good distance. The goat horn is used to play definite tunes that serve as a message concerning, for instance, a lost cow. Also, the shepherd who is the first to drive the herd out into the pasture informs others by playing a tune, and an antiphonal response may follow from the other shepherds. The instrument is played to keep wild animals away from the herd, as well as for herding. Its harsh tone is supposed to have some magical power, and it may be used to protect the herd from beasts and evil spirits. In addition, goat horns have been documented as accompaniment to the scattering of manure onto the fields: a slow-tempo, eight-bar period is played by all while driving their fully loaded carts onto the field, and a fast response is played by those who have finished their unloading first.

Clappers are instruments used both in herding and in hunting. There are significant variations in form, but quite often they are made as a rectangular birch, ash-tree or maple plaque with a handle fastened to the middle of one surface and one to three freely swinging wooden hammers on the other. When the clapper (klabata, klaburis, talakans LV, kleketas, klebeda, pliauškutis LT) is held by the handle and shaken, the hammers move to and fro, striking the tablet and producing a loud clatter. This instrument is carried by shepherds from the first day of letting the herd onto the pasture and throughout the entire season. Its sound scares wolves, so that shepherds feel much safer with it at their side.

Various clappers are beaten during hunting, usually a wooden plaque hung from the player’s neck and beaten with two clapper-sticks, but beating trees with wooden poles is also practiced. Also, cog rattles (käristi EE, tarkšķis, tarkšans LV, tarškutis, terkšlė LT) are used, but their primary function is rather to frighten away moles and birds from gardens and fields.

Another kind of clapper, consisting of a wooden plaque hung from a crossbeam and fastened to two vertical poles, plays a special role in Baltic traditional life. This clapper (lokulaud, kloba EE, klabata, briesmu dēlis, klabis, klangas LV, tabalas, kleketa LT) is used for a different kind of signaling: it calls workers from the field for lunch or dinner and announces the beginning or end of communal work in the fields, as well as weddings. The different signals commonly have local associations, and one extremely important signal is the call for help, especially in the case of fire or some such disaster.

A unique phenomenon, localized in northeastern Lithuania, is an ensemble of homogeneous aerophones. A typical instrument in this case is a set of individual, end-blown, single-tone pipes (skudučiai, skurdučiai, daudytės, skudai, tutuklės, tūteklės LT). These pipes have one end open and the other stopped, and are made either of tubular plants (cow parsley, Angelica silvestris, Angelica archangelica, reed, elder), of lime-tr

ee, willow bark, or of a tree (ash-tree, alder, osier) branch. The set consists of five to eight pipes, with their length ranging from 8 cm to 20 cm, and their tuning is based on a whole-tone sequence (for instance, b-flat, c1, d1, e1, f1, g1, a1, b1-flat). Separate pipes are similar to those of the panpipe, but there is a basic difference between these: the pipes of skudučiai are never fastened together. Instead, each player takes one or (more seldom) two pipes, and plays these in a group of five or more players. The musical form, named sutartinė, consists of polyphonically woven rhythmic lines, and each line is a repeated rhythmic formula, complementary to formulas played by the others. As a result, an endless musical cloth is created with major seconds or tone clusters as the dominant harmonies. The playing of skudučiai is related to certain situations, such as the celebration of shepherds’ spring holiday, or when several shepherds are herding in close vicinity (as many as 25 shepherds have been documented as playing together; Baltrėnienė & Apanavičius 1991:77). Other occasions when skudučiai is played include the nightwatch of horses, haymaking in meadows, relaxation during communal work in the fields and at the following party and as entertainment on Saturday or Sunday night. The skudučiai players are mostly men, but women and children can participate as well.

Another instrument of homogeneous ensembles in northeastern Lithuania is a set of five trumpets (ragai, dūdytos, triūbos LT) of different lengths, within a range of 58–120 cm. The instruments are made in such a way that the second and third harmonics can be easily played, and each player uses two tones, making the interval of a fifth. The musical form sutartinė, played on ragai, is similar to that of skudučiai. The only difference between them is that, instead of two pipes in one player’s hands, two overtones of one instrument are used. Ragai are played in the spring (when the first furrow is ploughed) and when the shepherds’ spring holiday is celebrated; in the summer they are played when returning from the nightwatch of horses, during haymaking, rye harvesting and during entertainment for young people.

A curious situation of two disparate groups of instruments—goat horns and bagpipes—playing together has been reported at least once: when the Russian crown prince visited Liepāja, musicians from the Suiti region of west Kurland played seven with bagpipes and eight with goat horns (Jurjāns 1892).


3.2. Instruments and Music of Social Events and Religious Practices


Instrumental music is played little in the context of annual festivities, and the use of instruments as music producers is somehow overwhelmed by other uses and contexts that become more significant, such as magic, signaling, and other specific kinds of communication. This is the case when noise becomes an important component in the soundscape of the special days of the yearly cycle. Hence, there is no denying the importance of noise-producing tools in calendar festivities.

Christmastime is accompanied with masked mummers’ processions, and an indispensable acoustic component of these, in addition to singing and screaming, is the use of clappers and rattles. Mummers generally use harness bells (kell EE, zvans, pulkstenis LV, varpas LT) and tinklers (kuljused, aisakellad EE, zvārguļi, zvādzenu josta, treikuly LV, žvangučiai LT), as well as household utilities like metal vessels, brushes, wooden spoons and scrapers. A stick rattle (eglīte LV) is used in Kurland; it is made of a fir tree as tall as a man, with the bottom branches removed and the top branches hung with tinklers and decorated with colored cloth strips and possibly a small bottle of home-brewed liquor. The senior mummer holds the stick rattle in his hand and stomps the floor with it.

Clappers with handles and clappers hung on the player’s neck are intensely used during the Shrove Tuesday mummers’ procession, together with cog wheels, pans and scrapers. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the ringing of bells in Catholic churches in Lithuania and southeastern Latvia is traditionally replaced by the beating of clappers. Curt Sachs believes the latter tradition originated in the medieval Catholic church, having derived from pre-Christian fertility rites. It was set down in the first Ordo Romanus, the oldest ritual book of the Roman church, which was definitely in use before the 9th century (Sachs 1930:29). In Baltic churches different kinds of clappers with handles are used, and it seems that hung percussion plaques beaten with wooden hammers are unknown. A custom that was practiced in Lithuania and perhaps in Latvia’s Catholic regions until disappearing during the late 19th century involved the kettle drum (vara bungas, paupenes LV, katilas, būgnas LT). This instrument was placed in middle of a churchyard and, beginning on Holy Thursday (when not only bell ringing but also organ playing were forbidden), all were permitted to play it. Easter morning was notorious for the ritual noise that is produced with the help of different devices: trumpets, horns, clappers, cogwheels, drums and even guns.

Pipes, trumpets and horns are heard on spring and summer holidays such as St. George’s Day, Whitsun and St. John’s Day, which is the midsummer solstice celebration. Two musical instruments of Jāņi (the Latvian midsummer festivity) are depicted in dozens of Latvian folk songs. The names of these instruments are “copper trumpet” (vara taure LV) and “copper drum” (vara bungas LV), but contrary to the frequent occurrence of these names in folklore texts, almost nothing is known about their actual appearance and use. Reasons behind this contradiction have been the object of some speculation (Jurjāns 1879; Brambats 1969; Braun 1971, 1975; Muktupāvels 1991a), yet this problem is far from being solved, and I would like to concur with Karl Brambats’s opinion that the “metal trumpet” and the “metal drum” are the most puzzling instruments related to Latvian folk songs (Brambats 1969:44).

Horns (sarv EE, rags LV, ragas LT), with a metal mouthpiece and bronze or silver fittings, as well as trumpets are used for signaling, particularly to announce a forthcoming wedding and to signal important moments of the wedding ritual. Goat horns are played during matchmaking ceremonies; thanks to its role as a messenger of the initiation of sexual relations, the goat horn has obtained a clearly defined phallic symbolism in folklore texts.

The making and playing of instruments, except for shepherds’ instruments, are basically men’s business. However, there is a group of stick rattles (eglīte, ērkulis, trīdeksnis, puškaitis, kāzu puķe, trumulis LV) in Latvia, basically in its western region, which are used mostly by women at weddings. These include the trīdeksnis, an iron stick with hanging bells and jingles and with a short wooden handle, the eglīte, a fir-tree top decorated with colored feathers and with hanging bells and jingles, and the puškaitis, a wooden stick, 20 to 40 cm long, heavily decorated with colored feathers, strips of cloth, and with bells. The acts of making and playing these instruments are highly ritualized and contain traces of archaic ritual mythology. The metaphysical importance of the materials used exemplify this: the sticks are made of fir-tree, which is an evergreen and therefore charged with life and fertility energies. Only cock feathers are accepted for decoration, and this is in accordance with traditional mythology, which treats cocks as a representation of time-cycles, fertility powers and sexuality. Stick rattles are used to accompany ceremonial singing in wedding rituals: the rhythm is marked by hitting a table surface with a stick.

A kind of stick rattle played at weddings by men is an iron hammer with jingles fastened to the handle (čakans, čagans, čakārnis LV). A table surface is struck by the hammer rattle as an accompaniment to ritual singing, but the hammer rattle is used also for some ritual accents, such as for drawing a cross sign above doors. Also, stick rattles (džingulis, kvieslė, kvietka, maršelga LT) are well known in western and central Lithuania. The stick is 120 to 140 cm long and made of rowan-tree, which is believed to be good for countermagic. Coloured strips of cloth, girdles and a bell or jingles are attached to it. The stick rattle lies in the hand of a special person—a kind of master of ceremony—whose main duty is to reinforce the invitation to the invited guests by greeting them personally, and the rattle is used to announce their arrival. By pounding the instrument on the floor, ceremony master attracts the attention of participants and initiates some activity like present-giving, ceremonial meals or dancing.

Wedding and Christmas celebrations are occasions when one can expect uninvited guest—that is, travelling beggars—to appear. As a rule, they are expected to sing a so-called “God’s song” before they are offered food. This singing may be accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy (rataslüüra EE, rata lira LV, jurana, ryla, ratukynė lyra LT), though this instrument is actually only sparsely diffused in the Baltic region. A 16th-century engraving from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographey, suggests the use of hurdy-gurdy for urban popular music in Livonia.

An instrument whose origins are strongly linked to musical practices in northern Protestant countries is the monochord (moldpill, laulupill, laulukannel, harmoonik EE, ģīga, ģingas, džindžas, manihorka, meldiņu spēle, akerdonis LV, manikarka LT). It is said to have been reinvented by the Swedish Lutheran pastor Johannes Dillner in 1829 based on the Greek monochord. Swedish authorities approved the monochord’s use as a simple and easy-to-make instrument in parishes that did not possess their own church organ. Since it aided the learning and accompaniment of sung psalms, it was named “psalmodicon.” The instrument was actively propagated from the 1830s to the 1860s, and it spread, in addition to Scandinavia and Finland, throughout Estonia, the Lutheran regions of Latvia and the western Lutheran region of Lithuania. The psalmodicon was above all a church musical instrument, but apart from that context, it also turned out to be good for use in secular musical activities such as choral singing, music education and even to produce dance music.


3.3. Instruments and Music of Contemplation


The most characteristic and significant instrument in Baltic traditional music is the plucked zither or psaltery (kannel EE, kokles, kūkles LV, kanklės, kanklys, kankliai, kunkliai LT). This instrument is related to similar ones in nearby areas, such as the Finnish kantele, the Karelian kandeleh, and the gusli from northwestern Russia. Two different groups of psaltery exist: 1) the older, smaller instruments with an uninterrupted tradition of at least one thousand years, and 2) the new, larger instruments that emerged about the mid-19th century or earlier, which assume several features of German or Austrian box zithers.

The old smaller instruments form a separate, morphological original group of zithers. The body is carved from a single wooden plank, to which an ornamented soundboard is added. Steel, bronze or natural fiber strings, numbering five to twelve, are tuned with the help of wooden pegs. The strings are positioned slightly radially, not parallel, and are free—that is, there is no bridge connecting them with the resonator.

Several distinct local musical styles of Baltic psaltery are known. One of the so-called “primitive” styles—instrumental sutartinės for kanklės—is performed in northeastern Lithuania, in approximately the same territory as that of vocal polyphony and of ensembles of aerophones. Typically, five-stringed instruments are played, and various scales of a diatonically filled fifth are used for the tuning. Unlike vocal sutartinės, in which the polyphony is clearly heard, kanklės versions of sutartinės reveal their polyphonic character only through an analysis of transcribed examples. The listener hears only repeating periods, with a texture of pulsating parallel seconds. This music is contemplative and used to be played at home just for the player him/herself at an appropriate time, such as the evening, when general calmness sets in. A proper result of sutartinė playing should be the feeling of church bells ringing in the musician’s head. To intensify the effect created by the sutartinė, the instrument could be placed on a table surface or, more seldom, on the player’s chest or stomach while s/he lies in bed.

The reference to church bells is important for the Estonian kannel playing of the Setumaa area. Names of local Orthodox churches or monasteries are extended to musical compositions, suggesting the reflection of their particular chimes in kannel pieces. The resulting musical texture is a pulsating alternation of two basic chords with rhythmic or melodic variations.

A significant feature of Kurland kokles tradition is the presence of instrumental drone: the longest string is tuned one-fourth below the tonic and is often plucked or touched during play. This string has a special name in Latvian: dziedātāja, “the singer.” Also, the drone function of the longest string can be observed in eastern Latvia, Setumaa and southwestern Lithuanian traditions. The tuning of the Latvian kokles is a diatonic scale, thus, for the seven-string instrument, a1, g1, f1, e1, d1, c1, g. When played, it is placed on a table or on the player’s knees. A special damping technique is used: some strings are damped with fingers of the left hand; when the strings are plucked with the right hand, only undamped strings produce tone, while some slight-beat notes are picked up with the left hand fingers.

While the known kokles’ repertoire contains mostly dance tunes and in a few cases song melodies, the instrument is not used for dance accompaniment and only seldom for song accompaniment. Again, the purpose of kokles playing seems to be contemplation, for the aesthetic experience of the player and those who happen to be nearby.

Its Apollonic, heavenly aura and fine, deeply moving tone quality have made the kannel/kokles/kanklės instrument a symbol for the national music of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, respectively. Psaltery-playing traditions had declined by the end of the 19th century, although five- to twelve-stringed instruments could be heard in some remote Baltic regions until the second half of the 20th century.

Influenced by a variety of imported German and Austrian zithers, new hybrid forms of the Baltic psaltery developed in the second half of the 19th century (kannel, simmel, simbel EE, kokle, cītara, cīters, cimbole LV, kanklės, citra LT). The body of the new zither-like instruments is glued together from smaller parts, and special ribs are introduced to withstand the increased tension of the strings, which range from 17 to 33 in number (though if doubled or tripled, up to 90). Metal pegs are used instead of wooden ones; strings are parallel to each other, and a bridge connects them with the resonator. The drone string dziedātāja has been lost, but two to three bass strings have been added instead.

The new zither-like kannel/kokle/kanklės is enthusiastically used to accompany singing and to play dance music. An ensemble of two or more zithers is typical throughout most of Estonia and in the northern part of Latvia, and instruments are sometimes played while lying directly on a wooden floor, thus increasing their sonority. It is quite usual to play zither together with other instruments, such as violins, the concertina, and others.


3.4. Dance Music Instruments


Traditional life offers many opportunities for rhythmically and aesthetically organized body movements or dancing, and as a rule instrumental music is an essential element of such situations. Some Latvian folksong texts refer to trivial accompaniments to dancing—handclapping, feet stomping or whistling—as being superior to instrumental playing. In fact, though, this is a mere poetic indication of an unmarried girl’s freedom, which is superior to the status of the married woman; here, instrumental playing unambiguously connotes the wedding.

Compared to the music of the shepherd, for signaling, or for contemplation, playing for dance requires a higher level of professionalism. In addition to technical skills, this suggests a good knowledge of repertoire and the ability to control situations, as the musician acts to a certain degree as a master of ceremony. Solo playing traditionally was preferred at weddings, and, if there were two or more musicians, they played in turn, replacing each other when tired, whereas pub or open-air dancing required bands of a certain size. Historically, the role of dance music bands increased dramatically by the end of the 19th century, and different ensembles have dominated dance music making since then.

Many historical and other sources of the 16th to 18th centuries, led first by Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographey, bear witness to the predominating position of the bagpipe (torupill, kottpill, lõõtspill, kitsepill EE, dūdas, somu dūdas, dūdu pūslis, dūkas, stabules, somas stabules, soms, kulenes LV, dūdmaišis, dūda raginė, Labanoro dūda, murenka, ūkas, kulinė su ūku, kulinė LT) and of so-called “drone music” in Livonian rural and urban musical life. Lithuanian and eastern Latvian materials seem to be more modest.

Generally, a bagpipe consists of one bag, a chanter, one or two drones, and a mouthpipe for inflating the bag. Bellows are used quite seldom. Chanter and drones have single reeds, mostly idioglot and made of a reed or feather. There are six or seven fingerholes, and no overblowing is used. Drone pipes decorated with inlaid bronze or copper metalwork and wooden bells in the form of a curved horn on top of both chanter and drones are characteristic for Lithuanian bagpipes and can also be seen on two examples of southeast Latvian instruments. Bags are made of the skin of sheep, goat, lynx, dog, cat, or of the stomach of a cow or sheep. A peculiarity of Estonian and Latvian seaside villages is the “seal’s stomach,” by which the bag is made of the stomach of a grey seal. Most bagpipes in Latvian museums have sheepskin with wool inside. Also, the bladder of an ox or a pig is used.

It has been documented that piping began with a kind of rhythmically free prelude or “call” (uzsaukums LV) and finished with short trilling. Special tuning pieces, sung with text, are known in Estonia. Throughout the Baltic, bagpipes were mostly used for playing dance music, especially at weddings. The bagpiper was also in charge of music for certain ceremonies, such as processions, riding, bringing the dowry chest, giving presents, invitations to meals, the first dance of the bride, and general dancing. Some ceremonial dances, such as the “round dance” (voortants EE, apaļdancis LV), were performed together with a bagpiper, who walked at the head of the column. Bagpipe music, accompanied by ritual singing, is described in Latvian weddings of the 1780s. Numerous Latvian folk song texts mention bagpipes with drums as wedding instruments; the frequent occurrence of such an ensemble might be the result of a Livonian law of the 16th to 17th centuries that stated that “non-Germans,” that is, Latvians and Estonians, could use only (bag)pipes and drums as their wedding instruments.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, bagpipers (torupillimees EE, dūdinieks, stabulnieks LV, dūdorius LT) were in demand at festivities, weddings and other celebrations, at revelry accompanying work in the fields and at fairs. In 1777 the Baltic German historian and publicist August Wilhelm Hupel described bagpipes as the most beloved musical instrument of Latvians and Estonians. Nevertheless, landlords did not tolerate the noisiness of bagpipes, and piping was therefore restricted and even prohibited by law. Thus, the use of bagpipes was restricted to smaller celebrations in 1753, and from December 15, 1760 it was totally prohibited, under threat of corporal punishment for the piper and a fine for the responsible nobleman. At the same time, though, the bagpipe is mentioned in several Christian texts as an instrument that pleased God, especially in the first Latvian Bible, which was prepared by Ernst Glück between 1685 and 1691. Even in the 1825 edition of this Bible, the bagpipe is mentioned as an instrument for praising God. It is not surprising that in neighbouring lands like Denmark and Sweden, bagpipes appear in the hands of angels in old church wall paintings.

On the whole, Baltic piping traditions are not homogeneous; certain differences exist in construction, style and repertoire. Livonian (Estonian and Latvian) instruments display more similarity with Swedish and northern European bagpipes, whereas Lithuanian instruments and the two known southeast Latvian specimens can be attributed to central-eastern European tradition. Bagpiping gradually decreased in the first half of the 20th century and was only practiced in a few places throughout the Baltic: on the western Estonian mainland and the islands, in the Suiti region of western Kurland and in eastern Lithuania.

An instrument characteristic for western Estonia, and chiefly on its islands, is the bowed lyre (hiiu kannel, rootsi kannel EE) with three to four horsehair or gut strings. It was used in Swedish communities in Estonia and on the western coastal region and can be regarded as a variation of the Swedish stråkharpa or talharpa. Its name, “Swedish kannel” (which is the English translation of “rootsi kannel”), is also indicative of the “Swedish origin” of this instrument. When played, the instrument is held on the knees with the tuning pegs turned upwards. The player inserts his fingers through the frame into the upper part of the lyre and between the strings, pressing upon these with the nail or with the backs of his fingers. By bowing back and forth, two strings are simultaneously set into motion, resulting in a melody with a drone. Mainly dance music was played, but the use of bowed lyre for psalm accompaniment was known as well.

The jew’s harp (parmupill, konnapill, suupill, mokapill, suukannel EE, vargas, vargāns, biuvas, zobu spēles, bandura, duceklis LV, bandūrėlis, bindurėlis, dambras, šeivelė-kanklikė LT) in the Baltic can be regarded as a popular instrument, but with irregular application. Its repertoire mostly consists of dance tunes, and the instrument was historically used for the accompaniment of dancing, either solo or with other instruments such as the violin, frame drum, triangle and harmonica. It should be noted that the jew’s harp was used as a dance music solo instrument only in the absence of other instruments. A kind of programmatic music was performed on the jew’s harp in Estonia, for example, such compositions as “The lark” or “The chimes of London.”

The history of the jew’s harp in the Baltic began in the 13th century, and numerous archaeological findings of the 13th to 18th centuries witness to its popularity in Estonia and Latvia, though less in Lithuania. Such instruments have been mostly found in the direct vicinity of medieval castles, which might explain some aspects of early history and provenance in the region. Jew’s harps were forged by local smiths, and even at the end of the 19th century they were still produced in large numbers.

Various kinds of bladder fiddles (põispill, umba EE, dūda, pūšļa vijole, mazā basīte LV, pūslinė, bandurka, boselis, dambra, lankelis, lankas su pūsle LT) are quite characteristic throughout the Baltic. The common instrument has a one- to 1.5-m-long wooden corpus in the form of a stick or a long narrow plank, one or two gut strings and a pig bladder inserted between the corpus and the strings. Two basic forms are known: the flexible musical bow and the rigid stick or plank. On the musical bow, the pitch is changed by pressing the upper end of the instrument downwards and then releasing the pressure, while in the case of the rigid stick, the strings are pressed against the fingerboard, or only the free strings are sounded with the help of a horsehair bow. The low, rough and uncertain tone of the bladder fiddle makes it in dance music ensembles the instrument with a predominantly rhythmic function. Though some authors (e.g., Slaviūnas, Baltrėnienė, Apanavičius, Priedīte) tend to ascribe ancient, local development to those instruments, it seems more reasonable to link their provenance to medieval and later central European instruments such as the German bumbass, which was particularly popular among German soldiers during World War I (Tõnurist 1985a:273).

The spread of the violin (viiul, kiik, kiigepill EE, vijole, pijole, pivole, skripka, spēles, smuikas LV, smuikas, griežynė, muzika, skripka LT) in the Baltic lands started probably in the second half of the 17th century. Gradually replacing the old dance music instruments, especially bagpipes, and partly taking on their repertoire, the violin became the most popular folk music instrument in the 19th century and later. Significant is how the Latvian newspaper Latviešu avīzes wrote about it in 1865: “Nowadays they dance to violins, in those earlier days, to bagpipes.” For some time during the 18th and 19th centuries, bagpipes were played together with violins in Estonia. No doubt, violin playing was influenced by its predecessor, and this may be the case with the use of a drone technique. This technique involves playing the melody on one string and simultaneously touching one or two free strings with the bow, thus producing a drone accompaniment. Also, until the end of the 19th century the violin was generally used as a solo instrument, and the fiddler (pillimees EE, spēlmanis LV, smuikorius LT) enjoyed the status of a prominent person at weddings.

From the second half of the 19th century on, fiddlers began to play in ensembles with other instruments. These included the following:

1)    the zither (tsitter, akordtsitter, akordkannel EE, cītara, cīters, “dūru" cītara LV, citra LT);

2)    hammered dulcimer (cimbole, cimbāle, cimbala LV, cimbolai LT);

3)    mandolina (mandoliin EE, mandolīna LV, mandolina LT);

4)    guitar (kitarr EE, ģitāre LV, gitara LT);

5)    double bass (kontrabass EE, bass, base LV, basetlė, basedla, basas, bosas LT);

6)    concertina (lõõtspill, bajaan EE, ermoņikas, gumžas, garmoška LV, armonika, koncertina, bandonija LT);

7)    accordion (akordion EE, akordeons LV, akordeonas LT);

8)    drums (trumm EE, bungas, bubna LV, būgnas, būbnas, bubinas, kelmas LT);

9)    the frame drum (puuben EE, bundziņas, sietiņš, bubyns, baubens LV, būgnelis, bubinėlis, bubnelis LT) and other percussion instruments.

Estonian ensembles of the 19th century were typically comprised of violin, the new kannel or zither and concertina; a drum or frame drum could be added. Later in the 20th century it was usual to reinforce strings by adding a double bass, guitar or mandolina, and small wind instrument bands gained increasing popularity as well. The situation was similar in central and northern Latvia, but in Kurland and Livland the typical ensemble was generally made up of one or two violins, double bass, some wind instrument and (always) a zither. Musicians themselves recognized the violin and zither as the core instruments of the ensemble. Eastern Latvian musicians preferred an ensemble of one or two violins together with concertina, frame drum and/or hammered dulcimer. This is much the same as in eastern Lithuania, and the lack of a zither seems to be a distinctive characteristic of dance music ensembles in Catholic Latgale (except its northwestern area) and Lithuania. Thus, a typical ensemble of central and northern Lithuania comprises one or two violins, double bass, clarinet and concertina. In southern Lithuania one or two violins are played together with hammered dulcimer and frame drum, but a combination of two violins and double bass is eagerly practiced as well.




1          This article was prepared with financial support of the Latvian Culture Capital Foundation.


2          Among the most important of these articles are: “The Estonian Bagpipe” (1976a), “Psalmodicon in Estonia” (on the Scandinavian influence on Estonian folk music instruments) (1976b), “Where did they strum/ring on gusli?" (1977a), “Kannel from the land of Vepsa to the land of Setu” (1977b), “Double Pipe of the Setus” (1980), “Folk music instruments and ethnic-cultural ties among peoples inhabiting Eastern Baltic” (1985a), “Estonian village musicians around the turn of centuries” (1985b), “Musician in Estonian wedding” (1986), “The pastoral musical instruments of the Finno-Ugric peoples” (1990), “Jew’s harp in Estonia” (1991).




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