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Gusli
August 28, 2007 19:33


The history of Russian folklore and the history of gusli are inseparable. The major part of Russian folklore was performed to the accompaniment of gusli. This instrument used to be present whenever the folks gathered to sing, dance and listen to epic narrators or just beautiful and touching music. Nowadays the instrument seems to have got its second chance.

Gusli is an Old Russian stringed music instrument played by plucking; it allows both chord and melodic playing. This ancient instrument is an interesting example of the engineering thought of the Russian folk. There existed a great variety of gusli types, the most popular of them being wing-shaped (Krylovidnye gusli) with 4 to 14 strings, helmet-shaped (Shlemovidnye gusli) with 11-36 strings, and rectangular desk-top gusli with 55 to 66 strings.

This instrument came to the world ages and ages ago. Similarly to the harp, it was prompted by a stretched bow-string. However, it was evolving in a different way: the strings were anchored not onto a frame, like with the harp, but onto a wooden board. A gusli player laid the instrument on his knees and, running his fingers over the strings, sang songs and told bylinas (Old Russian epics) and tales. Gusli is often mentioned in bylinas and ancient Russian tales.

The word gusli and the like reside in many Slavic languages. There are a few versions concerning the origin of this word. One of them says gusli means a bunch of strings. Gusl’ (one string) obviously derives from the Old Slavic gusti (resembling the Russian “gudet’”, i.e. to hum, to buzz). In the olden days the sound of strings was called gud’ba, i.e. humming. It is interesting to note that in the epoch of the Kievan Rus’ gusli meant any string music instrument.

The Old Russian gusli was of horizontal stand and is usually compared to the lying harp. The body of gusli was made of sycamore maple. Nothing suggests that the number of strings on ancient Slavic guslis was definite and permanent. According to old tales, the strings were played by fingers only. In those days gusli could be heard in everyday life and at festive ceremonies.

The next stage of the instrument’s development is represented by gusli-psaltyry, closely associated with music culture of the Russian priesthood. For many centuries not only priests, but skomorokhs (harlequins in ancient Rus’) as well had the similar type of gusli.

After persecution of the skomorokhs in the 17th century the gusli-psaltyry almost vanished from the folk milieu and lasted out as perfected gusli with a bigger number of strings till the turn of the 19th century only among the clergy and circular musicians. This type of gusli was called desk-top gusli. It was a right-angled instrument that stood on a desk or had four legs attached to it. Its sound was louder and clearer.

In the 1900 O. U. Smolensky and N. I. Privalov perfected the wing-shaped gusli and created a whole family of it, with piccolo, prima, alt, and bass. In 1914 N. P. Fomin devised the so-called “keyboard” gusli, peculiar for its original and at the same time simple and convenient construction. When playing this instrument, the performer presses any accord on the keyboard with one hand, while the other hand runs over the strings with a plectrum of firm leather.

Keyboard gusli, along with plucked gusli are widely used in Russian folk orchestras till date. In addition to that, the interest in gusli as a solo instrument is rapidly growing. There have appeared modern gusli players and narrators aiming at the revival of the old tradition of playing the gusli and singing to this amazing instrument.

One of such figures was the singer M. K. Seversky (1882—1954) who regularly appeared on variety stage and on radio, singing Russian folk songs and bylinas and accompanying himself on gusli.

Speaking about modern gusli musicians one cannot help mentioning the Community of gusli players and singers Kaliki, State Orchestra The Gusli Players of Russia, and the children’s ensemble The Gusli Players.

 

Read more about russian Music Instruments...  

 

Sources:
    potomy.ru
    folkinst.narod.ru
    gatchina3000.ru
    siteaudit.info

Photos:
    kurnozhki.narod.ru
    Russian Wiki
    metakultura.ru
    soros.novgorod.ru


Tags: Russian Music Instruments     

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