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Link to this year's index by clicking here.


Musical Instrument Museum, Part 16


As with many other cultures, Latvia originally had no indigenous, overarching word for "music". There were terms for song types, but instruments such as natural horns, flutes and bagpipes were considered functional tools. They were used by herders for signaling or to accompany ritual ceremonies.

Pictured here is a citara or plucked zither. It arrived in Latvia from Germany in the mid-1800s and became popular for accompanying singing and dancing. I find it interesting to speculate on how it was played. It almost appears that the musician would need seven hands to play all the courses of strings at one time. I'm probably wrong.


Here is a Latvian bagpipe — made from some type of animal skin (the display card at MIM did not state the source). Note that it has a single reed chanter and one drone.

And if you think the Latvian bagpipe is just an archaic instrument gathering dust in a museum, just do a Google search for "Latvian bagpipe" — you'll be surprised at the availability of modern performers offering music from this instrument.


In Lithuania, as in other Baltic nations, vocal music became a national cultural symbol. Traditional songs accompanied this country's agricultural way of life through World War II. During the Soviet occupation in the 1940s, an estimated 350,000 Lithuanians were moved to Siberia, and musical life changed dramatically.

Large Soviet-sponsored choirs and folkloric groups, intended to water down local traditions, were instead co-opted by Lithuanians as vehicles of hidden resistance to preserve their folk music and heritage.


The folk revival of the late 1960s restored interest in historical instruments, as shown by newly-made instruments seen here; older examples are preserved only in Lithuanian museums. Traditional ensembles of several flutes (shown above), trumpets (shown here) or oboes are now joined by newer ensembles which include the zither, violin, accordion and drum.


Though most commonly associated with Scotland, the bagpipe is found throughout Europe where it spread and flourished between 1100 and 1700. It is thought to have arrived with wandering minstrels in the early 1500s. Once there, the virtuosic piobaireachd style emerged as a uniquely Scottish high-art form.

Despite the many differences in bagpipes, the basic components remain the same — a reed pipe chanter that plays the melody, one or more drone pipes and a mouth or bellows-blown bag to provide a continuous supply of air.


In Finland, early instruments such as trumpets and flutes were applied to tasks of work, communication, attracting birds or performing magic. Shown here are several tuohitorvi or natural trumpets. They consist of two pieces carved from wood then bound with bark, with or without finger holes.


Sweden's music reflects the country's rural past. In former times, music accompanied seasonal work in fields and pastures. Today's musicians experiment with traditional music, balancing folk styles with others like rock and jazz, as new generations take up folk instruments such as the nyckelharpa or keyed fiddle (shown here).

This example made by Eric Sahlstrom has three rows of keys. The maker's technical and musical innovations added to its popularity. The bow has a characteristic curve near the tip.


Although we have seen plenty of fiddles, this one (called a traskofiol) is a bit different. If you look closely, you'll notice that the sound board is made from a wood shoe. Curious.


In Norway, the violin or fiddle has long dominated instrumental music for both listening and dancing. The unique hardinfele fiddle (on the right side of the photo) has been in use since the 17th century. It features a shorter neck, flatter bridge and sympathetic strings that sit underneath the bowed strings, adding resonance.

I just think it's beautiful — but I'll bet it sounds as good as it looks.


German musical instrument-making traditions are linked to the countries exceptional machine and tool industries. Since the Renaissance, Germans have distinguished themselves in the innovations and craftsmanship of their trombones, trumpets and horns.

Until around the 19th century, brass instruments had a "natural" form with two fine example shown here. After 1800, makers added keys and valves — they may well have found the inspiration in the air conduits of high furnaces in the country's steel plants.


We've all heard of the flugelhorn (shown here) but most of us would not recognize one if it hit us in the face. It obviously resembles a trumpet but has a wider conical bore resulting in a "fatter" tone which is usually regarded as more "mellow" and "dark" than that of the trumpet.

It is built with the same pitch as most trumpets and cornets — and enjoys the same fingering — so it can be played without too much trouble by those musicians.


Next door in Austria, the capital of Vienna has been a center of musical composition, performance and instrument building. Perhaps you've heard of the 18th century classical Viennese School composers by the name of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

Additionally, Austria has an historic folk music tradition. I was particularly fond of this button accordion — the craftsmanship is self-evident.

To be continued...

Life is good.

Aloha,
B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com