Magazine article Czech Music

Kejdas, Skripkas, Fanfrnochs: What People Used to Play on in Bohemia and Moravia

Magazine article Czech Music

Kejdas, Skripkas, Fanfrnochs: What People Used to Play on in Bohemia and Moravia

Article excerpt

It is basically impossible define what is a folk music instrument and what is not, because folk music and art music are spheres that have always interacted. The bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy or dulcimer have at several periods won the favour of composers of classical music and then moved back into the folk sphere. People used to make some instruments for themselves at home, for example skripky (fiddles), but in many other cases folk musicians used professionally produced instruments. This short article offers information on at least a few of the instruments that have played or still play a major role in folk music on the territory of the Czech Republic.

The Dulcimer

The dulcimer is often thought of as the typical folk music instrument of Eastern Europe, but its present form is a relatively modern product. Its forerunners--all kinds of instruments trapezoid in form with a variable number of strings played with the fingers or sticks--could be found in many places in Europe as early as the Middle Ages, when some were known as psalteries. The first pictorial representation of such an instrument in Bohemia comes from the year 1320. The construction of the psaltery was perfected in the 17th and 18th centuries and its range was enlarged. The word cimbal (dulcimer) was already being used in the Bohemian Lands around 1680. At the same time the instrument was growing in popularity in both folk and art music. While today it is associated primarily with the folk music of Moravia, up to the 1850s the dulcimer was played in South Bohemia and the Labe basin as well, but it was still an instrument with a relatively small range, which was played hung round the neck or placed on the table. The large concert dulcimer standing on its own legs originated in Hungary, but in fact its design was Czech. It was built in 1866 by Josef V. Schun-da, a native of Ricany near Prague who had settled in Budapest. He enlarged the range and dynamic possibilities of the instrument and added a damper pedal for the strings. It was in this form that the dulcimer was adopted into the instrumental sets of Gipsy bands in the Budapest cafes, and with them it went out to conquer many lands. In the 1930s several richer Moravian ensembles acquired such dulcimers and the new form replaced the small portable dulcimer, which is only rarely used today.

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The Bagpipes

It is only slight exaggeration to say that if anything unites Europe, it is the bagpipes. By the 12th century at the latest the instrument was known in some form or other to all European peoples (and also in North Africa, for example) and in some periods the bagpipes were the most important instrument of musical entertainment--one bagpiper could accompany a whole village dance on his own. The importance of the bagpipes in folk culture is reflected in the immense range of names that they were given. Many names, such as kozel or kozlik derive from the word for goat (koza), since the bag was made from goatskin and the instrument often decorated by a stylised goat head. Others probably derive from the oriental names for bagpipes (in Bohemia kejdy and in Moravia gajdy--from the Turkish gaita).

What are known as the Czech bagpipes consist of a melodic pipe with seven holes, a bordun (drone) pipe and two bags, one serving as air reservoir and the other being pumped. …

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