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Slovák Traditional Instruments
Actually, this compilation is an extract from a project, conducted by SLUK, called
Slovak Folk Instruments“ (see also the last page, containing acknowledgements) with the intention to give widespread use and knowledge about musical tradition in Slovakia.
For the purpose of our project we have selected some of the most significant / unique instruments!
Rapkáč (RattLe or flapper; turned by a crank)
Rattles such as these are among the best-known idiophones. Due to their simple design and their distinctive sound they make great children’s sound toys, although their use in traditional folk culture exceeds this usage. The sounds of klepáče and rapkáče are still used by altar boys during Holy Week instead of church tower bells, which are put away on Maundy Thursday and are sounded again during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. In some church towers one can still find great rattles with turning cogwheels, operated by adult men, such that their harsh rattling sufficiently contrasts with the sound of bells. Smaller versions of these instruments could be occasionally found in the hands of boy game drivers for hunting wild boar and hares. Klepáče and rapkáče can also be good objects for their manufacturers’ more complicated technical and artistic visions. This is evidenced by the existence of double or triple rapkáče, or klepáče with several hammers, which can be shaped in the form of birds, and so on. One modern usage of these instruments can be seen in the stands of sports arenas, where the instruments are spun in the hands of fans rooting for their favourite teams.
Ozembuch rattle stick
These instruments are popular in folk culture and are used for their distinctive sound. The core of their design is a simple stick or a round piece of thicker wood, with various objects attached to it. On the kulaga, metal ducats or other coins are strung on wire; on the bunkoš nails are beaten into the wood, and on them are hung chains, ducats and other metal objects. These resonate and shake when the instrument is rattled in the hand or hit on the ground. In this respect, the most perfect rattle stick is the ozembuch, on which can also be attached a small drum, a pot, a beli, chimes, and-so-on.There are no limits to what can be attached, nor to the way the the ozembuch can be played: in one hand it can be shaken and beaten on the ground, while with a stick or bow the other hand can beat a potordrum, cymbal, beli, etc.
Instruments of similar construction appear in different variants, with numerous individual forms and names: kyje, budzogáňe, bakule, osekance, pobijance, as well as betlehemské palice (“Bethlehem [i.e. nativity] sticks”), jasličkárske čerkadlá (“nursery jangles”), trojkráľove palice (“Three Kings sticks”), and others. Equally colorful is their varied usage. While kulagy are used mainly by shepherds guiding their flocks, bunkoše and similar instruments have a wider application: at weddings in the hands of members of the wedding party, as symbols of their position and as a means of calming down or coordinating the wedding guests during entertainment; in nativity, New Year’s, and Three Kings plays, where they are used as a rhythmic or signal instrument for dance or song sequences, or at the moment when the group of players is requesting entry to a house, presenting the play, or introducing individual performances and monologues. Sticks, switches, but also bunkoše and similar instruments appear as typical props in several Slovak folk dances, especially during Fašiangy (Carnival) rounds (stick dances, sword dances, sabre dances, etc). The ozembuch, by contrast, is not so closely connected to folk rituals or local or regional dance and music traditions. It most often serves as a rhythmic inštrument in small, ad hoc instrumental ensembles, played together for example with an accordion, a violin, and the like.
Images of the cimbalom appear in old Iranian and Assyrian reliefs. Arabs brought the instrument to Europe in the 12th century, and it became known as the psalterium. lt was a picked instrument with a resonant body in the shape of a triangle. This instrument flourished in the 15th century, when it became known by other names (tympanum, hackbrett, dulcimer, Tambov, cimbal). The instrument then took on its current trapezoidal form, and strumming was replaced by the striking of strings with wooden mallets. It enjoyed great popularity in Germany, from which it spread throughout Europe, including Hungary. In the Baroque period, it was used as a virtuoso musical instrument in the French royal court. The earliest known reports of its occurrence and its predecessors in our area include, for example, Comenius’s Orbis Pictus (1685), in which it is depicted as a stringed instrument with two sticks called picks. In our folk environment, one can find a so-called small cimbalom, which in the 18th century became a part of string bands. It was a portable instrument which players could sling overt heir shoulders and then place on a table or on their laps while playing, leaning forward, with sticks wrapped in cloth, felt, wool or other soft material. The instrument was improved fundamentally in the late 19th century, when the Budapest instrument workshop of J. V. Schunda and J. Bohákitwas placed it on legs, equipped with a damper mechanism controlled by a pedal, enlarged, and given a broader range of tones. It also changed from its originally diatonic form into a chromatic instrument with almost unlimited interpretive possibilities. Although the production of the small cimbalom has survived to this day (an important centre of manufacturing in the 20th century was Kysuce), it could not compete with major concert dulcimers which, despite the difficulties of transporting them, have become a standard part of folk bands throughout Slovakia, with the exception of the country’s northern regions.
Trough violin (a.k.a. oktávky or zlobcoky)
The popularity of string instrumente in Central European folk music is evidenced by the wide range of homemade folk violins, distinguished by their shape, structure, acoustic properties, and manner of production. Their production in Slovakia came about thanks to a highly developed woodworking tradition and for the obvious economic reason that factory-produced violins were expensive for folk musicians.
A common feature in the designs of homemade violins is the distinctive construction of their bodies. In the modern violin, the top is spruce and the base is a maple plate, joined on the sides with so-called ribs. Violin makers could avoid this complicated construction by, for example, making so-called children’s board violins. In these, the body is made of a thicker board, into which a square or rectangular opening is cut and then covered with another, thinner plate with sound holes. As it is a children’s practice tool, the number of strings is reduced to one or two, and instead of a bow the children use horsehairs. The so-called trough violin is a treasure of technical design and art. It was given its name because technique of making the body was taken from the production of troughs. Using a specially curved chisel, a cavity is carved out of a thick piece of wood, which is then covered with a fiat board with sound holes. The distinctive feature of the trough violin is that the lower, carved part of the body and the neck are made from a single piece of wood. Some of these violins took on unique local and regional names, according to their shape and artistic expression. For example, large or small “oktávky” in Liptovské Sliače or “zlobcoky” in Orava. In the 20th century, trough violins were replaced with factory-made violins or were used as children’s practice instruments. They are still used today in Goral folk music bands.
Folk violins are a testimony to the exceptional inventiveness and creativity of their makers. They are treasures of our instrumental repertory, and they draw attention to connections with older European instrumental practice.
Three-row diatonic button accordion
In Slovakia and the Czech Republic the diatonic button accordion goes by the folk name of “heligónka”. In contrast to the better-known (chromatic) piano type accordion, the main characteristic of the diatonic button accordion is its smaller size and the presence of buttons on both sides of the instrument. From the player’s point of view, melodie buttons are located on the right side and bass buttons on the left side; that is, the former are used for playing melody and the latter create harmony and rhythmic accompaniment. Both parts are connected to bags, and when moved they force air through metal reeds placed on both sides of the instrument. They are similar to harmonicas in that a single pressed button can produce two different tones, depending on whether the bags are squeezed together or pulled apart. The tone range of the instrument and its interpretive possibilities are influenced by the number of lines of melodie buttons contained on the instrument.
The origins of the diatonic button accordion can be traced to 1829 and connected to a Viennese instrument maker named Cyrill Demian. It came to Slovakia through Czech workshops (J. a A. Hlaváček, R. Kalina, K. Stibitz and others) in the 1920’s. Thanks to its portability, strong sound, and the fact that it does not need to be tuned, the button accordion immediately gained great popularity and began to compete with bagpipes and even small string bands, especially in secluded settlements and hamlets. It became popular as an instrument for listening to, for playing for personal enjoyment, or for accompanying singing and dancing at parties and weddings. Its popularity today can be seen in its presence throughout all of Slovakia, at numerous gatherings, exhibitions, and at button accordion competitions in Podpolanie, Myjava, Záhorie, Nová Baňa, Hont, Kysuce, the Terchová Valley, Orava, Liptov, and elsewhere.
The fujara is the queen among Slovak pastoral aerophones. It is also our longest closed flute (with a Labium edge cut into the instrumenťs wall, over which air is directed). It has its roots in long renaissance European three-hole whistles, of which the most similar in terms of construction and size is a bass flute described in the outstanding organological work of Michael Praetorius Syntagma Musicum from 1619. Although inspired by the range of European instruments, the fujara appears to have developed autochthonously, and that in spite of connections to broader Central European or Carpathian herders’ instrumental practice. Although the instrument probably took on its current form no later than the 17th century, the first written record of it comes from the 18th century, and the first iconographic depiction of it from the 19th century. The most remarkable attribute of the fujara is its length, which today can reach approximately 180 cm, twice the length of fujaras preserved from the late 19th century. Another remarkable feature is the instrumenťs air tube, which serves as a solution to a problem of construction resulting from the length of the instrument, making it possible to blow into it while at the same time fingering its three holes.
The fujara, like other whistles, is made by drilling into elder wood. As the instrument has developed, so has its external design. After earlier geometrical and figurative pastoral motifs, flower designs began to appear in the first half of the 20th century, and today they decorate the majority of fujaras. The most widely-used technique for decoration involves burning the wood with salt or nitric acid, which is dripped onto a pre-drawn motif. The result of the burning is a darkening of the wood, and the creation of contrasting areas on the originally light-colored elder wood.
Fujara players combine the use of aliquottones with the use of three finger holes. This results in the mixolydian mode, which can (in comparison to the major key) be identified by the presence of a minor seventh, that is, the seventh tone in the scale is lowered by one half step. The basis of the fujara repertoire is formed by slow, herder and bandit melodies of rhapsodic and recitative character. Typically, instrumental parts alternate with vocals, but certain parts are of purely instrumental origin, that is, without connection to any folk song: so-called rozfuky, characteristic runs from the highest to the lowest tones; and so-called “mumbling,” playing in the instrumenťs lowest tones. The fujara is seen in our musical tradition as an intimate instrument of shepherds. It is primarily found in Podpofanie and the surrounding regions Horehronie and Gemer.
Today the fujara is undergoing a significant revival, and fujara makers and players can be found in many parts of Slovakia, including big cities. In 2001, a Fujara Players Guild was established, and in 2005, the Fujara was added to the UNESCO list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” as a unique Slovak folk instrument.
Similar to the clay whistle, this is also the product of potters who produce it from fired clay. Although its origins date back to Ancient China and Mesoamerica, in Europe the instrument is associated with the 19th century and with the city of Bologna, Italy, where it transformed from a children’s toy into an instrument with broader interpretive possibitities. Ocarinas are characterized by their oval shape; they vary in size, number, and finger hole location.The resulting line and range of tones, which can be modified by experienced players through various combinations of finger placements and modes of blowing. In our territory, ocarinas are known as sound toys, facilitating the aural and musical experimentation of children.
Four-voice Bagpipe (Štvorhlasné gajdy)
Bagpipes are the most important and most complex of reed instruments. They can be generally characterized by the existence of shorter melodie pipes (chanters) and longer accompanying pipes (drones), into which air is not blown directly from the player’s mouth, but rather through a leather bag which serves as an air reservoir. In Europe, perhaps there is no country where bagpipes are not found. In Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Bulgaria, they have become the most important representatives of their respective folk instrument repertories. Nevertheless, the origin of bagpipes is apparently non-European, as evidenced by references to them in connection with ancient Assyrians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Persians, and by a variety of instrument types and variants still preserved in South Asia. The bagpipes most likely spread to Europe through Arab trade routes or through the expansion of the Roman Empire, as suggested by their first clear description in the 2nd century, written by the Roman historian Suetonius. The instruments have since undergone a long evolution, which means not only design improvement but also wider application. While in Eastern Europe they are known in the village environment as an instrument for shepherds and peasants, in the 17th century France, for example, bagpipes sounded in the royal court as a part of orchestras, and distinct musical pieces were composed specifically for bagpipes.
The first precise reference to bagpipes in our territory relates to medieval musicians and artists known as igrici (minstrels), jokulátorí (jesters), mími (mimes), pištci/ (pipers) and hudá (musicians), as demonstrated not only the appearance of the designation of “gajdoš” (piper, bagpipe player) in the 15th century in this milieu, but also by a representation of the instrument in what is known as the Levoča Fresco, from the mid-14th century. The popularity of bagpipes is also evidenced by their continued development and typological diversity. In Slovakia, the instrument still occurs in three basic types, which in addition to sharing common features – a leather bag, an inflatable tube, and a single drone, differ from each other in the construction of their chanters. The chanter may be single, double, or triple, a number which tends to vary by region. In the traditional folk bagpipe environment, bagpipes are identified by the total number of their pipes. Two-voice bagpipes with one simple chanter, found in northern Orava (Oravská Polhora, Sihelné), také their name from the fact that they have one drone and one chanter (1 + 1 = 2). Three-voice bagpipes are the most common type; in addition to the drone, they have a double chanter (1 + 2 = 3); they are primarily associated with the regions of Podpolanie and Pohronský Inovec (near Nová Baňa). Four-voice bagpipes with a drone and a triple chanter are found in the area around Nitra. The central pieces of the instrument are its piskoty, simple clarinet-type reeds, which are inserted into each of the pipes.The bagpipes’ sound is generated by airflow from the mouth of the player through the inflatable tube to the leather bag, which is pumped to the reed, which then vibrates. The role of the bag, which the player controls under one arm, is to maintain the air pressure flowing to the reed even while the player breathes. Unlike other types of wind instruments, bagpipes play continuously. In the past, a type of bagpipes was widespread in Slovakia which was not blown in to by the player’s mouth, but with auxiliary bellows (reminiscent of the bellows with which one kindles a fire), as shown in one of our short films demonstrations, presenting a replica from Kysuce.
The wooden parts of bagpipes are made out of plum wood. The bells at the end of the pipes are usually made of brass or of cow or ox horn. The leather bag is made from goatskin, sheepskin, or, in the past, the skin of dogs. Bagpipes, as physical artefacts, are important works of art. Their common artistic feature in Slovakia is a richly decorated with a goaťs head, which connects the chanter to the bag.
In the past, bagpipes were primarily an instrument for accompanying dances. Pipers, who played at weddings and dance parties, not only were excellent musicians but in some places were attributed magical abilities. Bagpipes experienced their greatest boom in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the exception of some of the above regions, in most of Slovakia they ceased to exist in the interwar period of the last century, due to the arrival and popularity of modern musical instruments such as the accordion. Over the past two decades, however, bagpipes have experienced a significant revival, as evidenced by the growing number of pipers joined together in the Slovak Pipers Guild, and by bagpiping events like the Carnival of Bagpipers in Malá Lehota by Nová Baňa and the Gajdovačka in Oravská Polhora.
The distinctive chacacteristic of the fujara trombita is its length, which, in extreme cases, can be as long as five meters. The instrument is made from the trunk of a fir, spruce, linden, or maple tree, which is first cut into two halves, which are gouged out with a curved blade, then glued back together with pitch and tightened with wire, tin or iron hoops. Finally, the fujara trombita is wrapped in cherry or birch bark.
In our animal herding regions, this instrument is associated with a signaling function. Using previously agreed-upon signals, the lead shepherd organized the daily work schedule in the sheepfold, called the shepherds together, and announced the time for milking. The powerful sound of these instruments warned against dangers and drove away wolves and bears. Instruments with similar functions and structures are known from several other herding areas of Europe (in the Carpathians, Beskids, Alps, and Pyrenees).
SLOVÁK FOLK INSTRUMENTS
A Multimedia Educational Project
ProjectCoordinator: Vladimír Kysel
Expert Consultant and Author of Commentary: Bernard Garaj
Film Documentation – Preparation and Camera:
Vladimír Kysel, Daniel Luther, Juraj Hamar, Bernard Garaj
Vladimír Kysel, Tibor Szabó, Monika Velšicová, Bernard Garaj, Stanislava Ľuptáková,
Linguistic Modification: Hana Brunovská
Professional Co-Workers: Juraj Dubovec, Boris Dobiš
English translation: Joe Grim Feinberg
Editor: Monika Velšicová
Responsible Editor: Vladimír Kysef
Technical and Master: VIS GRAVIS, s.r.o.
Packaging and Graphics: VIS GRAVIS, s.r.o.
Issued: Slovák Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre
Year of lssue:2009
Included in the list of recommended teaching aids for elementary schools, high schools and out-of-school activities and other broader uses.
• Musical documentation of Oskár Elschek
• Musical instruments from the Literary and Musical Museum of the State Scientific Library in Banská Bystrica
• Musical instruments from the Svetozár Stračina collection
• Musical instruments owned by individual artists
Thank you to Oskár Elschek for the musical materials provided.
Thank you to the artists for their voluntary and willing help in the filming of the videos.
Those who participated include:
Milan Bela (Podhradie), Anton Bendík (Hrušov), Tomáš Blažek (Nitra), Igor Dundek (Lúky pod Makytou), Štefan Foriš (Bratislava), Bernard Garaj st (Zlaté Moravce), Juraj Hamar (Bratislava), Bartolomej Gernát (Turzovka), Vladimír Homola (Priechod), Dominika Kevická (Bratislava), Karol Kočík (Zvolen), Miroslav Králik (Bratislava), Matúš Kyseľ (Bratislava), Vladimír Kyseľ (Bratislava), Stanislava Ľuptáková (Detva), Stanislav Marišler (Bratislava), Peter Matis (Oravská Polhora), Ján Miho (Terchová), Ján Palovič (Poniky), Ľubomír Párička (Martin), Milan Rusko (Braťslava), Jozef Suchý (Nová Baňa), Pavol Štefánik (Lúky pod Maky¬tou), Ľubomír Tatarka (Slovenská Ľupča), Matej Tkáč (Bratislava), Ladislav Tóth (Nenince), Monika Velšicová (Trnava), Róbert Žilík (Mojmírovce).
Children’s Folk Ensemble Matičiarik from Banská Bystrica (led by Zuzana Drugová) and their members: Tereza Melicherová, Zuzana Bienska, Matúš Druga, Matúš Kovačech, Jozef Hudák, Soňa Jágerská.
Issued: Slovak Intangible Cultural Heritage Centre
Further information can be found on the following webpages: