Picking in the tell of Novgorod the Great, archeologists have recovered precious finds in the cultural deposits of the 11th to 15th centuries, namely a great variety of musical instruments and tubas made of clay, wood, metal and bone. Novgorod thus proves to have been a major music center of Europe.
By Vladimir POVETKIN, art restoration expert, director of the Novgorod Center of Musical Antiquities
The idea of a stringed pluck instrument is as old as the world. We know of a Sumerian lyre-and-psaltery made about five thousand years ago. A lovely, exquisite instrument decorated with silver, gold and mosaics. Manufactured from different kinds of wood, it carried a carved image of the bull. Parts of such articles dug up in a royal tomb at Ura, Iraq, in 1927 came as a sensational find. Musical instruments changed body and form with the passage of time. The Sumerian and Egyptian pieces were succeeded by a family of lyres and cithers in ancient Greece. Closer to our age, down to the end of the first millennium A.D., the elite warriors of Western Europe strummed on lyres of their own, the rottas.
Stringed instruments of the ancient civilizations of the Near and Middle East, Egypt and Central Asia made their way to Europe, albeit in various modifications. For instance, a psaltery "Russian gusli", a stringed instrument with a shallow sound box. We cannot tell how
psalteries traveled to Europe. Quite different from West European lyres, they crossed the boundaries of local traditions. This is a fascinating phenomenon indeed.
Archeological finds in the city's older part throw fresh light on musical instruments used by ancient Novgorodians. From all the various bits and pieces retrieved from deposits it has become possible to reconstruct the legendary gusli (psalteries), hooters and penny whistles, and even reproduce their sounds.
The gusli lyre, a remake of the East European psaltery, is exquisite in its design. Although bare of precious adornments, it is perfect in its artistic workmanship and classical form. As we learn from archeological findings, such lyres were much in use among folk musicians from the 12th down to the late 19th century.
Fragments of old guslis and harmonica-type mouth organs known as vargans have been found time and again ever since 1951, though not taken for musical instruments at first. But B. Kolchin, a Novgorodian archeologist, has identified some of the finds as the gusli played by plucking its strings, and, in another case, as the bow hooter- here, a pear-like three-stringed instrument. Supplying them with bridges of his own making, Kolchin anticipated the archeological discovery of these very items. In 1968 he published the first data on old Nov-gorodian musical instruments which he classified accordingly. His team undertook the reconstruction of the most intricate specimens of guslis, penny whistles and hooters.
These past ten years have been quite generous in musical finds, some of them quite new. The people of old Novgorod-like villagers in Russia's northwest do it even today- must have been making their musical instruments in field conditions, weather permitting, from bark or reed, believing in the protective power of their sounds. Then Novgorodians would make them at home-all those ceramic rattles and tin whistles, bells*, jingles, noisy pendants, mouth organs and, last, woodwinds like hooters, penny whistles and guslis. The hooters were particularly lavish in their decor.
Judging by historical records and archeological findings, the above instruments enjoyed popularity among all walks of life at Novgorod. There used to be four major groups: self-sounding instruments (bells, gongs); membranous (tambourines), wind (fifes, horns, penny whistles) and stringed (guslis, hooters, hummers). For instance, a birch-bark writ (No. 605) dating from the second quarter of the 12th century
* See: N. Yakovleva, "Music from Heaven", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2002. -Ed.
makes the earliest mention on record of the ringing of church bells in old Rus, something initially meant as protection against evil. Domestic cattle, too, wore bells fixed to the necks of bulls and cows as a charm against diseases, predators and other dangers, like being lost in the woods. Found in the 12th-15th century deposits are sounding items made of tin-plate and soldered with copper. Some of these, cast in non-ferrous metals, were probably designed for music making-like, for example, small bells of brass. Our collection includes specimens dating to the end of the 11th, first half of the 12th, and last quarter of the 14th century.
A small ball-bell was recovered from 10th-15th century deposits. Such bells are of nonferrous metals too. Some of them must have been in a set of musical rattles, while others used as pendants suspended from clothes. These knickknacks used to be popular among the Chud and Slav tribes, and are found in 11th-15th century deposits.
Other remarkable finds from the 12th-15th centuries include ceramic or glazed rattles (oval, in the shape of a ball or birdie, hollow, with a little stone inside, and one aperture). Such articles, it seems, were meant as toys and charms for small children.
Five specimens of vargan mouth organs were dug up in 13th-15th century deposits. Made of iron, they are in the form a small horseshoe with longish ends and a resilient slip-through reed.
Our collection has a good many rattles ("chatterboxes") in the shape of booklets. They are made of five to seven plates, or tablets, one of them being supplied with a handle. Every tablet has two openings for a strap holding the contraption together. Rotating the handle, you get the music box make clicking sounds. A wonderful specimen of such chatterbox rattles was recovered from early 12th-century deposits in 1992.
One such instrument, it seems, was mentioned in 1714, during the reign of Czar Peter the Great, in an " Inventory" drawn up for buffoonery on the occasion of a frolicsome wedding of Nikita Zotov, a favorite of the czar's. These rattles are known in two versions, and one of them was still in use early in the 20th century by night-watchmen to shoo away thieves.
A set of membranous instruments dated to 11th-15th centuries holds a special place in our collection. These are wooden rattles with a spheric surmount, or else small balls of wood attached to a waxed lash beating a tambourine. Well, the role of the rattle is clear, but it is not as simple with the waxed lash.
According to 15th-century chronicles, it was once used as a tool of
punishment and, simultaneously, as a membrane percussion instrument by mounted soldiers.
There are also quite a few wind instruments, in particular, what is called a brunchalka ("hummer"). This is a small tubular bone of some animal or bird with one or two openings drilled for a thin strap or thread which, revolving the bone, made it hum threateningly. It must have been used by pagan priests to keep evil spirits from the door. But then it became a plaything for children. Brunchalkas were discovered in 11th-15th-century deposits. In 1991 a fortieth specimen was detected: it carries a carved snout of some smallish animal, that is the thing might have been used for sacral purposes too.
Tin penny whistles (svistulkas) occur the oftenest among this class of musical instruments. These are made of ceramics, with two sound apertures, and are drop-like or conal in shape. Judging by fragments, svistulkas came into use way back in the llth-13th centuries, and gained popularity in the 14th and 15th centuries and afterwards. In his 1849-published study on Russian iconpainting I. Sakharov, an expert in Russian folklore and corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, says that peasants of the Vyatka province used svistulka whistles during "whistle dancing", a feast in memory of the forefathers. This tin whistle is designed in much the same way as its wooden counterpart. Archeologists have found three whistles like that, and two, of the 11th and 15th centuries, have been restored. The first had four sound openings, and the other-three. These instruments were made from hollow trunks of small willow- or ash-trees. Probably related in design was the fife depicted on the silver bracelet discovered in the Old Ryazan Treasures* of the 12th and 13th centuries. The restoration of such pipes in their outward form has allowed to reproduce their scale and tune them up.
Stringed instruments predominate in the pick. As many as sixty-five specimens were detected in 1992 alone. Their classification is rather difficult since psaltery- and hooter-like instruments are much alike.
The gusli (psaltery) represents a family of stringed pluck instruments that have no fingerboard. Experts have identified eighteen among those found at Novgorod. One is in a helmet's form, while the others are fashioned wing-like. A stationary string-holder peculiar to each contributes to their pure resonance.
The wing-like gusli, its strings arranged fanwise, is represented in two versions: with the sound window and without. But both were made as follows. One took a solid chunk of wood (juniper, fir, pine, oak, birch) for the instrument's body and gouged a small trough in it. Next, apertures for pegs were drilled and, if need be, a sound window cut out. The sounding-board, likewise solid, was pasted to the trough, probably, with fish-glue. Two eyelets at the
* See: V. Darkevich, "Ryazan Land Yields Old Treasures", Science in Russia, No. 5-6, 1993.-Й/.
Wood musical instruments found in Novgorod the Great:
a) Five-stringed psaltery of 1070-1080 carrying the carved inscription СЛОВИША (SLOVISHA); b) Six-stringed GUSLI dating from the first half of the 12th century is remarkable for lavish fretwork; c) Seven-stringed GUSLI from early 13th century deposits; d) Fragments of a big psaltery dating to anno 1240-1260 deposits; e) Psaltery bare of a sound window, 14th century; f) Helmet-like GUSLI, late 14th century.
narrow end of the sounding-board were meant for a rod, the string-holder. The number of strings, either of bronze or gut, was between 5 and 8(9?). The body of a five-stringed gusli dated to the years 1070-1080 is of pine and has a sounding-board made of oak. The carved inscription in Cyrillic letters СЛОВИША ("SLOVISHA") can be read on the edge. As Academician A. Zaliznyak, the linguist, says, this must be the instrument's, not the owner's, name; however, the word indicated that the owner was a Slav.
Plant and animal motifs with frills and curlicues were used for decor which was particularly lavish on six-stringed guslis of the first half of the 12th century. Those dating from the early 13th century have seven strings; their body is of birch, and sounding-board-of pine.
Fragments of a large gusli made of pine and decorated with carved images of plant life were discovered in anno 1240-1260 deposits. Earlier publications described it as a nine-stringed instrument. Yet, as shown by its reconstruction, this gusli had eight strings, according to the arrangement of wood fibers and its shape.
Judging by the presence of a sound window, such instruments were played in a vertical position, like pluck lyres. As to the windowless guslis, Novgorodian archeologists trace them to 14th-15th centuries. But they were known in Rus as far back as the 12th century, as testified by the images on the hoops of the Kievan and Old Ryazan Treasures. No instruments other than those with five strings have been detected. Their bodies were gouged in conifer wood, with inserted rods for the string- holder. One of the smaller psalteries (37 centimeters, or 15 inches, long), found in the deposits dated to the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries and restored, is adorned with fretwork. The larger ones (53 and 56 cm, or about 21-22 inches respectively) were recovered from deposits of the 1370s. Apart from the supposed curlicue in the upper part these guslis carried no other decorations.
And last, the partial restoration of end-of-the-14th-century psalteries shows that they could hold as many as 5 pegs for fastening and controlling the tension of strings.
Windowless guslis were held horizontally when playing. The players, wandering minstrels, would hold the strings with the fingers of their left hand, and strum them with their right hand (such players are depicted on the hoops of the Kievan and Old Ryazan Treasures). This is confirmed by the materials of ethnographic field parties that explored some of the outlying districts of the Novgorodian republic of the Middle Ages.
The strings of wing-like guslis were tuned up in diatonic* fashion. The same applied to helm-like psalteries which had no less than ten strings arranged in parallel and fixed by one end to the pegs, and by their other end to the curved wooden string- holder glued to the sounding-board. We can see their images depicted in the Khludov Psalter of the late 13th century.
The hooter (horn), too, is a stringed instrument played with a bow, though having no fingerboard. Pear-like in shape, it is fitted out with three pegs mounted on its head. Its sound box (gouged cavity or vessel) cum sounding-board above has a short neck next to the head. Two semicircular notches in the middle of the sounding-board are for a mobile support, or bridge. Three gut strings pass through its upper edge from the string-holder to the pegs. The bridge, vibrant with the sounds of the strings, enhances the resonance, something that the psaltery cannot do. A crooked bow, its horsehair braid rubbed with resin, brings music from the strings.
Presumably the names "bow" (smyk) mentioned in written sources of the 11th to 16th centuries and the "hooter" (gudok) in records of the 18th century were actually for one and the same bow musical instrument. Yet as good as no mention is made of smyks in Russian folklore, though gudoks come up time and again.
Compared with psalteries (guslis), hooters (gudoks) are more intricate in design. Probably the gudok, imported from other climes, entered the stage at a later date. Ancient Greece, the motherland of pluck instruments, in fact knew of no bow. Judging by the names of some of the parts of European bow instruments-head, neck, saddle, or bridge-they must be related to the Central Asian cult of the horse. The folk epic poem Vavilo and Mountebanks potrays this instrument in all its mythological connotations. The wandering minstrels Kuzma and Demyan, by force of their magic, turn the reins into "silken little strings", while the Russian knout, or whip, becomes a "little hooter" for Vavilo to play on.
The Novgorod collection boasts of copious archeological evidence on such instruments, mostly made of fir and other conifers. Maple wood was used in two specimens. A hooter from deposits of the first half of the 14th century has preserved best of all.
Our archives have a vast body of archeological data and written records on ancient Novgorodian instruments shedding more light on some of historical processes in this country and in Europe of the Middle Ages.
* Diatonic -of or relating to the standard major or minor scale that has eight tones.- Ed.
Illustrations supplied by the author.
Опубликовано 14 сентября 2018 года
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