CHAPTER 5: Dulcimers in other countries since 1800 > Eastern Europe

Greece - 3b of 9: Dimitris B. Kofterós, Santouri of Lesbos, 1997

DK: this is the first part of Dimitris Kofterós description of santouri history, outside of Greece: I have separated it here since it reflects an older view which builds on vague references which are of doubtful relevance to a history of the dulcimer: my own account, based on several hundred sources, starts here

Historical Evolution [part 1: outside Greece, up to 1800]

All stringed instruments are composed of at least one stretched 'string" which produces sound by vibrating This family of instruments can he separated into those which have a sound box and a neck and those which do not have a neck.

Strings with a box and no neck whose strings resonate freely from bridge to bridge are known in ancient Greek as "psaltiria", meaning stringed instruments. The original "psaltirio" was familiar to the andent Greeks. They strummed the strings with their fingers, and resembled its close relative, the harp.

According to Galpin "the multi-stringed psaltirio in Mesopotamia and Persia was imported from Asia-Minor". In time, the way of playing it changed and two forms emerged - the 'qanun', derived from the Greek "kanon" and the 'santur' or 'santir'.

The Greek word "kanon" means law or regulation. Farmer claimed the "kanon" was the single-stringed instrument which Pythagoras used when experimenting on the relationship of musical phonemes and the length and width of a string,

Al-Farabbi (9th cent. AC) adapted the Pythagorean scale to the psaltirio, which became widely known, through the Arabs, by the name of Qanun.

The baguette type of Psaltirio became popular among the Mesopotamians and was called santur or santir. This is confirmed also by the bas- relief sculpture in the palace of the Assyrian king Ashur-banni-Bal (7th cent. AC).

This bas-relief represents a musician holding a rectangular instrument with twelve strings. He seems to be pressing the chords with his left hand and strumming them with his right using a drumstick. The instrument is mentioned as santur-santir.

The word santur is possibly derived from the ancient Greek psaltirio (psallo, to sing). The peoples who used it mispronounced it into psaltinx, salinx, saltir, santour, as their alphabet did not include the consonant "ps" and to retain it would have been difficult for them. Thus the name santur-santir predominated.

The santouri spread to several Eastern and Western countries, and assumed different forms depending on the musical culture of each country.

The trapezoid shape is said to have first appeared in Arabia. It is described in 1434 by the Emir Ben Khindz Mali, but some researchers claim that this form is earlier, dating from the 13th century. It appeared in Europe during the 14th century, probably having crossed the Balkans. In this era, the nobles of Moldovlachia often invited Greek scholars and technicians to enlighten the Danube countries and Bohemia. It is therefore possible that the Greeks imported the trapezoid form of the santouri to Eastern Europe. Paulus Paulirinus, around 1460, mentions it in Germany under the name "dulce melos"

The rectangular form evolved at the same time as the trapezoid. A picture of a seven stringed rectangular santouri can be seen in Bellinzona, Switzerland, dating as far back as 1470-80.

The number of strings was increased in time and the tuning system improved. The trapezoid shaped santouri was generally preferred and instruments with mobile, fixed or both mobile and fixed bridges were designed. Instruments can now have a chromatic or a diatonic tuning, depending on the position of the bridges. The musician can play in any mode he desires.

Because it was found in many countries, other names were given to the santouri. In Switzerland and Germany it was known as 'hackbrett', in Russia 'chang', in Hungary 'cimbalom', in Rumania 'tambal', in China 'yang chin' etc.

Pantaleon Hebenstreit contributed to the further evolution of the santouri. In 1690 he manufactured a santouri with two octaves. Later, in 1717 he displayed his musical talent and the potential of his instrument santouri. In 1690 he manufactured a santouri with two octaves. Later, in 1717 he displayed his musical talent and the potential of his instrument by playing preludes, fugues, fantasias and caprices, spreading its fame from the French court to all of Europe. It thus became a familiar chamber instrument in the 18th century, and was no longer confined to traditional music.

The mid 19th century brought about further improvements, when in 1875 NI. and DI. Schunda, built a diatonic cimbalom.

According to researchers, the santouri was introduced into China (yang chin) and Korea (yang koum) in the 18th century, possibly through Persia but also very probably through Western Europe.

The harp was well known to the people of Eastern Asia and the vana veena was one of the most important instruments in the Hindu tradition. It had 100 strings made from the munja plant and it was played by strumming them with a bamboo stick. Some consider this instrument to be the ancestor of the santouri used today in Cashmere and according to some sources it is mentioned in the Rig Veda, the holy book of India.

The Hindu santouri which accompanies the sufianu kalam, classical music of Cashmere, has 100 strings (sata tantri vina) and perhaps has descended from the Arabo-Persian instrument.

The fact that the instrument spread to Eastern Europe through the Balkans in the 14th c., makes me believe that it was probably known to the Greeks before the 14th c. and spread through Greece to the Danube countries and Bohemia. Improvements made to the instrument in these areas were brought back to the towns of Asia Minor and eastern Greek islands, by Greeks who had lived in Eastern Europe.


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