Cossacks with their Kobzas

Cossack musicians with their Kobzas

By Tim Crawford

Here are some images of Cossacks playing a kind of lute known as the Kobza. They come from an article in Hungarian which is distinctly unhelpful about the source of the pictures or their dates; it simply says they are ‘Ukranian peasant paintings’.

The article, by Istvan Vásáry, titled “Kozákok és kazakok” (Cossacks and Kazakhs) and is to be found in the Hungarian periodical Élet és Tudomány, 43, 22 December 1982.

Points to note are:

  1. Three of the four instruments are being played with the fingers;
  2. The performances appear to be instrumental (unless the Cossacks were adept at smoking while singing—they could certainly drink while playing!);
  3. Two of the instruments are wire-strung, two probably gut-strung;
  4. Frets seem to be optional

(I am indebted to Peter Kiraly for telling me about these pictures and for sending me copies.)

Click on a thumbnail see a somewhat larger image.

The instrument is apparently wire-strung—note the straight (moveable?) bridge and the strings continuing to a tail-piece; circular sound-hole or rose.

Note the resemblances with the lute (is this Stählin's halbe Laute, or Pandor?): lute-like bridge implies gut strings; chromatic (?) fretting; ‘sickle’-shaped pegbox.

Lute-like bridge implies gut strings; no frets; four strings only; violin-like scroll.

Another wire-strung (?) instrument; straight (moveable?) bridge (the strings cannot be seen continuing to a tail-piece); crude bent-back pegbox with pegs through from the back.

Stop Press

[Since this Introduction was originally written, the existence of a large number of Ukranian paintings of banduras from the 17th to 19th centuries has been brought to the author’s attention by Dr Myroslava Mudrak of Ohio State University. These paintings, in a naive folk style, are illustrations of a well-known Ukranian legendary character, the Zaporizhian minstrel Cossack Mamai, who is almost always portrayed playing his bandora rather than engaging in the more characteristically Cossack pursuits of belligerent horsemanship. These early banduras are indeed lute-like, and are sometimes described as ‘Kobzas’, a name still associated with the Romanian wire-strung lute. Stählin’s use of the phrase ‘half lute’ seems highly appropriate.

This page contains a small selection of such pictures supplied to the author by Peter Kiraly. But a larger number (including some of the same), with details of provenance, etc, can be found here. This is one of the pages of BRAMA, an interesting WWW site for Ukranian art and culture, which includes links to much historical and other information about the (modern) bandura.]

Copyright © 1997 by Tim Crawford All Rights Reserved.

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