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Gusli– the oldest Russian multi-string instrument

Гусли (gusli) is the oldest Russian multi-string instrument. Thought its history is not known, experts think that it may have derived from the ancient lyre. The Greek historians Theofilact and Theophan were the first to mention that instrument while relating a war episode in the end of the 6th century. The Greeks had captured Slavonic prisoners and among other goods, they found гусли.

Similar instruments can be found in many countries all over the world, with different names. The term гусли comes from ancient Slavic and simply means string, as a generic term. It is used as an accompaniment to songs, especially folk tales.

Гусли is a wooden instrument with strings. The number of strings can vary depending on the type of гусли from a simple 5 five strings one as it was common in the 12th and 13th century up to 36. The instrument is played by letting the right hand running up and down the strings while the left hand is muting the unnecessary ones.

You can find different types of гусли:

  • Шлемовидные гусли (helmet-shaped gusli) was popular in southern and western regions of the Kievan Rus. The player is sitting with the instrument on his knee. His right hand up and down the strings, while his left hand mutes the unnecessary strings.
  • Крыловидные гусли (wing-shaped gulsi) that you could find in Northern part of Russia. It was held like a guitar, still with the left hand muting the unnecessary strings through a hole
  • Клавирообразные гусли (keyboard gusli) appeared in the 19th century. It had an iron frame and metal strings. It stood on a stand. It was played by pressing the keys of a keyboard that would move specific strings.
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You can see original гусли from the 13th and 14th century in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture and гусли players can often be seen and heard in Kolomenskoe Museum-reserve during the summer season.

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