Kanklės from Suvalkija and Žemaitija

Kanklės from Aukštaitija



String instruments are categorized according to the manner of playing, as either plucked (kanklės) or bowed instruments (puslinė).

Kanklės - the oldest, most archaic Lithuanian folk musical instrument.  Legends and old stories assert that the Lithuanian vaidilos, or bards, once sang about heroic feats to the accompaniment of kanklės; they played kanklės during sacrifices to the gods, during sacred rituals, and as protection against evil spirits or death.  Stories told by old people associate the kanklės with death.  When making kanklės, the best wood was believed to come from deep forests, and the best time for cutting the tree was thought to be between a person’s death and funeral.  If the deceased were greatly mourned, then the kanklės were thought to have a sorrowful, bitter voice. 

Kanklės are classified according to their shape and number of strings, into three regional types:  (1) Northeast Aukštaitija, (2) Northwest Aukštaitija and Žemaitija, and (3) Northwest Žemaitija and Suvalkija.  Historical documents mention kanklės in Lithuania Minor (today, the Kaliningrad District), but little is known about these instruments. 

The body of the kanklės is carved from a single piece of wood—linden, maple, black alder, or oak.  It has a trapezoid shape: One end is narrow, the other is wide.  A metal rod is attached into the narrow end to hold the strings.  Holes are cut or burned into the wide end for the pins with which the strings are tightened.  The resonating board on the top side is made of spruce, attached to the body of the kanklės with wooden or metal tacks or glue.  Strings made of gut, copper or steel are stretched lengthwise across the instrument.  The strings are played with the right hand fingers or with a pick made of wood, bone, or feather. 
While playing, the kanklės are held that the end with the shortest string is held towards the player.  The kanklės of Northeastern Aukštaitija are carved in a rounded or hexagonal shape out of a single piece of wood.  The wide end is higher than the narrow end.  The narrow end has raised edges through which a metal rod is inserted to hold the strings.  Sometimes the rod was inserted through a goose quill, to hold the strings more tightly.  Holes are burned or carved in the wide end of the kanklės, for wooden pegs.  The top of the kanklės is decorated with a six-, five- or four-point star, or with small openings burned through the plate. 
 Five-string kanklės are most typical.  The tones of the shortest and longest string are tuned by ear to an interval of a fifth.  The remaining strings are tuned in seconds to produce a major, minor or tempered scale.  While playing, the kanklės are held on the knees, on a table, or on the stomach (while lying on the back).  Vocal sutartines make up the repertoire of Northeast Aukštaitija kanklės. 

The kanklės of northwestern Lithuania (Aukštaitija and Žemaitija) have a flat bottom.  The body has a quadrilateral shape, and is of a uniform height.  The narrow end is either cut off, or it tapers to a rounded end (characteristic of northwest Aukštaitija), or is carved in the shape of a semicircular fish or bird tail (characteristic of Žemaitija).  The strings are attached to a metal rod which is either fastened into the body of the instrument, or, less commonly, held by tacks.  Nine- or twelve-string kanklės are most typical.  The kanklės are tuned to a diatonic, usually major scale.  The shortest string is tuned either by ear or in tune with another instrument, with the eighth string tuned an octave lower and the remaining strings tuned diatonically.  The northwestern kanklės are placed on the knees, on a table, or hung below the chest.  The repertoire consists of homophonic folksong or dance melodies. 

The northwestern Žemaitija kanklės are similar to the northwestern Aukštaitija and Žemaitija kanklės, but the wide end is either slightly rounded or ends in a spiral shape.  The distinguishing feature of the Suvalkija kanklės is the narrow end, which spreads out markedly in a rounded shape.  The strings are attached to a metal rod inserted in two wooden supports.  The strings are tuned with wooden or (more recently) metal pegs.  In contrast to kanklės from other regions, Suvalkija kanklės are richly ornamented.  They are tuned in the same way as northwestern Aukštaitija and Žemaitija kanklės.  They are held either horizontally or almost vertically on the knees.  The Suvalkija kanklės repertoire is that of song and dance music.  The northeastern Aukštaitija kanklės were played at home, alone, at a certain time of day, usually in the evening.  The other regional forms of kanklės were played alone as well, but also as entertainment for neighbors at various events including weddings and Christenings. 

The most famous Lithuanian kanklės players were: Jonas Ivanauskas (1853-?, Birzai County, Papilio District, Pakapines Village), Petras Lapiene (1864-1962, Birzai County, Kviriskio household), Jonas Plepas (1867-1955, Birzai County, Papilio District, Dukurniu Village), Stasys Abromavicius (1874-1955, Raseiniai County, Lyduvenu household), Kazys Masaitis (1864-?, Kaunas County, Seredziaus District, Padubysio Village), Petras Zonys (1839-1938, Telsiai County, Aigirdziu District, Badaukiu Village), Ambroziejus Kalvaitis (approx. 1857-1916, Sakiai County, Sintautu District, Katiliu Village), Simas Popiera (1900-?, Marijampole County, Sasnavos District, Saliamono-Budos Village), Pranas Puskunigis (1860-1946, Marijampole County, Veiveriu District, Skriaudziu Village). 


Puslinė - a string instrument played with a bow – is made of a flexible hazelnut or spruce branch bent and tied with a twisted gut string or a fiber string rubbed with wax or resin.  An inflated, dried bladder (usually from a pig), with dried peas inside, rubbed with ash or dirt, is inserted between the branch and the string.  The string is played with either a stick or a bow.  The note is varied by pressing the string with a finger.  This instrument plays the bass accompaniment for folk dances.  The puslinė was known throughout the territory of Lithuania.