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What is a harp

Gusli is a stringed musical instrument, the most common in Russia.

The harp is a flat box-resonator with strings stretched over it. Under various names – cannel, kankles, kok-le, kantele, kusle, kesle – this multi-stringed plucked instrument is known among the peoples of the Baltic and Volga regions.

Gusli has been known in Russia since the 11th century. In shape, the pterygoid gusli was distinguished, also called voiced or arched, and helmet-shaped. Both of them, while playing, were kept on their knees, but on the first strings they were plucked with a special thin plate – a plectrum, and on the second – with the fingers of both hands. At the end of the XVI – beginning of the XVII century. rectangular gusli were created in Russia. They had a table-shaped case with a lid, inside it stretched to 66 strings. When playing, the strings were plucked with the fingers of both hands, the sounds turned out to be loud, long undamped.

Now three varieties of gusli are common: voiced, plucked and keyboard. Voiced gusli – direct heirs of the ancient pterygoid gusli. They usually take the form of a trapezoid. When playing, the performer holds them on his knees, extracting sound in several ways: he plucks the strings with the fingers of both hands or only with his right hand, and muffles the strings with his left; uses the plectrum, then the sound becomes especially sonorous. They play on this psaltery and rattle, like a balalaika. At the beginning of the XX century. musician-ethnographer, conductor NI Privalov and hussler O. U. Smolensky reconstructed this type of gusli: they gave them a triangular shape, increased the number of strings from 5–9 to 13, created ensemble gusli – piccolo, primo, viola and bass. Currently, only prima is used primarily. Soviet performer D. Lok-shin designed chromatic sonorous harps, which greatly expanded the artistic possibilities of the instrument.

Pinch harp – advanced rectangular harp. They consist of a metal frame on wooden legs with strings stretched over it. Their scale is chromatic; chords and even various polyphonic pieces can be played on them. Numerous strings are placed on two levels: on the top are strings configured diatonically, on the bottom are strings giving missing chromatic sounds.

Keyboard harp was designed by the closest associate of V.V. Andreev – N.P. Fomin. The device, appearance and range are similar to plucked gusli, but all the strings are located in the same plane, and above the strings there is a box with a system of silencers – dampers. They control this whole system with 12 keys of one octave of piano keyboard located on the edge of the damper box. When a key is pressed, the damper associated with it rises and opens the strings corresponding to this sound at once in all octaves. Most often, arpeggiated chords are played on keyboard harps. With his right hand, the performer guides the pick (a thin plate with a pointed end) along the strings, and with the left hand presses the necessary keys. With the help of the pedal located at the keys, all the dampers immediately rise. With the pedal depressed, the keyboard harp can be used as plucked.

In the modern Russian folk orchestra, this particular type of gusli is used; in professional groups there is a duet of plucked and keyboard gusli.

Gusli story

A gusli is a musical instrument, whose name in Russia refers to several varieties of lying harps. Psalted psaltery resemble the Greek psalter and the Jewish kinnor; these include: Chuvash gusli, Cheremis gusli, clavier-shaped gusli and gusli, resembling the Finnish kantele, the Latvian Kukles and the Lithuanian Kankles.

The Chuvash and Cheremis gusli bear a striking resemblance to the images of this instrument preserved in the monuments of our antiquity, for example, in the manuscript service of the XIV century, where the person playing the gusli is represented in the capital letter D, in Makaryevskaya Chetie-Minei 1542, etc.

In all these images, the performers hold the harp on their knees and hook the strings with their fingers. In exactly the same way, the Chuvash and Cheremis play on the harp. The strings of their gusli are intestinal; their number is not always the same. Psalter-like gusli brought to Russia by the Greeks; the Chuvash and Cheremis borrowed this instrument from the Russians (see also: Mari music).

The clavier-shaped gusli, still encountered today, mainly among the Russian clergy, is nothing more than an improved form of psalter-shaped gusli. This instrument consists of a rectangular resonance box with a lid that rests on a table. Several round cutouts (voices) were made on the resonance board, and two concave wooden blocks were attached to it.

On one of them, iron pegs are screwed in, on which metal strings are wound; the other bar plays the role of a prune, that is, it serves to attach the strings. Keyboard-shaped harps have a piano system, with the strings corresponding to the black keys placed below the corresponding white keys.

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