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Making, Playing And Composing On The 10 Stringed Lyre Harp: Ancient Hebrew Diatonic 10-Stringed Lyre

It is not immediately apparent, then, that the nine-stringed cruit is an obvious and strong candidate as a platform for an antecedent to our many-stringed harp cerdd dant. But it is worth going into its possible capabilities in detail, for reasons that will become apparent later. The following outline of them is based on the single surviving playing tradition of the large types of lyres used by ancient civilisations: that of the bagana of Ethiopia, whilst bearing in mind the ancient lyres, particularly the kithara of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Making, Playing and Composing on the 10 Stringed Lyre Harp: Ancient Hebrew Diatonic 10-Stringed Lyre


The large ten-stringed lyre, the bagana,[37] is viewed in Ethiopia as having been brought there in remote antiquity from Israel where it had allegedly been the lyre of King David. It is, unequivocally, the Ethiopian equivalent of the various instruments in European depictions of David as musician, depicted in iconography beginning in the early fifteenth century. Although the instrument is now commonly played using the left hand only, it is apparent that the right hand used to wield a plektron, by which I mean a fairly rigid plectrum rather than a very flexible one, shaped with a rounded tip so that the strings are sounded against a curved edge, and the left hand used to be used for damping not just for plucking. It is unclear to what extent the full details of the original plektron technique have been handed down, but I have the impression that at some point, perhaps during the Italian occupation of 1936-1943, much was lost. Of most significance is the abandonment of the tuning up and full sounding of half of the strings. To the knowledge of Stéphanie Weisser,[38] the author of the Doctorate thesis on the bagana,[39] there was only one player in 2004-5, the master Alemu Aga, who still used the plektron, and it is from his plektron technique that its basic elements, so vital in unlocking the ancient use of large lyres, can be understood.[40]

My hope is that these suggestions will prompt detailed explorations and enable some conclusions to be drawn, as to whether solo lyre playing would have had a significant impact on the shaping of piobaireachd in its early development, or whether it would have taken a form substantially unrelated to piobaireachd and perhaps more akin to our frame-harp cerdd dant. In turn this affects whether we should imagine our late medieval cerdd dant as having had a precursor played on the nine-stringed cruit, on the angular harp or on the timpan (as suggested in Chapter X), or even that it had been forged anew on the frame harp.


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