The fiddle belongs to the most popular instruments around the world. It is especially manifold and of outstanding
Vietnamese koni) and lutes with dozens of sympathy strings (like the North Indian sarangi). Which is hardly surprising
as musicologists consider the Central Asian high plateau to be the original homeland of all fiddles worldwide.
Numerous the instruments, equally numerous the outstanding virtuosos: On the four CDs you can hear music form
Raushan Orazbaeva, Habil Aliyev, Kala Ramnath, Derya Türkan, Seikin Tomiyama, Kim Joo-ri, or Gaguik Mouradian.
Additionally there is the recording of a concert held at TFF Rudolstadt 2002 with nine knee fiddle virtuosi from Asia
and Europe, among them Dhruba Ghosh and Kayhan Kalhor.
A four-hour bonus DVD contains a report about this project, a small documentary on the manufacturing of a Svanetian
Huun-Huur-Tu plus exclusively a 35-minute Rababa Concerto written by Marcel Khalilfe.
The bow is burning and moaning like Moses,
(Nizami Ganjavi, Azeri poet, Khosrov and Shirin)
There is no doubt among scholars that bowing a lute was among the latest sound-producing experiments man
undertook in developing his musicianship. After all, the oldest known documents are not older than 5,000 years: A
stone relief in the ancient Sumerian town of Ur shows a knee fiddle of the kamancheh type, i.e. a bowed long-neck
lute with a small body that could have been made of bronze, wood, coconut or pumpkin. Most likely this fiddle was
used in temple music. At those times no bow was used but a frictional rod―a simple resinated wooden staff that was
rubbed over the strings. To this day the koni of the Jörai people in Vietnam is played with such a staff.
The use of a horse-haired bow is a devlopment of hardly more than a thousand years. We find proofs for the Chinese
the tenth century. Which does not answer the question where the bowed chordophone was invented. Does it also, like
so many other instruments stem from the region between Persia and Mesopotamia? Are those Indians in the right who
consider their ravanhatta to be the ur-fiddle? Egyptians claim the patent for their single-stringed rababas while the
renowned Smithsonian Center for Folk Life and Cultural Heritage postulates that “Turkic and Mongolian horsemen
from Inner Asia were probably the world’s earliest fiddlers. Their two-stringed upright fiddles were strung with
horsehair strings, played with horsehair bows, and often feature a carved horse’s head at the end of the neck. … The
violins, violas, and cellos we play today, and whose bows are still strung with horsehair, are a legacy of the nomads.”
A serios theory even says that it were horsemen in the Central Asian graslands who first started to bow their lutes
because when galopping bowing was easier than plucking.
These nomads travelled an area once known as Baktria that was located between the range of the Hindu Kush and the
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and, as a smaller part, to Turkmenistan. Zarathustra stems from there, so does the great Sufi
poet Rumi (Maulana Galal ad-Din Muhammad-e Balchi). From there these instruments eventually spread in all
directions and developed into instruments such as the erhu in China, the rababa in the Middle East, the lyra in the
Byzantine Empire, and the esraj in India.
When trying to follow the path of genealogy, names can be deceptive, though: A rabab in Indonesia is something else
ghijak of Central Asia is almost a generic name for all bowed lutes of Asia; depending on language, culture, and
region, ‘ghijak’ can denote a sarinda (i.e. an instrument with a double-layered resonator box), a kamancheh, or a
spike fiddle with a square (one-layered) resonator, can be round or square, made from wood or metal, have anything
from two to ten strings – each people, sometimes each village or compound, changed it a little bit and adapted it to
its own needs and tastes. So as fascinating it is to trace back the roads the instruments travelled, it is also deceptive –
same names do by no means stand for same instruments.
With the variety of names and forms, materials and styles, histories and stories, it is impossible to try and write an
What is common to all Asian fiddles, though, is that they are held upside down when played, like a Western cello,
most often placed between the legs or on the lap. Terms like ‘lap fiddle’ or ‘knee fiddle’ are used for this kind of
positioning the instrument―an attitude that was formerly also popular in Europe several centuries ago―as we know
from the Finish jouhikko, the Welsh crwth, or the Bulgarian gadulka (to name but three examples)―but was given up