Cobza [Ukraine]

Name: Cobza.
Type: Lute > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.321.5-6
Country: Ukraine.
Region: Eastern Europe.

Description: The cobza [in Ukrainian: кобза / cobza] also called bandurka is a Ukrainian folk music instrument of the lute family. In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system the applied number is 321.321-5+6. The cobza a relative of the Central European mandora. The use of the term cobza has been applied to a number of instruments that are distinct from the Ukrainian cobza.

Etymology: The term cobza is of Turkic origin and is related to the terms kobyz and komuz, thought to have been introduced into the Ukrainian language in the 13th century with the migration of a sizeable group of Turkic people from Abkhazia settling in the Poltava region. It was usually played by a bard or minstrel known as a kobzar occasionally in earlier times a kobeznik, who accompanies his recitation of epic poetry called duma in Ukrainian.

The Kobza acquired widespread popularity in the 16th century, with the advent of the Hetmanate [Cossack state]. From the 17th century the term bandura was often used as a synonym for the kobza. The term bandura has a Latin pedigree and reflects the growing contacts the Ukrainian people had with Western Europe.

Particularly in the courts of Polish gentry. Ukrainian musicians that found employment at various German courts in the 18th century were called “pandoristen”. One of these musicians, Timofiy Bilohradsky, was a lute student of Sylvius Leopold Weiss and later became a noted lute virtuoso, a court lutenist, active in Königsberg and St. Petersburg.

In the 18th century the kobza’s upper range was extended with an addition of several unstopped treble strings. These strings are known as “prystrunky”, a word meaning “strings on the side”, in a psaltery-like configuration. In the early in the 20th century the kobza went into disuse. Currently there is a revival of authentic folk kobza playing in Ukraine, due to the efforts of the “Kobzar Guild” in Kiev and Kharkiv.

The kobza revival however, is impeded by the absence of museum specimens: with the exceptions of a unique surviving 17th century kobza at the Muzeum Narodowe in Kraków and a 19th-century kobza, which has been refurbished as a bandura, at the Museum of Theatre and Cinematography, in Kiev; almost all evidence is entirely iconographic and some photos from the 19th century.

Modern Ukrainian Cobza: There are currently two different approaches to kobza construction: authentic fretless reconstructions, produced by adherents for the recreation of authentic folk traditions, and modern stylized fretted instruments based on a modified domra design. To date there have been no attempts to reconstruct earlier fretted kobza of the 18th century.

Fretless Cobza: The term kobza was often used as a synonym for bandura and the terms were used interchangeably until the mid-20th century. The use of the term kobza pre-dates the first known use of the term bandura. kobzar Ostap Veresay [1803–1890] is today considered the foremost kobza player of the 19th century despite the fact that he referred to his instrument as a bandura.

He was a representative of the playing tradition stopping the strings along the neck but without frets. Veresay’s instrument had six single unstopped strings mounted along the treble side of the instrument and six stoppable strings strung along the neck. The strings strung along the neck and side are plucked by the right hand with the left hand stopping the strings on the fingerboard.

Citations: S. Lastovich-Chulivsky “Kobza-Bandura” 1989 Gregory F. Barz, Timothy J. Cooley (eds.) 1997, Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 187 The Krakow Museum Narodowe Kobza; K.Cheremsky Традіційне Співоцтво, Kharkiv “Athos” 2008; Archived February 10, 2009, at the Wayback Machine; Mystetsky festival “Kobzarska TRІYTSYA” at; Piotr Kowalcze, “Sympozjum: Teorban w polskich zbiorah muzealnych” Warsaw 2008

Bibliography: Diakowsky, M. – A Note on the History of the Bandura. The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S. – 4, 3-4 №1419, N.Y. 1958 – С.21-22 Diakowsky, M. J. – The Bandura. The Ukrainian Trend, 1958, №I, – С.18-36 Diakowsky, M. – Anyone can make a bandura – I did. The Ukrainian Trend, Volume 6 Haydamaka, L. – Kobza-bandura – National Ukrainian Musical Instrument. “Guitar Review” №33, Summer 1970 (С.13-18) Mishalow, V. – A Brief Description of the Zinkiv Method of Bandura Playing. Bandura, 1982, №2/6, – С.23-26 Mishalow, V. – A Short History of the Bandura. East European Meetings in Ethnomusicology 1999, Romanian Society for Ethnomusicology, Volume 6, – С.69-86 Mizynec, V. – Folk Instruments of Ukraine. Bayda Books, Melbourne, Australia, 1987 – 48с. Cherkasky, L. – Ukrainski narodni muzychni instrumenty. Tekhnika, Kiev, Ukraine, 2003 – 262 pages. ISBN 966-575-111-5

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