Type: Bowed > Lyres > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.21.71
Region: Many, Western Europe
Description: The rebec is a bowed stringed instrument of the medieval era and renaissance era. The rebec was first referred to the name around the beginning of the 14th century, though a similar instrument, usually called a lira da braccio [arm lyre] had been played since around the 9th century.
Etymology: The name derives from the 15th century Middle French rebec, altered in an unexplained manner from the 13th century Old French ribabe, which in turn comes from the Arabic rebab. A distinguishing feature of the rebec is that the bowl [or body] of the instrument is carved from a solid piece of wood. This distinguishes it from the later period vielles and gambas known in the Renaissance.
History: Popular from the 13th to 16th centuries, the introduction of the rebec into Western Europe coincided with the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. There is however evidence of the existence of bowed instruments in the 9th century in Eastern Europe. The Persian geographer Ibn Khurradadhbih [9th century] cited the bowed Byzantine lira [or lūrā] as typical bowed instrument of the Byzantines and equivalent to the Arab rebab.
The rebec was adopted as a key instrument in Arab classical music and in Morocco it was used in the tradition of Arabic-Andalusian music, that had been kept alive by descendants of Muslims who left Spain as refugees following the Reconquista. The rebec also became a favourite instrument in the tea houses of the Ottoman Empire.
Tuning: The number of strings on the rebec varies from 1 to 5, although three is the most common number. The strings are often tuned in fifths, although this tuning is not universal. The instrument was originally in the treble range, like the violin, but later larger versions were developed, so that by the 16th century composers were able to write pieces for consorts of rebecs, just as they did for consorts of viols.
In Use: In time, the viol came to replace the rebec, and the instrument was little used beyond the renaissance period. The instrument was used by dance masters until the 18th century, however, often being used for the same purpose as the kit, a small pocket-sized violin. The rebec also remained in use in folk music, especially in eastern Europe and Spain. Andalusi nubah, a genre-of-music from North Africa, often includes the rebec.
Citations: Margaret J. Kartomi, 1990 Farmer, Henry George, 1988; Historical facts for the Arabian Musical Influence, Ayer Publishing, p. 137, ISBN 0-405-08496-X; For a possible etymological link between Arabic rebab and French rebec see American Heritage Dictionary
Panum, Hortense 1939; The stringed instruments of the Middle Ages, their evolution and development, London : William Reeves, p. 434 Bachmann, Werner 1969; The origins of bowing and the development of bowed instruments up to the thirteenth century. Oxford University Press. p. 35. Harper, Douglas.