The earliest records of the kemençe are found in the writings of 11th century authors, most of them hailing from Central Asia. The pear-shaped politiki lyra was mostly used by Greek immigrants in Central Asia, and in Turkish classical music. By the mid-19th century the kemençe had advanced to become the principal stringed instrument in Ottoman music.
Up to mid-20th century, the kemençe had the reputation of a musical instrument played by the lower classes – e.g. at funfairs and even in night clubs. It was thanks to the well-known Turkish musician and composer Tanburî Cemil Bey (1873-1916), who used it in his own compositions, that it later became a highly-respected instrument for Turkish classical music.
Short and snappy: A profile of the kemençe
Name: Classic kemençe or politiki lyra
Material: Wood, metal strings and a bow made of wood, leather and horsehair
Family of instruments: Stringed instrument (lute)
Playing technique: The bow is drawn across the strings as with a violin. But there is one peculiarity: different notes are produced by pressing the fingernails against the strings from the side, unlike with most instruments, where the fingers are pressed on to the strings from above.