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Elbphilharmonie Explains: The classic kemençe

From night clubs to classical music. Efstratios Psaradellis of the ensemble Sarband explains his instrument.

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                      

Origin: Constantinople

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.

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