Lyre (plucked instrument)

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Lyres , also yoke noisy , are a group of plucked string instruments , the strings parallel to the ceiling extend. Two arms protruding from the resonance body are connected to one another at their outer end by a cross bar ( yoke ) to which the strings are attached.

Lyres and harps are the oldest musical instruments with multiple strings known from illustrations. Their origins are with the Sumerians in Mesopotamia around 2700 BC. Around the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Chr. Lyres called kinnor can be found in the Levant as well as in two different designs as lyra and kithara in the 1st millennium BC. In the eastern Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptian lyres were probably models for the instruments still played on the Nile today . The clove lys in particular have reached the south via Nubia and are widespread in East Africa. The most well-known Ethiopian musical instruments include the box lyre krar and beganna . In the classical Arabic music lyres have not found acceptance, but they are as accompanying instruments of ballads singers in Nubia and in parts of the Arabian Peninsula popular. In the European Middle Ages, minstrels accompanied their singing with the psaltery , which appears as a lyre in some illustrations.

Apollo brings a libation to a bird . He has a lyra with a turtle shell trapped under his left arm in a typical playing position. Delphi around 460 BC Chr.

Etymology and Origin

“Lyre” is derived from the Greek  λύρα , “lyra”, “lira”, which in ancient times generally meant “plucked instrument”. The term was taken over from the Latin “lyra” in Old High German , where “lira” meant indiscriminately lyres and harps (ahd. “Harpha”), and later changed to Middle High German “lire”. In the European Middle Ages, "lira" denoted other stringed instruments such as the stringed lira da Braccio and Lira da gamba as well as hurdy-gurdy ( lira ) in addition to the instrument genre classified as a lyre according to the Hornbostel-Sachs system and the harps . In today's Greek folk music, the Cretan lyra , a pear-shaped string lute, is played, in Italy the lira calabrese, which is related to it .

The word “lier” experienced a shift in meaning in German from “playing the lyre” to “monotonous” and “uniformly repeating”. The evenly rotating movement of the hand crank is typical of the hurdy-gurdy and the organ barrel .

The simplest stringed instruments are stick zither , where a straight wooden stick acts as a string carrier. With the music bows this stick is curved. From here the evolutionary path leads to the harps, which differ from the lyres in that they have strings perpendicular to the ceiling. The lyres are an independent development parallel to the harps. They are differentiated according to the type of box and cup veins. In the first case, its body is composed of boards, in the second it consists of a semicircular natural shell or a shell carved out of a block. Another possible division is according to the shape and length of the arms into symmetrical or asymmetrical lyres.

Ancient lyres

Sumerian bull songs

The archaeologist Leonard Woolley with the plaster cast of a Sumerian bull's veil. After finds from the royal tombs of Ur

The oldest Sumerian musical instrument is depicted on a clay tablet from the late Uruk period at the end of the 4th millennium. It shows a three-string harp with a boat-shaped body from which a string carrier extends. Of the wooden instruments themselves, nothing was preserved except for connecting parts and metal decorations that were found in graves. Such parts from the 26th century have been well preserved in Queen Puabi's tomb no. 800 . After it was uncovered by Leonard Woolley in the 1920s, it was believed that a kind of harp lyre could be reconstructed from it. A second one with an animal figure was placed on top of a sound box, creating a very unusual instrument. Other archaeologists soon questioned this reconstruction. In fact, it was incorrectly assembled from parts of several lyres and harps that had been in the tomb. There were two harps with a boat-shaped body and a lyre with a bull's head.

In addition to these lyre fragments, other parts and numerous images of lyres from the first half of the 3rd millennium BC were found in the royal tombs of Ur . Found on seal unrolling . Bull's heads are characteristic of the oldest known Sumerian lyres, which are located on the right side of the body when viewed from above. The most common type of instrument was a large standing lyre; smaller lyres held in front of the upper body that were played while sitting or standing were less common. The early lyres had four strings that were arranged in parallel with the large ones, with the small ones they were stretched in a fan shape to the crossbar according to the diverging yoke arms. This was roughly parallel to the upper edge of the body. The bull was a sacred animal and a widespread symbol of fertility; it appears early on as a bucranion (decorative motif with a cattle skull) in Tell Halaf . Since ancient Babylonian times, the sacred drum lilissu was covered with a bull skin in a sacrificial ritual . Gods can be recognized as such with horns on their heads. In this understanding, it forms the resonance body of the lyres, the stand-up lyres even represent a bull complete with legs, torso and head. Its back formed the upper side, i.e. the middle between the outgoing arms. The large instrument was set up on the floor with the bull's legs, while the smaller one shows little more than the head of the bull. Occasionally the lyres also had cow and deer heads or a human figure with horns. Its body was probably flat, some could also have been curved. Music was an important part of Sumerian cults and enjoyed a high social reputation.

Mosaic of a bull's lyre on the standard of Ur . Upper right scene on the "Peace Panel", one of two sides of a wooden box, around 2500 BC. From the royal cemetery of Ur.

In addition to Mesopotamia , bull lions were widespread in Elam (location Susa ), Failaka in the Persian Gulf and in Syria ( Mari ). The lyres depicted on seals in Ur and Šuruppak have five strings like the contemporary harps, which can also be seen in a depiction from Mari around 2500 BC. Up to now, it has been attached to the transverse wood by means of cord loops, here for the first time the wooden sticks inserted into the loops appear for the first time, with which fine tuning was possible by twisting. The use of these tuning rods is secured by finds and illustrations.

In addition to the five-string instruments, there were also those with eight strings. The lyres with an elongated flat resonance box and a stylized bull's head were portable and had parallel strings. A depiction in a royal tomb of Ur from the 1st Dynasty shows a lyre with eleven parallel strings. Further images and remains indicate that the lyres were more important than the harps. The metal parts and insert plates have been preserved; in one case the archaeologists reconstructed the shape of a lyre with ten or eleven strings from the imprint that the rotten wood had left in the earth. In the case of two other instruments, a height of 100 to 140 or 90 to 120 centimeters and eight to eleven strings could be safely deduced from the location. The Sumerians held the lyres upright and played them with their fingers.

With the large lyres, the strings ended at the top of the body, with the small ones they were now brought to the floor, which reduced the difference in string length between the two designs. This made the installation of a footbridge necessary. This important innovation was initially only intended to keep the strings at a distance from the body; it was only later that improved vibration transmission was achieved with it. With regard to the instrument classification, the change from the upper to the lower edge of the string attachment marks the transition from the defined harp shape to the lyre shape.

Flat-bottomed veils

Limestone relief from the time of King Gudea of Lagaš . At the bottom left is a lyre with eleven strings, whose tuning rods can be clearly seen. Bull figure out of place on the front yoke arm. Around 2120 BC Chr.

The new instruments with strings running parallel across the top and across a bridge had to be equipped with differently shaped resonance boxes. Previously, they consisted of a stylized, rounded animal body, but the new type of string attachment on the underside made a flatter and wider box necessary. Together with the tuning rods and the increased number of strings from four to five, a more geometric design was developed, which is delimited by the term flat-bottomed vaults. The earliest known flat-bottomed lyre is dated 2400 BC. Dated. Around 2000 BC These medium-sized lyres from Mesopotamia over the Levant to Egypt displaced the bull's lyres. In the east they were plucked with the fingers, in the west often with an opening pick . One of the last bull's songs was an instrument from the southern Mesopotanian town of Lagaš , which was no longer built with the original understanding of the connection between the bull symbol and the body , in which a bull hangs inappropriately in the middle of the front yoke bar.

Late Assyrian Period

In the 1st millennium BC In the east, few harps and lyres are known from the Neo-Babylonian and late Assyrian times . Most of the smaller instruments of this time are depicted on wall reliefs in Nineveh . They are partly asymmetrical in shape and have inwardly curved arms of different lengths with inwardly curved crossbars and five to seven strings. The flat, rectangular resonance box is clamped under the left arm while standing and held forward at an angle. A simple lyre with parallel arms made of thin wooden rods can also be seen. The depicted Assyrian lyres from the 9th to 7th centuries BC Chr. Were played with a plectrum except for one. Altogether - apart from the missing old bull's leashes - quite diverse forms of varying quality were in use, which is related to the numerous peoples who had been brought to Mesopotamia from the conquered surrounding regions. The lyre forms reflect the different musical cultures of the individual peoples. In contrast, only two types of angle harps are known from the late Assyrian period.


Foreign musicians on arrival in Egypt. Symbolic drawing similar to the mural in Beni Hasan from 1903

A mural in the rock tombs in Beni Hasan , Egypt shows the oldest illustration of a biblical lyre (around 1900 BC) carried by a delegation of strangers on their arrival in Egypt. A man of the group, interpreted as Joseph's brothers, holds a symmetrical lyre horizontally in front of him while walking and plucks it with a pick.

In Palestine and the entire Levant, the most common name for a box-shaped flat-bottomed lyre was kinnor . The Western Semitic word is not known in the Akkadian language of the east, it is found around 2300 BC. In a modified spelling in Ebla . In the 14./13. In the 19th century there were lyres called kinnor in Ugarit , but kinnor only occurs once around 1200 BC. BC in Egypt. This flat-bottomed lyre became best known through 42 mentions in the Old Testament , where it is described as " David's harp" as an attribute of King David . Around the middle of the 1st millennium BC The kinnor used in cult music in the Jerusalem temple had six or ten strings and was plucked with a plectrum . A slightly larger, deeper sounding lyre with twelve strings was called nevel . The nevel was also played in the temple, but plucked with the fingers.


The oldest stringed instruments in the Aegean were the triangular harps of the Cycladic culture from the middle of the 3rd millennium. Marble sculptures just over 20 centimeters in size show seated harp players plucking with their left hand, whose instrument rests on the outside of the right thigh and has a forward protruding bird's head-like extension. In the Minoan culture of Crete a 1400–1200 BC carries The sarcophagus in the palace of Agia Triada, dated BC, was one of the first depictions of the lyre. The strings are (almost) parallel and of the same length. It is a Bronze Age round bottom veil or bowl veil typical of the eastern Mediterranean region , which dates back to 2200 BC. Replaced the missing harp. It is possible that the Cycladic harp developed into the Minoan lyre, but the adoption and modification of Sumerian box lyre in the middle of the 2nd millennium is more likely. The Minoan musicians are since the 16./15. Century depicted standing or walking and wearing their lyre on the left. They very likely plucked the strings with an opening pick rather than their fingers like the Cycladic harpers. The Palestinian box lyre shown in Beni-Hasan could have been the model not only for the Egyptian, but also for the Minoan lyres.

In the palace of Pylos in the Peloponnese was around 1300 BC. A round lyre is depicted, which either belongs to a sacrificial scene or shows a singer at a royal banquet. It had a slender body with curved arms and a loop with which the player could clamp it under the left arm. The strings probably ran up to two rings on the floor. For the first time, the body was not made of wood, but of a turtle shell covered with animal skin. Outside the Aegean, only one such vellum was found in the Nile Delta .

Beginning of the 1st millennium BC Numerous cup veils were depicted on the geometric style ceramic. The shape of the round bottom is recognizable, otherwise most of the images are poorly preserved. Cypriot statuettes from the 7th to 5th centuries show the same round-bottom veils. Around this time, the differently shaped Aegean lyres began to develop separately from the less varied eastern flat-bottomed lyres.

Apollo with a seven-string kithara . Roman fresco from the Palatine Hill

Lyres were held in high esteem in ancient Greece, their mythical inventors Apollon and Hermes were portrayed as playing the lyre. According to tradition, Orpheus was the son and disciple of Apollo. Another son was the musician Linos . Together with Amphion , the son of Zeus , Orpheus and Linos were considered to be the inventors of the song accompanied by the lyre, which was said to have miraculous powers.

The classical Aegean lyres date back to between 600 and 400 BC. From the older, only briefly occurring lyre forms, a few permanent types developed. To about 50 Attic vases are kitharas shown, in which a small cylindrical body is fixed between the resonance box and the yoke arms. That is why they are more precisely called cylinder kitharas . Their sound box is straight at the bottom. The oldest instruments probably come from Ionia , from where they spread westward via Athens to Etruria .

Kithara generally stands for a large Greek lyre, its Roman counterpart was called cithara . None of these elaborate concert hymns were preserved, but the shape can be reconstructed from images on vases, coins and gems . The oldest red-figure vase pictures with kitharas around 625–600 BC. BC come from Crete. The arms were attached to the body in a somewhat flexible manner by strips of skin or thin wooden plates. The advantage of a flexible construction is clear from the way it is played: The musician, who usually plays while standing, not only plucked the string to be played, but also stroked all the strings back and forth with the pick in his right hand. With the fingers of his left hand, he muffled all the strings on the other side that should not be heard. The melody tone was thus supplemented by a rhythmic rasping noise. If he now pressed harder against the strings, the frame gave a little, the free string was relaxed and emitted a deeper tone. This playing technique is still used today for some lyres in Nubia and Ethiopia. A slightly smaller shape is called the cradle kithara because of its rounded body . It was played mainly by women sitting down.

In addition to the kithara , Homer mentioned in the 9th century BC The name phorminx for round-bottomed lions. The names lyra and xelus also appear in his hymn to Hermes . Both labeled round-bottomed lashes. The bowl-shaped lyra is much better known from Homer's description and illustrations than the phorminx and concert kithara, only the question of whether there were rotatable tuning rods or sliding tuning knobs on the crossbar is controversial. There is a tendency towards tuning levers that were inserted between loops and that could be moved in a circle for tuning. The resonance body of the lyra or chelys consisted of a turtle shell covered with animal skin, other bowl veils had a body made of wood or brass. The preserved turtle shells are provided with small holes on the edge to which the yoke arms and the skin cover were attached. The diameter of the largest tanks was 43 centimeters. Such cloves were restricted to the Aegean Sea. The name chelys is derived from the Greek chelona (χελώνα), "turtle", and stands next to the lyra for the somewhat larger "turtle lily " barbitos .

Sappho and at the left margin Alkaios on a Kalathos around 470 BC Both hold an eight-string barbitos in their hands

The barbitos was a veil from the Aegean Sea, whose heyday was in the 6th century BC. And which was used by the poets Sappho , Alkaios and Anakreon for singing. The barbitos comes mainly from the vase paintings of the archaic period of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. BC before. In contrast to the lyra , the turtle shell is smaller, but the strings are longer and produce a deeper tone. They end at a crossbar that connects two long, thin and elegantly inwardly curved arms. The resonance box was flat with a round top and indentations at the corners. According to the numerous illustrations, the instrument owned around 500 BC. The greatest importance; after the 5th century the instrument had completely disappeared, but the lyra and kithara remained popular. While the lyra represented an educated urban class and the kithara the classical music culture, the barbitos was the accompanying instrument for light entertainment and dances. The same description fits the instrument of the Thracian singer Thamyris , who was blinded for his presumptuous attempt to challenge the Muses to a singing competition and is shown with a broken lyre.

Old Egypt

Egyptian box lyre of the 18th Dynasty, 1340–1290 BC Chr. New Museum in Berlin

The earliest box-veils in ancient Egypt date from the 20th century BC. BC, at the time of the Middle Kingdom , depicted in the rock tombs of Beni Hasan . The strings are off-center, which can be attributed to a drawing error. The Egyptian lyres, whose origins lie in Mesopotamia, experienced their greatest distribution between the 16th and 11th centuries BC. In the New Kingdom . They could have been introduced by nomads from Palestine ( Hyksos ?), As they were called ʿamu , like the local residents . Most of the lyres shown are held at a 45-degree incline in front of the upper body, horizontal and vertical playing positions are less common.

In ancient Egypt, singers were valued more than instrumentalists, and cult music was centered around singing. Only the flutes, because like the voice, are directly stimulated by the living human breath, had a similar meaning. The harpers known by name were probably primarily singers who accompanied each other on the harp. A "Tasa" from the 25th dynasty has survived as the only female lyre player . A lyre was found next to her mummy, but she may have acted more as a singer and dancer. The musical instruments probably produced little more than a drone tone that was held for a long time in the case of wind instruments or plucked in several voices in the case of string instruments to accompany singing. There was evidently a living memory of the Mesopotamian origin of the Egyptian lyres even in the Ptolemaic period (4th – 1st century BC), which was expressed in bull head decorations on several types of lyre.

Special shapes of the Egyptian lyres are the deep box lyre, the resonance body of which consists of a wooden frame with a curved front and back. The yoke arms were stuck diagonally through the box and ended as carved horse or duck heads, some as lotus flowers. There was a round sound hole in the front. At the time of Akhenaten around 1350 BC there was Giant veils taller than a man with animal heads on the yoke arms, as can be seen on stone reliefs and in Amarna on wall paintings. Judging by the clothes, the musicians who played them came from the Levant. In contrast to the other lyres, the Egyptian giant lyres have no Mesopotamian models.

European lyres in the Middle Ages and in the present

In Hellenism , round-bottomed lizards spread across the Mediterranean to southern Arabia . Across the entire area of ​​the Roman Empire , mosaics depict lyres in mythological scenes, which were named testudo after the Latin word for “ turtle ” . Several images of the lyre are known from the Roman Empire . The Upper Austrian State Museum made an important find in 1951 when a large relief plate with the so-called "Enns Orpheus" came to light during the excavation of a late Roman cemetery in Enns . The well-preserved depiction shows Orpheus singing , kneeling on the floor and playing a five-string veil with both hands. Judging by the position of the pick in his right hand, this Orpheus muffled all the strings that were not supposed to sound with the outstretched fingers of his left hand.

Around the middle of the 1st millennium, the lyres briefly disappeared until a new type of lyre appeared in Central Europe. Lyre fragments with a narrow shape similar to the Roman lyres from the 6th to 9th centuries have been found in England, Germany and Sweden. The poet Venantius Fortunatus (* around 540; † 600–610) mentions a crotta Britanna . A stone illustration around 500 by Lärbro on the Swedish island of Gotland can also be interpreted as a lyre .

In southern Germany, an Alemannic aristocratic grave contained several long rectangular lyres, the body of which, including the yoke arms, was made from one piece of wood. The Trossinger lyre is a completely preserved specimen from this grave find near Trossingen , which is dated to around 580 AD. The lyre find from nearby Oberflacht comes from the 6th or 7th century. In the grave of the "Franconian singer", an unknown nobleman buried in precious robes under the church of St. Severin in Cologne, a lyre from the 8th century was found that was lost in World War II. The lyre from Oberflacht was relatively small at 52 centimeters, the Cologne lyre was about 73 centimeters.

Several early medieval round-bottomed veils are known from the British Isles , including one from a 7th century ship's grave near Sutton Hoo in Suffolk . In the English market town of Masham in the county of North Yorkshire , after a detailed analysis, the heavily eroded relief on an Anglo-Saxon stone column from the beginning of the 9th century was a portrait of King David as a psalmist with three accompanying figures. There were David images in early medieval English sculpture more common, however, this scene is unique and evidence of the coexistence of lyres and harps. King David appears with his lyre at the top left, a harpist is reconstructed a little lower on the right. At the bottom left there was a clerk at a standing desk and at the bottom right presumably a dancer. The lyre from Masham was about 65 to 70 centimeters long and had the usual format for the time.

In the 12th century, some images still resembled King David's instrument, whose attribute in Christian art was the lyre. The 24 old people of the Apocalypse (according to Revelation 4.4) symbolize the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. They carry stringed instruments, including the lyre, as a sign of praise to God.

Rotta , a lyre with a fingerboard. Illustration in the Vivian Bible . In the 9th century, this type of lyre was still plucked, from the 11th century it was canceled.

Lyres are mentioned in the old English poetry Beowulf from the 8th century and in the Norse collection of myths Lieder- Edda . The term hearpan des Beowulf appears for the first time as harpha in German literature by the poet Otfrid von Weißenburg (around 790–875) . It is unclear whether this meant harps, lyres or stringed instruments in general. In Germany, the round bottom lyre was called cythara teutonica in the 9th century . In a script from the 12th century that was lost in 1768, the illustration of a triangular frame harp with twelve strings is called cythara anglica . The word can therefore be translated as “English harp”. Cythara teutonica and cythara anglica also stand for lyre and harp in the three-volume history of church music by Martin Gerbert De cantu et musica sacra, a prima ecclesiae aetate usque at praesens tempus from 1774. The second volume contains images of musical instruments that Represent copies of the mentioned manuscript from the 12th century. The fact that harps were known in addition to lyres in the 12th century is also evident from an illumination that is contained in the Hortus Deliciarum , a religious encyclopedia written between 1176 and 1196. The original burned in 1870, but various copies exist. One illustration shows a woman playing the harp, on whose instrument the name cithara is written on the neck . The cithara was obviously used to designate two different types of instruments, the name suffixes were used with a certain degree of probability only to distinguish and have nothing to do with their geographical distribution.

The early medieval minstrels accompanied each other on a lyre called psalterium , which could be triangular, square or trapezoidal. Later, the Psaltery became a dulcimer played with mallets .

A transition stage from the yoke to the neck are the string veins with a fingerboard, which north of the Alps were called rotta and crwth . The origin of the words is unclear, they go back to the crotta Britanna of Venantius Fortunatus. It is likely that different stringed instruments were given this name at first. The fretboard veins have a fingerboard under the strings running in the center of the yoke, on which at least some of the strings can be pressed down. The earliest illustration of such a lyre in Europe that was still plucked can be found in the middle of the 9th century in the Vivian Bible in the possession of Charles the Bald . With the introduction of the bow in Europe around the 11th century, the crwth began to be deleted as well.

According to one of several dissemination theories, a variant of the Welsh crwth without a fingerboard was the model for the group of Scandinavian string veins, which is verified by a stone sculpture made in the cathedral of Trondheim in Norway in the second quarter of the 14th century , but possibly already around that 12th century were known. They have an elongated body with a relatively small opening on one side formed by the yoke construction. Through this opening, the musician shortens one or two of the maximum four strings from below with the fingers of the left hand, while with the right hand he usually strokes the bow over all strings at the same time. Through research at the beginning of the 20th century, the talharpa , traditionally played by the Estonian Swedes , became particularly well known (for the presumed origin of the type of instrument see there), a Finnish variant is the jouhikko . Both strings are occasionally played again in folk music today, while the two-stringed bowed lyre gue of the Shetland Islands disappeared in the 19th century.

With the development of new, mostly asymmetrical forms, the music teacher Edmund Pracht (1898–1974) and the instrument maker Lothar Gärtner (1902–1979), both pupils of Rudolf Steiner , introduced lyres to curative and school education from 1926 onwards . They worked first in Dornach and later in Constance . The freedom of design of the instrument genre allows the construction of lyres true to the anthroposophical canon of forms. The ancient Greek tradition formed the basis for the mystical transfiguration of the lyre, which was regarded by Prachtner and gardeners as the "original instrument".

Today's lyres in Africa and Arabia


Several African string instruments can be traced back to ancient Egyptian ancestors. The oldest Egyptian bow harps have an external resemblance to today's East African harps such as the Ugandan ennanga . The in the 16th century BC The angular harp that was added in BC was only retained in shape in the Mauritanian ardin . Ancient lyres found their way up the Nile to Nubia and on to East Africa in the first centuries after the turn of the times , but remained practically of no importance in classical Arabic music . The name of the biblical kinnor was changed to Arabic al-kinnāra or kinnīra in early Islamic times , but the Arabic transcription qītāra from the kithara for a rectangular lyre was rarely mentioned. Lyres were not very familiar to the ancient Arabs. A lyre called miʿzaf is documented up to the 10th century . In the 11th century, at the time of the Fatimid dynasty, there were lyres in Egypt, later their names can no longer be distinguished from those of the lute instruments and drums . Kinnāra could then mean a lyre, a drum ( ṭabl ) or a square frame drum ( daff ) .

The last known professional musicians of the ancient Egyptian temple cult were the cymbal player ʿAnch-hep and the harper Horudja in the 1st century AD. By this time the country had long since come under the political and cultural sphere of influence of the Persians, Greeks and Romans. Long after the older Mesopotamian-Syrian box lyre, the round bowl veil seems to have been introduced into Egypt only in the Hellenistic period, that is, presumably from the Aegean Sea. These two types of lyre are found today in East Africa , the Arabian Peninsula from Sinai to Yemen and in the north from Israel via Syria to Iraq , although they are only regularly played in parts of the area and in folk music.


Kisir . Cupped veil from a turtle shell with tuning pegs. Henna painting with Fatima hand . Ethiopia, 19th century

Early rock carvings of lyres in Nubia allow the Meroitic high culture on the Nile to play a mediating role in the spread of the lyres to the south. In the north of Sudan , the five-string vellum with the Nubian name kisir (also kissar, kisser ) is the most popular musical instrument. Its name is related to the Greek kithara (but not to the Semitic kinnor ), which is taken as an indication that the lyre was dated from 332 BC onwards. BC Ptolemies ruling Egypt or was brought to Nubia a little later. One of the first descriptions of a lyre from the area around Dongola was given in 1776 by the explorer Carsten Niebuhr . The Nubian (and Ethiopian) lyres are played like the ancient lyres from the Aegean Sea by stroking all the strings with the pick and covering the unwanted strings with the fingers.

The body is carved from the wood of the Nile acacia ( Acacia nilotica ) and covered with camel or cow skin. The skin is wrapped around the entire wooden bowl while wet, it contracts and becomes firm as it dries. In the past, the body corresponded to the usual wooden eating bowl (koos) , but today metal bowls , steel helmets or large calabashes can be used instead. The five wire strings (siliki) are attached to an iron ring at the lower end and run to the crossbar, which forms a simple trapezoid with the branch wood yoke arms. The strings are traditionally attached to the bar by knotted strips of fabric on the crossbar, and rotating pegs are also installed in the urban instruments in Khartoum . At the lower end, a “donkey” (kac) called round wood serves as a “string support”, that is, as a bridge.

In Arabic, the vellum in Sudan is called tanbūra ( tumbūra , also rababa ). A slightly larger version with six strings called tanbūra is at the center of a tsar cult. In this cult of possession, widespread in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula , the tanbūra is the only melodic instrument in ritual music. The possessive spirit is evoked and soothed by songs. The tanbūra has two circular holes in the fur blanket, which are interpreted as eyes through which the spirit looks into the human world. The tanbūra is decorated with colored cloths and hung with cowrie shells and amulet pouches. As the embodiment of the spirit, their food is offered as an offering. The instrument has a magical meaning that is comparable to that of the plucked gimbri , which is played in possession ceremonies in the Maghreb , and the goge of the Hausa . The “eyes” - tanbūra , came through black African slaves to the Shatt al-Arab in southern Iraq, where the instrument is also used in popular Islamic disease ceremonies.

Red Sea, Persian Gulf

On the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, semi-nomadic Bedouins play the five-string trapezoidal box lyre simsimiyya (also semsemiya ) with a pick. The wire strings are tuned with modern metal pegs on the wide cross yoke. Other accompanying instruments for the story-telling music groups are the single-string fiddle rababa , the Arabic lute ʿūd and the longitudinal flute nay . Frame drums, metal pots and petrol cans provide the rhythm. In some port cities on the Suez Canal , danceable light music with the simsimiyya as a melody instrument, which is still popular today, was created in the middle of the 19th century . This lyre also accompanied poetic singers in Aden at the southern end of the Red Sea until the 20th century .

In the Arab countries on the Persian Gulf , the tanbūra is played, which essentially corresponds to the Nubian lyre of the same name. In addition to southern Iraq, there is the tanbūra ( tambūra ) and the associated healing ceremonies in Kuwait , Bahrain , Qatar and Oman . Participants in the events are Arabs who trace their roots back to Africa. The tanbūra of the Gulf region has six gut strings that are attached to the crossbar of a triangular frame with strips of fabric. A cow horn serves as the pick. During the ritual, the tanbūra player appears together with a dancer who has wide belts ( mangur, manjūr ) tied around his hips, to which a multitude of goat hooves are attached. The fabric or leather belt produces rhythmic rattling noises during the dance; there are also three or more single-headed cylinder drums. The interplay of stringed instruments and rattling in the tsar possession ritual corresponds to the combination of gimbri and the vascular rattle qarqaba in the Maghreb.


Ethiopian box lyre krar with tuning rods

Lyres with a body made of wooden boards occur almost exclusively in Arabia outside of Ethiopia . Between the 1st and 4th centuries, lyres spread from Meroitic Nubia to the kingdom of Aksum . Since then, the smaller box lyre krar and the larger beganna have been known in Ethiopia . Beganna , played only in the religious music of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church , has been documented by name in manuscripts since the 15th century. According to tradition, the mythical ruler Menelik I is said to have received the lyre from his father, the biblical King Solomon .

The krar , related to kisir and kithara , is the secular counterpart of the beganna in Ethiopia. Its body consists either of a trapezoidal wooden box or of a bowl shape. In addition to the single-stringed spike violin masinko, it is the accompanying instrument of ballad singers ( azmaris ) in Tej bets (restaurants where Tej honey wine is served). Krar strings are stimulated according to the ancient method mentioned by striking ( strumming ) or by plucking the individual strings with the plectrum.

In addition to Amhara , lyres are played in Ethiopia by Oromo , Afar , Somali , Kaffa and Hamar , among others . In addition to a longitudinal flute and a three-string bow, the southwestern Ethiopian Hamar also use a five-string lyre. Its body consists of a turtle shell covered with the skin of beef or warthog . The thin yoke arms are pushed through the skin and not fastened any further. The strings are made from twisted, sun-dried beef tendons. When the skin is dry, four holes are made and a few small stones are inserted inside. The strings run over a bridge made of a round wooden stick. The cup-lions of the Dizi in southern Ethiopia are called gāz (large), čoyngi (normal), kunčʿa (medium-sized), kibʿä (smaller) and bar (small) with decreasing size . The largest lyre with six strings was only allowed to be played by nobles at weddings and funerals of heads of heads and corresponded in its sacred meaning to the beganna . The remaining five-string lyres are - unusual for Ethiopia - not only used individually for private entertainment, but also by several musicians in large lyre orchestras.

East Africa

The distribution area of ​​the lyres in East Africa extends in the west to the upper reaches of the Uelle and in the Ituri district in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo , in the south to the Buhaya region and to the island of Ukerewe in northwest Tanzania. The lyre came south from Nubia in two possible ways: In the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 19th century, the Luo migrated up the White Nile from southern Sudan to Uganda and Kenya and probably brought lyres with them. At least for some instrument names , Gerhard Kubik found a linguistic relationship between the local and Ethiopian lyres. He therefore suspects an Ethiopian influence for some. A five-stringed, played with a pick Leier, whose body is made of a longitudinally halved and trough-shaped hollow stem piece is, at the Ingassana -Sprechern in the east of Sudan to the Ethiopian border Jangar . The Schilluk pluck the identical instrument tom with their fingers. A bard thus accompanies price songs to the king ( reth ) and describes the deeds of the mythical founder Nyikang, who is revered as god.

The spread of the lyres in Uganda took place within a few generations. From the Bagwere in the east of the country, the Soga in the Busoga region adopted the lyre entongoli with nine strings. In Soga area typical of Africa change took place: From a general dislike of a clear tone was dispensed onto the web so that the lower portions of the strings against the ceiling scaly dragon stripes -Haut and add a rattling sound. As a mid-19th century Soga musician at the court of the Kabaka of Buganda played music, the Ganda-gurdy was endongo . John Hanning Speke reported in 1862 that a lyre was played at the court of Mutesa I. He wrongly called the instrument the “harp” and gave it the name “tambira” based on the Sudanese lyre.

With the entongoli and the endongo , the skin is tied and fixed with a square skin flap on the underside. Most other lyres have a tension ring made of strips of skin or plant fibers, to which the cover is lashed with a zigzag cord. There are no lyres in northern Uganda. The Acholi and Langi who live there play the eight or nine-string arch harp adungu .

With the Luhya in western Kenya, the seven-string lyre litungu is exceptionally attached to the edge of the bowl with wooden pegs or nails. The Luo now also attach the skin of their eight-string lyre nyatiti , which they play with the fingers of both hands, with wire pins.

The nyatiti is seen as a luck-bringing and harm-preventing instrument, even when it is no longer playable. Nyatiti musicians should have relationships with ancestral spirits , be proficient in fortune telling and healing arts. Great nyatiti are only played by men, but the instrument is considered female, so playing it creates a man-woman relationship. In general, lyres in western Kenya have a magical meaning in addition to their entertainment function at weddings. Similar to this, lyres (bangia, shangar) are used in healing rituals in eastern South Sudan .

Eight-string bowl lyre endongo from Uganda. Tropical Museum , Amsterdam, before 1955

In older lyres, the strings consist of twisted animal tendons or intestines. Most of the time, all strings are made of the same material, only the endogo has three high strings made of thin, twisted sisal , the others are made of cattle or goat tendons, including sheep skin. In the colonial days, sporty Englishmen brought tennis rackets with them, the strings of which are now used on some Kenyan lyres.

The playing position of the Ugandan and Kenyan lyres is different from the ancient tradition. The seated musician holds the lyre in both hands diagonally in front of him on his lap and plucks the high strings with the fingers of his left hand and the low strings with his right hand. With the endongo , three strings are plucked from the left and five from the right.

The greatest similarity to the ancient Greek lyra is shown by the pagan (or pkan ) veil of the Pokot in north-western Kenya , which was made with strings from muscle tendons and - a rarity for Africa - from a turtle shell until the 1950s. Since then, a wooden bowl or a tin can has been used for the body. The thin yoke arms are stuck in holes that have been burned into the skin as they have been for two millennia.

The African explorer Richard Francis Burton described lyres in the East African lake region in 1859 . Under the name kinanda he mentioned three different stringed instruments, obviously a box zither, a musical bow and a bowl veil, the latter as the "primitive prototype of a Greek lyra". Bowls from the 19th century have been preserved in the museum, the body of which consists of a human skull (originating from the enemy) with yoke arms made from animal horns and known as kinanda . The cult instruments are hung with hair, ostrich feathers , cowries and the like.


  • David E. Creese: The Origin of the Greek Tortoise-Shell Lyre. (PDF; 6.3 MB) MA. Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 1997.
  • Hans Hickmann: The music of the Arabic-Islamic area. In: Bertold Spuler (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Orientalistik. 1. Dept. The Near and Middle East. Supplementary Volume IV. Oriental Music. EJ Brill, Leiden / Cologne 1970, pp. 1-134.
  • Hans Hickmann: Ancient Egyptian Music. Ibid., Pp. 135-170.
  • Wilhelm Stauder: The music of the Sumer, Babylonians and Assyrians. Ibid., Pp. 171-244.
  • Marianne Bröcker, Gerhard Kubik , Rainer Lorenz, Bo Lawergren: lyres. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present . (MGG) Sachteil 5, 1996, Sp. 1011-1050.
  • Ali Jihad Racy: The Lyre of the Arab Gulf: Historical Roots, Geographical Links, and the Local Context. In: Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje (Ed.): Turn up the Volume. A Celebration of African Music. UCLA, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles 1999, pp. 134-139.
  • Curt Sachs : Reallexicon of musical instruments, at the same time a polyglossary for the entire field of instruments. Julius Bard, Berlin 1913, sv "Lyra", p. 247 f.
  • Klaus Wachsmann , Bo Lawergren, Ulrich Wegner, John Clark: Lyre. In: Grove Music Online, 2001
  • Ulrich Wegner: African string instruments. (New part 41. Department of Music Ethnology V.) Museum für Völkerkunde Berlin 1984, pp. 93–113, 147 (on kinanda ) and 155.

Web links

Commons : Lyres  - collection of images, videos, and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Johannes Hoops (ed.): Reallexikon der Germanischen antiquity . "Harp and Lyre" Volume 14. De Gruyter, Berlin 1999, ISBN 978-3-11-016423-7 , p. 2.
  2. "Playing the lyre, then dragging on something unbearable." Friedrich Ludwig Karl Weigand: German dictionary. Second volume. First division. J. Rickersche Buchhandlung, Giessen 1860, p. 33.
  3. MGG, Sp. 1038.
  4. Carl McTague: The Lyre of Ur.
  5. Stauder: The Music of the Sumer, Babylonian and Assyrian, pp. 176-181.
  6. MGG, Col. 1014.
  7. Stauder: The Music of the Sumer, Babylonian and Assyrian, p. 182.
  8. Stauder: The Music of the Sumer, Babylonian and Assyrian, pp. 204-206.
  9. ^ John Stainer: The Music of the Bible with some Account of the Development of Modern Musical Instruments from Ancient Tires. 1879. New Edition: Novello, London 1914, p. 18 ( ).
  10. Creese, pp. 33f, Fig. 10.
  11. MGG, Col. 1016f; Joachim Braun: The musical culture of old Israel / Palestine: Studies on archaeological, written and comparative sources. (= Publications of the Max Planck Institute for History). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1999, ISBN 978-3-525-53664-3 , pp. 40, 45.
  12. Jürgen Thimme (Ed.): Art and Culture of the Cyclades. Handbook of an Ancient Civilization. Karlsruhe State Museum. Verlag CF Müller, Karlsruhe 1977, Figs. 39, 65, 77.
  13. ^ Creese, p. 13.
  14. Creese, p. 35.
  15. MGG, col. 1022; Creese, p. 49.
  16. MGG, Sp. 1022f.
  17. MGG, Col. 1034.
  18. See Dorothee Dumoulin: The Chelys. An ancient Greek stringed instrument, part I. In: Archives for Musicology, Volume 49, Issue 2, 1992, pp. 85-109; Part II, Issue 3, 1992, pp. 225-257
  19. Jane McIntosh Snyder: Barbitos. In: Grove Music Online , 2001
  20. Sheramy Bundrick: Music and Image in Classical Athens . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2005, ISBN 978-0-521-84806-0 , pp. 21-24.
  21. ^ Hickmann: Altägyptische Musik , pp. 146, 154.
  22. Hans Hickmann: Western Asia and Egypt in musical exchange. In: Journal of the German Oriental Society , Volume 111, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1961, pp. 24–41, here p. 32f.
  23. MGG, Sp. 1018-1020.
  24. ^ Francis W. Galpin: The Music of the Sumerians and their Immediate Successors, the Babylonians and Assyrians. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1937, p. 32.
  25. Othmar Wessely : On the newly excavated Enns "Orpheus". In: Yearbook of the Upper Austrian Museum Association. 98th Volume, Linz 1953, pp. 107-113 ( PDF (1.2 MB) on ZOBODAT ).
  26. Heinrich Beck, Dieter Geuenich, Heiko Steuer (Ed.): Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde . Volume 26. De Gruyter, Berlin 2004, p. 160.
  27. ^ Graeme Lawson: An Anglo-Saxon harp and lyre of the ninth century. In: DR Widdess, RF Wolpert (Ed.): Music and Tradition. Essays on Asian and other musics presented to Laurence Picken. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1981, pp. 229-244, here p. 238.
  28. ^ Marinus Jan Hendrikus van Schaik: The Harp in the Middle Ages: The Symbolism of a Musical Instrument. Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam / New York 2005, p. 32f.
  29. Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde , Volume 26, p. 162.
  30. ^ Marianne Bröcker: Rotta. 4. Fretboard Ribbons - Crwth. In: MGG Online, November 2016.
  31. Gjermunt Kolltveit: The Early Lyre in Scandinavia. A survey. In: V. Vaitekunas (ed.): Tiltai, Volume 3, University of Oslo, Oslo 2000, pp. 19-25, here p. 23.
  32. An instrument goes around the world. The history of the gardener's lyres. ( Memento from November 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) W. Lothar Gärtner Atelier for Leierbau.
  33. ^ Hickmann: The music of the Arab-Islamic area , p. 63f.
  34. Artur Simon : Music of the Nubians. Double CD. Museum Collection Berlin 22/23. Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin 1998, supplement p. 14f.
  35. Wegner, p. 110f.
  36. Osama Kamal: Songs of semsemiya. ( Memento of April 3, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Al Ahram Weekly, 24. – 30. June 2010.
  37. Racy, pp. 138f.
  38. ^ Ivo Strecker: Music of the Hamar, South Ethiopia. Booklet, p. 10, of the CD: Nyabole. Hamar - Southern Ethiopia. Berlin Phonogram Archive, Department of Ethnic Music, National Museums in Berlin. WERGO 2003.
  39. Eike Haberland : The material culture of the Dizi (Southwest Ethiopia) and its cultural-historical context. In: Paideuma, Volume 27, Frobenius-Institut, 1981, pp. 121–171, here p. 140.
  40. Wegner, p. 99.
  41. MGG, Col. 1045.
  42. MGG, Col. 1045.
  43. ^ Nyatiti. Dirk Campbell; BEN BADDOO playing the Nyatiti. Youtube video.
  44. picasaweb. Kenya 5 (photo of a litungu with nail attachment).
  45. Racy, S. 138th
  46. Wegner, pp. 103-110.
  47. Creese, pp. 61f.
  48. ^ Richard Francis Burton: The Lake Regions of Central Equatorial Africa. In: Norton Shaw (Ed.): The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. Vol 29. John Murray, London 1859, online at google books .
  49. ^ Betty Warner Dietz, Michael Babatunde Olatunji: Musical Instruments of Africa. Their Nature, Use, and Place in the Life of a Deeply Musical People. The John Day Company, New York 1965, pp. 76-81. Fig. From Metropolitan Museum of Art , p. 78.