Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Musical History Interlude

Probably my favorite folk instrument is the cittern. It has 10 strings (in 5 paired courses) and best can be described as “shaped like a mandolin, but the size of a guitar.”

One of the interesting things about it is its name -- particularly, the resemblance between the word “cittern” and the names of other stringed instruments from different parts of the world and different periods of history. For example, the kithara was an ancient Greek instrument, a form of primitive harp or lyre. More recently came the European zither and guitar, later the Latin American cuatro. Of course, India offers the sitar.

So, what does one do with this comparative information? Well, since kithara recordings are difficult to come by (and zither music isn’t exactly in great demand these years), I suppose one must imagine what the hit songs of, say, the year 50 B.C. might have sounded like.


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