Kannel (instrument)

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Traditional small 6-stringed kannel
Large chromatic kannel from the Estonia Piano Factory in 1988

Kannel (pronounced [ˈkɑnːel]) is an Estonian plucked string instrument (chordophone) belonging to the Baltic box zither family known as the Baltic psaltery along with Finnish kantele, Latvian kokles, Lithuanian kanklės, and Russian gusli. The Estonian kannel has a variety of traditional tunings. In Estonia, studying the kannel has made a resurgence after some years of decline.[1]


According to Finnish linguist Eino Nieminen, the name of the instrument, along with the names of most of its neighbouring counterparts (Finnish kantele, Livonian kāndla, Latvian kokles and Lithuanian kanklės), possibly comes from the proto-Baltic form *kantlīs/*kantlēs, which originally meant 'the singing tree',[2] ultimately deriving from the Proto-European root *kan- ('to sing, to sound'). However, Lithuanian ethnologist Romualdas Apanavičius believes kokles could be derived from the Proto-European root *gan(dh)-, meaning 'a vessel; a haft (of a sword)', suggesting that it may be related to the Russian word gusli.[3]


A kannel player in Järvepää, Setomaa, Estonia ca. 1912.

The kannel became rare in the early 20th century, though surviving in some parts of the Estonian diaspora, until cultural movements under the Soviets encouraged the development and playing of larger chromatic kannels. However, influence from neighboring traditional Finnish kantele players supported the playing of the traditional smaller kannels.[4]

Social role[edit]

A golden kannel pictured in the coat of arms of Petseri County

The kannel serves as a national symbol of Estonia; Jakob Hurt's 1875-1876 publication of Estonian folksongs was even entitled Vana Kannel ("The Old Kannel").[5] The kannel was legendarily played by the Estonian god of song Vanemuine, and the Estonian national epic Kalevipoeg (published in the 1850s) begins with the line: Laena mulle kannelt, Vanemuine! ("Vanemuine, lend me your kannel!").[6]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Postimees: Pärimusmuusika ait lööb uksed valla Archived 2008-04-03 at the Wayback Machine (in Estonian)
  2. ^ Williams, Roger, ed. (1993). "The Singing Tree". Insight Guides: Baltic States. APA Publications (HK) Ltd. p. 85. ISBN 978-9624-2118-2-5. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  3. ^ Romualdas Apanavičius. Ancient Lithuanian Kanklės, Institute of Ethnomusic, Vilnius, Lithuania
  4. ^ Simon Broughton; Mark Ellingham; Richard Trillo (1999). World Music: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Rough Guides. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-1-85828-635-8. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  5. ^ David John Puderbaugh (2006). "My Fatherland is My Love": National Identity and Creativity and the Pivotal 1947 Soviet Estonian National Song Festival. pp. 50–. ISBN 978-0-542-83396-0. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  6. ^ Ethnologia Europaea. 1991. p. 139. Retrieved 13 June 2012.

External links[edit]