Here’s an odd treat shared by the venerable Lemmy Caution. I pass it along to you, dear readers, because it is the closest-sounding thing I’ve ever heard to the mysterious instrument of Washington Phillips. This music is heavenly, ancient, stunningly beautiful, crystaline and stately. I would even call it celestial, because it suggests a lilting dance that takes place in the upper reaches of the great blue firmament’s invisible constellations, between its starry denizens and sparkling darkness.
Eino Tulikari (1905-1977) was born in the village Halsua in the Pohjanmaa region. He was the most accomplished player of our national instrument, the kantele, in his time. He started studying it when he was five or six, and took part in a competition when he was ten. Before the competition, the jury announced that the winner shall play for the dances that were to be held later in the evening. Eino would have won the competition, but since he wasn’t old enough to be allowed to lead the dances, his big brother Oskari, who also took part in the competition, was declared winner.
Tulikari’s home region, the Perhonjoki valley, was a flourishing music center. In addition to Eino and his three brothers , the kantele was also mastered by neighbours Matti and Ilmari Karvonen, and Vesteri Tuominiemi played the violin.
Eino Tulikari studied in the Helsinki Music Institute, but after a year he decided to find a more secure way of making a living, so he moved to Jyväskylä and became a teacher in 1931.
As a teacher, Tulikari kept playing as his hobby, and in 1975, two years before his death, he cut an album for the National Music Institute. Here’s that album remastered for CD, with four 1956 recordings for national broadcasting company YLE added. He is recognized as one of the old masters, and in fact this recording was the first issued by the Finnish Folk Music Institute in Kaustinen, so his influence is obvious.
A kantele (pronounced [ˈkɑntele] in Finnish) or kannel ([ˈkɑnːel] in Estonian) is a traditional plucked string instrument of the zither family native to Finland, Estonia and Karelia. It is related to the Russian gusli, the Latvian kokle and the Lithuanian kanklės. Together these instruments make up the family known as Baltic Psalteries.
The oldest forms of kantele have 5 or 6 horsehair strings and a wooden body carved from one piece; more modern instruments have metal strings and often a body made from several pieces. Modern concert kanteles can have up to 40 strings. Modern instruments with 15 or fewer strings are generally more closely modelled on traditional shapes than the concert kantele, and form a separate category of instrument known as small kantele. The playing positions of concert kantele and small kantele are reversed, i.e., to the player of a small kantele the longest low pitched strings are farthest away from his body, whilst to a concert kantele this side of the instrument is nearest, and the short high pitched strings farthest away. The instruments have different though related repertoires.
Robert Stigell’s Väinämöinen (1888) decorating the Vanha Ylioppilastalo (Old Studenthouse) in Helsinki holds humankind’s first kantele made of the giant pike’s jawbone as told in Kalevala.
The kantele has a distinctive bell-like sound. The Finnish kantele generally has a diatonic tuning though small kantele with between 5 and 15 strings are often tuned to a gapped mode missing a seventh and with the lowest pitched strings tuned to a fourth below the tonic as a drone. The Estonian kannel has a variety of traditional tunings. Concert versions have a switch mechanism (similar to semitone levers on a modern folk harp) for making sharps and flats. Players hold the kantele in their laps or on a small table. There are two main techniques to play, either plucking the strings with their fingers or strumming unstopped strings (sometimes with a matchstick).
There have been strong developments for the kantele in Finland lately. Education for playing the instrument starts in schools and music institutes up to conservatories and the Sibelius Academy, the only music university in Finland. Even some artistic doctoral studies are being made at the Academy with traditional, western classical and electronic music. In Estonia, studying the kannel has made a resurgence after some years of decline. A Finnish luthiery, Koistinen, has developed also an electric kantele, which employs pick-ups similar to those on electric guitars. It has gained popularity amongst Finnish heavy metal composers, such as Amorphis.
In Finland’s national epic, Kalevala, the mage Väinämöinen makes the first kantele from the jawbone of a giant pike and a few hairs from Hiisi’s stallion. The music it makes draws all the forest creatures near to wonder at its beauty. Later, after losing and greatly grieving over his kantele, Väinämöinen makes another one from a birch, strung with the hair of a willing maiden, and its magic proves equally profound. It is the gift the eternal sage leaves behind when he departs Kaleva at the advent of Christianity.
The following is a summary of Poems No. 39-44 from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, which explain the mythological birth of kantele:
Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen set out to steal the Sampo from Pohjola. In the course of the journey, their boat runs aground on the shoulders of a giant pike. Väinämöinen kills the pike and fashions a kantele from its jawbone. No one else is able to play the instrument, but Väinämöinen holds all living things spellbound with his playing.
Väinämöinen puts the people of Pohjola to sleep with his kantele playing and the Sampo is taken to the travellers’ boat and rowed away. The people of Pohjola awaken and Louhi, the mistress of Pohjola, sends obstacles in the path of the raiders to hinder their escape. The seafarers survive, but the kantele falls into the sea. Louhi sets off in pursuit and transforms herself into a giant bird of prey. In the ensuing battle the Sampo is smashed and falls into the sea. Some of the fragments remain in the sea, but others wash ashore and bring Finland good fortune and prosperity. Louhi is left with only the worthless lid of the Sampo and an impoverished land.
In vain, Väinämöinen seeks the kantele which fell into the sea. He makes a new kantele from birchwood and his playing once again delights the whole of creation.
1. Kantelemarssi (Kantele March)
2. Valssi Halsualta (Waltz From Halsua)
3. Pirunpolkka (Devil’s Polka)
4. Niemen-Kallen jenkka (Kalle Niemi’s Jenka)
5. Oskarin valssi (Oskari’s Waltz)
6. Masurkka (Mazurka)
7. Tulikarin sottiisi
8. Kulkurin valssi (Vagabond’s Waltz)
9. Hevosmiesten marssi (March of the Horsemen)
10. Voi jos ilta joutuisi (Oh, If the Evening Would Come Soon)
11. Alotusmarssi (Starting March)
12. Hääpolska (Wedding Polska)
13. Koko maailman valssi (Waltz of the Whole World)
15. Syyskuun ilta (September Evening)
16. Polkkasikermä (Polka Medley)
17. Tofferin Viljamin marssi
18. Polkansiruja (Shards of Polka)
20. Valssi Purpurista
21. Vanha marssi n:o 1 (Old March Nr. 1)
22. Vanha valssi (Old Waltz)
23. Niemen Kallen jenkka
320kbs mp3, full scans
thanks to Lemmy Caution & da origina uppa
see also this Kantele page & dissertation