The term is also occasionally used by when referring to a number of other Eastern European string instruments such as the hurdy gurdy and the 5 string guitar (commonly referred to by the diminutive bandurka).
The earliest mention of the term bandura dates back to a Polish chronicle of 1441, which states that the Polish King Sigismund III had a court bandurist known as Taraszko who was Ukrainian ethnicity and was the king's companion in chess. A number of other court bandurists of Ukrainian ethnicity have also been recorded in medieval Polish documents.
The term bandura is generally thought to have entered the Ukrainian language via Polish, either from Latin or from the Greek pandora or pandura, although some scholars feel that the term was introduced into Ukraine directly from the Greek language.
The term kobza was often used as a synonym for bandura and the terms were used interchangeably until mid 20th century. The use of the term kobza pre-dates the first known use of the term bandura. Kobza and was first mentioned in a Polish chronicle in 1313, having been introduced into the Ukrainian language sometime in the 12-13th century. It is thought to have Turkic pedigree.
Occasionally one comes across the combined term kobza-bandura which refers to the dual origins of the instrument, however this is rarely used in spoken Ukrainian.
The term bandoura, a transliteration of the Ukrainian term via French is occasionally found.
The term bandore or bandora can also be found when referring to this instrument. This is an inaccurate translation which made its way into usage through an early Soviet Ukrainian-English and Russian-English dictionaries.
The use of lute-like instruments by the inhabitants of the lands than now constitute Ukraine dates back to 591. In that year Byzantine Greek chronicles mention Bulgars who carried lute-like instruments into battles.
There are iconographic depictions of lute-like instruments in the 11th century frescoes of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, once the capital of a vast medieval kingdom of the Kievan Rus'. It is not known by what specific term these instruments were referred to in these early times, although it has been surmised that the lute-like instrument was referred to by the generic medieval name for a string instrument - husli.
The instrument became popular in the courts of the nobility in Eastern Europe. There are numerous citations mentioning the existence of Ukrainian bandurists in both Russia and Poland. Empress Elisabeth of Russia (the daughter of Peter the Great) was alleged to have secretly married her Ukrainian court bandurist, Olexii Rozumovsky.
Use of the instrument fell into decline amongst the nobility with the introduction of Western musical instruments and Western Music fashions, but it remained the favourite instrument of the Ukrainian Cossacks. After the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich the instrument continued to be played by wandering blind itinerant musicians known as kobzari in Right bank Ukraine.
In the hands of the Zaporozhian cossacks, the bandura underwent significant transformations, due to the development of a specific repertoire. Because of the primary role as an instrument for the accompaniment of the voice, the construction and playing technique in order to better accommodate these changes. At the Zaporozhian Sich, special schools for blind bards were established, setting the foundation for the epic tradition of the kobzar. By the 18th century, the instrument had developed into a form with approximately four or five stoppable strings strung along the neck (with or without frets) and up to sixteen treble strings known as prystrunky strung in a diatonic scale across the soundboard. The bandura existed in this form relatively unchanged until the end of the 19th century.
The development of an unfretted bandura was thought to have happened later, around 1800. This type of bandura superseded the fretted type, and became the ancestor of the modern-day bandura.
The bandura underwent significant change in the 20th century, paralleling the development of Ukrainian ethnic awareness. Sanctions introduced by the Russian government in 1876 (Ems ukaz) severely restricting the use of Ukrainian language also restricted the use of the bandura on the concert stage.
The topic of the minstrel art of the itinerant blind bandura players was brought up for discussion at the XIIth Archeological Conference held in Kharkiv in 1902. It had been believed that the last blind kobzar was (Ostap Veresai) who had died in 1890, however upon investigation six blind traditional kobzars were found to be alive and performed on stage at the conference. Thenafter, the rise in Ukrainian self-awareness the bandura became very popular particularly among young students. Gut strings were replaced by metal strings (standard after 1902). The number of strings and size of the instrument also began to grow to accommodate the sound production required for stage performances and to accommodate a new repertoire of urban folk song.
Subsequent developments included metal tuning pegs (introduced in 1912), additional chromatic strings (introduced in 1925 and a mechanism for rapid retuning of the instrument (first introduced in 1931).
Although workshops for the serial manufacture of banduras had been established earlier outside of Ukraine (in Moscow (1908), and Prague (1924)), continuous serial manufacture of banduras was started in Ukraine in sometime in the 1930s. After World War II, two factories dominated the manufacturing of banduras: the Chernihiv Musical Instrument Factory (which produced over 30,000 instruments from 1954-1991) and the Trembita Musical Instrument Factory in Lviv (which has produced over 3,000 instruments since 1964).
The first mentions of an institution for the study of bandura playing date back to 1738 to a music academy in Hlukhiv where the bandura and violin were taught to be played from music. This was the first music school in Eastern Europe and prepared musicians and singers for the Tsarist Court in St Petersburg.
In 1908, the Mykola Lysenko Institute of Music and Drama in Kiev began offering classes in bandura playing, instructed by kobzar Ivan Kuchuhura Kucherenko. Kucherenko taught briefly until 1911, and attempts were made to reopen the classes in 1912 with Hnat Khotkevych, but the death of Mykola Lysenko Khotkevych's subsequent exile in 1912 prevented this from happening. Khotkevych published the first primer for the bandura in Lviv in 1909. It was followed by a number of other primers specifically written for the instrument, most notably those by Mykhailo Domontovych, Vasyl Shevchenko and Vasyl Ovchynnikov, published in 1913-14.
Formal conservatory courses in bandura playing were reestablished only after the Soviet revolution, when Khotkevych returned to Kharkiv to teach at the Muz-Dram Institute. This development was prompted by the establishment in 1923 by Vasyl Yemetz of a bandura school in Prague with over 60 students. Other courses in bandura instruction were begun in 1930 at the conservatories in Kyiv and Odessa. By 1932-33, however, in order to control the rapid rise of Ukrainian self-awareness severe restrictions were placed on Ukrainian urban folk culture and all bandura classes in Ukraine were disbanded.
After World War II, and particularly after the death of Joseph Stalin, these restrictions were relaxed and bandura courses were again re-established in music schools and conservatories in Ukraine, initially at the Kyiv conservatory under the direction of Khotkevych's student Volodymyr Kabachok, who had recently released from a gulag labor camp in Kolyma.
Today, all the conservatories of music in Ukraine offer courses majoring in bandura performance. Bandura instruction is also offered in all music colleges and most music schools, and it is now possible to get advanced degrees specialising in bandura performance and pedagogy. The most renowned of these establishments are the Kyiv and Lviv conservatories and the Kyiv University of Culture, primarily because of their well-established staff. Other centers of rising prominence are the Odessa Conservatory and Kharkiv University of Culture.
Many bandurists and kobzars were systematically persecuted by authorities that controlled Ukraine at various times. This was because of the association of the bandura with specific aspects of Ukrainian history and also the prevalence of religious elements in the kobzar repertoire that eventually was adopted by the latter-day bandurists. Much of the unique repertoire of the kobzars dealt with the legacy Ukrainian Cossacks. A significant section of the repertoire consisted of para-liturgical chants (kanty) and psalms which were sung by the kobzari outside of churches as the latter were often suspicious of and sometimes hostile to kobzars' moral authority.
In the 1930s, Soviet authorities took measures to curtail nationalistic aspects of Ukrainian culture (see Russification). This included any interest in the bandura. Various sanctions were introduced to limit cultural activities that were deemed nationalistic. When these sanctions proved to have little effect on the spreading of such cultural artifacts, bandurists often came under harsh persecution from the Soviet authorities. Many were arrested and some executed or sent to labor camps. At the height of the Great Purge in the late 1930s, the official State Bandurist Capella in Kyiv was changing artistic directors every 2 weeks because of these arrests.
In recent years significant evidence has come to light that an ethnographic conference for bandurists, specifically for blind kobzars and lirnyks, was organised in Kharkiv in December of 1933 which was attended by an estimated 300 blind musicians who were subsequently executed.
After the death of Joseph Stalin the severe policies of the Soviet administration that persecution against bandurists were halted. Many bandurists who had been shot or sent off to labor camps were "rehabilitated". Some returned to Ukraine. Conservatory courses were once again re-established as was the serial manufacture of instruments by musical instrument factories in Chernihiv and Lviv.
Although direct and open confrontation ceased, the Communist party continued to control the development of bandura art. The chief propagators were not only Communist Party members but in some cases Communist party administrators. (i.e Professor S. Bashtan was the first secretary of the Communist Party at the Kyiv conservatory for over 30 years). A policy of feminization of the bandura restricted the number of male bandurists able to study the bandura at a tertiary level (kobzarstvo had originally been an exclusively male domain). This was perplexing as there was only one professional ensemble and it was made up wxclusively of male players. The feminization of the instrument changed significantly changed the repertoire of the bandurist from a heroic epic tradition to one singing songs of love. Restrictions existed in obtaining instruments and control was exercised in the publication of musical literature for the bandura. Only specific trusted performers were allowed to perform on stage with severely censored and restrictive repertoire. These restrictions continued to leave a significant impact on the contemporary development of the artform.
The back of a traditional bandura is usually carved from a solid piece of wood (either willow, poplar, cherry or maple). Since the 1960s, glued back instruments have also become common; even more recently, banduras have begun to be constructed with fiberglass backs. The soundboard is traditionally made from a type of pine, usually spruce. The wrest planks and bridge are made from hard woods such as birch.
The instrument was originally a diatonic instrument, and despite the addition of chromatic strings in the 1920s, it has continued to be played as a diatonic instrument. Most contemporary concert instruments have a mechanism which allows for the rapid retuning of the instrument into different keys. These mechanisms were first included in concert instruments in the late 1950s.
TheStarosvitska or authentic traditional banduras: also sometimes referred to as Classical or old-time bandura.
These instruments usually have some 20-23 strings and are hand-made, with no two instruments being exactly the same. The backs are usually hewn out of a single piece of wood. Wooden pegs hold the strings which are tuned diatonically. Traditionally these instruments had gut strings, however at the beginning of the 20th century common performance practice changed over to steel strings.
The Kyiv-style or academic bandura: these are the most common banduras in use today in Ukraine. These instruments have 55-65 metal strings tuned chromatically through 5 octaves, with or without retuning mechanisms. The instruments are known as Kyiv-style banduras because they are constructed for players of the Kyiv style technique pioneered by the Kyiv Bandurist Capella. Because the playing style was based on the techniques of the kobzars from Chernihiv the instrument is occasionally referred to as the Chernihiv style bandura.
These instruments exist in two main types: Standard prima instruments and concert instruments which differ from the Prima instruments in that they have a retuning mechanism placed in the side of the instrument.
Concert Kyiv-style banduras were manufactured by the Chernihiv Musical Instrument Factory and continue to be made by the Trembita Musical Instrument Factory in Lviv. Rarer instruments also exist from the now defunct Melnytso-Podilsk and Kiev workshops.
These instruments are primarily made by craftsmen outside of Ukraine; however, in more recent times, they have become quite sought after in Ukraine. They are strung either diatonically (with 34-36 strings) or chromatically (with 61-65 strings).
The Kharkiv bandura was first developed by Hnat Khotkevych and Leonid Haydamaka in the mid 1920's. It was later refined by the Honcharenko brothers. A number of instruments were made in the 1980s by Vasyl Herasymenko. Currently Canadian bandura maker Bill Vetzal has focused on making these instruments with some success. His latest instruments are fully chromatic with mechanism and are made of fibreglass.
Attempts have been made to combine aspects of the Kharkiv and Kyiv bandura into a unified instrument. The first attempts were made by the Honcharenko brothers in Germany in 1948. Attempts were made in the 1960s by Ivan Skliar, and in the 1980s by V. Herasymenko and more recently by Bill Vetzal in Canada.
Orchestral banduras were first developed by Leonid Haydamaka in Kharkiv 1928 in order to extend the range of the bandura section in his orchestra of Ukrainian folk instruments.
Other instruments (Kyiv style) were developed by Ivan Skliar for use in the Kyiv Bandurist Capella, in particular alto bass and contrabass sizes. these instruments were not commercially available and were made in very small quantuties.
In 1910 the first composition for the bandura was published in Kyiv by Hnat Khotkevych. It was a dance piece entitle "Odarochka" for Kharkiv-style bandura. Khotkevych prepared a book of pieces in 1912, but because of the arrest of the publisher, it was never printed. Despite numerous compositions being composed for the instrument in the late 1920s and early 30's, and the preparation of these works for publication, little music was published in Ukraine.
A number of bandura primers were published in 1913-14 by Mykhailo Domontovych, Vasyl Shevchenko and Vasyl Ovchinnikov which contained arrangements of Ukrainian folk songs with bandura accompaniment.
In 1926, a collection of bandura compositions was compiled by Mykhailo Teliha, which was published in Prague.
Hnat Khotkevych also prepared a number of collections of compositions and arrangements for the bandura in 1928, however because of dramatic changes within the Soviet Union none of these collections were published.
Professional Ukrainian composers only started composing seriously for the instrument after World War II. Composers such as Mykola Dremliuha, Anatoly Kolomiyetz, Yuriy Oliynyk and Kost Miaskov have created complex works such as sonatas, suites, and concerti for the instrument.
In recent times more Ukrainian composers have started to incorporate the bandura in their orchestral works with traditional Ukrainian folk operas such as Natalka Poltavka being re-scored for the bandura, and contemporary works such as Kupalo by Y. Stankovych and The Sacred Dnipro by Valery Kikta incorporating the bandura as part of the orchestra.
The premier ensemble pioneering the bandura in ensemble performance in the West has been the Ukrainian Bandurist Chorus.
Numerous similar ensembles have also become popular in Ukrainian centres with some small ensembles becoming extremely popular.