The kanklės is the Lithuanian manifestation of the Baltic psaltery, related examples of which appear throughout the region (Finnish kantele, Latvian kokle, Estonian kannel, Russian gusli, etc.). The body is carved from a single piece of wood, with a soundboard attached on top. It is played by manually damping some strings and strumming or plucking others.

Scholars debate the development of the Baltic psaltery. Their competing theories encompass a time scale of one thousand to three thousand years ago, with roots variously given as: within the region; an ancient lyre imported from Rome or central Europe; or some other instrument imported from Asia. Pursuing a connection to my maternal family heritage, I joined Sodauto, the Lithuanian Ethnographic Ensemble of Boston (sadly, now inactive), from whom I learned to play, and who loaned me the instrument I use. Ačiū labai!

For more info:

  • Ancient Lithuanian Kanklės site of Romualdas Apanavičius of the Insitute of Ethnomusic, Vilnius, Lithuania
  • Kantele Site of Carl Rahkonen, PhD, music librarian and professor at the Indian University of Pennsylvania. He presents a detailed discussion of Baltic psaltery history and a variety of interesting links, especially for the Finnish kantele.
  • Evolution of the Baltic Psaltery by Ilya Tёmkin of the Smithsonian Institution. This includes pictures showing how the Baltic psaltery may be related to the ancient lyre.
  • Kokle page by Peter of the Latvian pagan metal band Skyforger
  • Kannel site by Estonian instrument maker Rait Pihlap
  • Gusli site by Belarusian instrument maker Alieś Čumakoŭ – very thorough!