The Skin of the Others: Skin-Covered Bowed String Instruments Between Central Asia and Europe

Hirsch, Thilo; Demir, Mehtap (23 October 2022). The Skin of the Others: Skin-Covered Bowed String Instruments Between Central Asia and Europe (Unpublished). In: Between Ulm and Jerusalem: Sound and Hearing Cultures in Mutual Perception (500–1500). Istanbul. 21.–23.10.2022.

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The origins of the rabāb, the earliest known bowed string instrument, most probably lies in the Central Asian region of Khorasan, in the northeast of Persia. The philosopher and scholar Al-Fārābī, in whose Kitābu l-mūsīqī al-kabīr the bowed rabāb is first mentioned in about 940, also came from this region. In the course of the 10th century, the skin covered rabāb spread across North Africa to the Iberian Peninsula, which was under Muslim rule at the time (al-Andalus). There it also became part of the Christian musical culture until the 15th century, but gradually disappeared from Spanish musical practice after the fall of Granada in 1492 and the expulsion of the Muslims. Today an organologically very similar instrument is played in the traditional andalusi music in the Maghreb. A second line of spread of the skin-covered rabāb led to Byzantium in the 10th century. Here, too, the instrument was played in a vertical posture while seated. In contrast to the club-shaped andalusi rabāb an instrument form developed here with a spherical body, a round skin top, a spike for support and a stick as a neck, which was called kamānče, which means “little bow”. This instrument was part of Seljuk and Ottoman music culture both in religious music and as courtly entertainment from the 13th to the 18th century and is still used as “Turkish Rebab” in mystical music and solo performance in maqam traditions. Other Instruments which derived from same root in different variants with different names such as kemane, kemençe used in Turkish traditional music today. In this lecture/demonstration, Thilo Hirsch and Mehtap Demir will first introduce the two ways of dissemination shown above, and then demonstrate in practice the similarities and differences in sound and playing technique of some historical and traditional skin-covered bowed string instruments.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Bern Academy of the Arts
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Interpretation
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Interpretation > Performance and interpretation
Bern Academy of the Arts > Institute Interpretation > Musical Instruments


Hirsch, Thilo0000-0001-7707-7469 and
Demir, Mehtap


D History General and Old World > DP Spain
D History General and Old World > DS Asia
M Music and Books on Music > M Music


[7] Swiss National Science Foundation ; [UNSPECIFIED] Fritz Thyssen Foundation


[UNSPECIFIED] Rabab & Rebec - Erforschung von fellbespannten Streichinstrumenten des späten Mittelalters und der frühen Renaissance und deren Rekonstruktion




Thilo Hirsch

Date Deposited:

18 Nov 2022 10:00

Last Modified:

18 Nov 2022 10:00

Uncontrolled Keywords:

musicology, organology, rabab, rebab


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