02 January, 2011


Some information from Wikipedia:

Svirel is an old folk Russian wind instrument of the end-blown flute type. In the Old Rus’ this instrument was made either of hollow reed or cylindrical wood branches. A legend says that Lel', son of the Slavic goddess of love Lada was a svirel player. In spring he would make his svirel of birch branches.

Traditional Russian svirel has not yet been studied well enough. Specialists have long tried to relate the present day’s pipe instruments to their Old Russian names. Most often the chroniclers used three names for this type instruments: svirel, sopel (sopilka) and tsevnitsa.

The word svirel is obviously older than sopel, since it can be found in the Common Slavonic language and, consequently, it had existed in the epoch preceding the division of this language into the Eastern, Western and Southern branches. Yet, it is difficult to say whether this name referred to a definite kind of instrument: in the Old Rus’ any wind instrument player but for horn or trumpet players was called svirets or sviryanin.

So, svirel playing traditions of the Russians seem to be much older than the epoch of the Eastern Slavic community. Two such pipes were found during archeological excavations of the Old Novgorod in 1951-1962. One of them dating back to the late 11th century is 22.5 cm (approximately 9 inches) long and has four finger-holes. The second pipe dating to the early 15th century is 19 cm (approximately 7.5 inches) long and has only three holes.

However, it is difficult to say whether the Old Russian svirel was a double or a single pipe: there is no data about this preserved. What makes things still more complicated is the fact that names of similar instruments of kindred nations, such as Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians are often mixed. N. I. Privalov fixed the name svirel to the double pipe, because this is how the instrument was called in Smolensk region, the major area of its popularity. This being the case the single svirel came to be called sopel. Nowadays svirel is more and more often referred to the end-blown flute type instrument with a whistle device nested into its upper part.

How it looks:

Example of playing:

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