This week’s #ThrowbackThursday instrument is the bowed lyre.
Part of an ancient family of instruments, found all across Europe, the bowed lyre has survived into modern times in its cultural fringes such as the Scottish Islands and Wales.
Although there is speculation about the lyre’s origin, the current commonly accepted theory is that Europeans trading with the Arabs in the first millennium AD brought the concept of the musical bow back from its stronghold in the Near East where it was then used to play the existing six stringed lyre as an alternative to a plectrum.
The fact that it is awkward, to say the least, to bow an instrument with six strings and a flat bridge led to the number of strings being reduced . This modified lyre then became the ancestor of the many varieties of bowed lyres around today.
In the early years of the last millenium some bowed lyres were being made with fingerboards; the Crwth is a late example of this and has survived into modern times. The other bowed lyres have remained without a fingerboard.