Domra

The domra (Russian: домра) is a long-necked Russian folk string instrument of the lute family with a round body and three or four metal strings.

Records of domra can be found in ancient court chronicles. Scholars suppose that the old forefather of the Russian domra was the Egyptian instrument called ‘pandura’ by Greek historians and used as far back as several thousand years ago. Later, this instrument, which was already under the the name of ‘tanbur’, reached Russia through Persia that was trading with Transcaucasia in those times.

Various peoples still have domra-like instruments: chunguri and panduri in Georgia, tanbura among Southern Slavs, bandura in Ukraine, duatar in Turkmenistan, dombur in Mongolia, dumra in Kirgizia and Tatarstan, and domr in Kalmykia. Similar instruments got to Europe in the early Middle Ages and were called lute. It was lute that later gave rise to such many-stringed instruments as viola, mandolin and guitar.

The main domra players in Russia were skomorokhi, wandering minstrels, who were not only musicians, but actors, dancers, acrobats and jesters as well. (The word “skomorokh” derives from the Arabic “maskhora” translated as “laughter” or “mockery”). However, starting from 1648 there broke out a range of tsar’s orders forbidding instrumental music. All music instruments in Moscow were forcefully taken away from their masters, piled up together on five carts, brought behind the Moskva River and burnt down there.

In spite of the rather frequent records of domra, no exact images of this instrument were found. So, for a long time historians could not solve the riddle of this instrument. Only in the late 19th century a small instrument with a rounded body was discovered in Vyatka Province. The instrument soon fell into the hands of Vasiliy Vasilievich Andreyev, who was just into search and recovery of the specimen of old Russian instruments preserved by common people.

By way of comparing the found instrument with similar images kept in relic pictures and prints, and using written descriptions, Vasiliy Andreyev conjectured the find was the long-looked-for domra. According to this specimen from Vyatka the almost forgotten Russian domra was restored, acquiring quartal harmony and full chromatic scale. In 1896-1900 V.V. Andreyev jointly with F. S. Paserbsky and S. I. Nalimov created a whole family of domras, ranging from piccolo to contrabass. Thanks to their performing opportunities domras make up the major melodic group in an orchestra of Russian folk instruments. Apart from that, domra is used as a solo instrument. Nowadays, domra players in Russia and Ukraine get a professional music education equally with pianists and violinists.