". . .Why these instruments are triangular rather than round remains a mystery - anyone with this vital information, please call the Miner Museum Hotline". . .

Why are balalaikas triangular?!
by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)

I love how I ask humorous rhetorical questions and get serious scholarly answers. Apparently, I can have it both ways! I’ve received three completely different answers to the "triangular" question. Quite interesting! So pick your favorite!

1.    The balalaika’s body was made as a straight-sided triangle for simpler construction (harder to bend curved sides). 

– submitted by John Bolster

2.    "The answer I found in Gogol's unfinished novel "Dead Souls." Nikolai Gogol, who was an historian as well as a writer, and who lived before Vasily Andreyev standardized the balalaika, states that the instrument was originally a chordophone that a peasant would make out of a pumpkin. If you quarter a pumpkin, you are left with the shape of a balalaika. Incidentally, the three-string version of the "soprano" (usually called prima) balalaika is always played with the fingers. The A string is made of steel and the two E strings are made of nylon (originally gut).

From "Dead Souls": "As he approached the entrance steps he caught sight of two faces peering from a window. One of them was that of a woman in a mobcap with features as long and as narrow as a cucumber, and the other that of a man with features as broad and as short as the Moldavian pumpkins (known as gorlianki) whereof balallaiki--the species of light, two-stringed instrument which constitutes the pride and the joy of the gay young fellow of twenty as he sits winking and smiling at the white-necked, white-bosomed maidens who have gathered to listen to his low-pitched tinkling--are fashioned."

Don't worry about the balalaikas in the passage having 2 strings. Before Andreyev, they might have 2, 3 or 4 strings depending on the maker".  

- submitted by Gerry<domra@ukf.net>

3.    "All experts seem to agree to the hypothesis, that the balalaika evolved from the domra, which has a roundly shaped body. So why suddenly a triangle? As far as I know, this shall represent the Holy Trinity. If this is true, it would mean, that not a kind of acoustic or musicological consideration has contributed to that shape, but mere religious or emotional reasons. To my knowledge a singular event in the history of string instruments".

– submitted by Burkhard Ruemcker


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