Get Kokles essential facts below. View Videos or join the Kokles discussion. Add Kokles to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Pastmarka kokle.jpg
A Latgale kokles stamp issued in 2014 by the Latvian Post (artist Lilija Dinere).[1]
String instrument
Other namesKokle[2]
K?kles, k?k?as, k?k?es, k?klis, k?k?is, k?kle, k?k?e, k?kla and k?k?a (Latgale)[2]
Classification Chordophone[2]
Hornbostel-Sachs classification314.122-5[2]
(Diatonic lute-type stringed instrument played using bare hands and fingers)
Inventor(s)Folk instrument
Related instruments
Kankl?s, kannel, kantele, gusli
M?rti Baumanis, Nikolajs Heis (1864-1934), Namejs Kalni[3], P?teris Kor?ts (1871-1957), M?ris Muktup?vels, Valdis Muktup?vels, Biruta Ozoli?a, Latv?te Podi?a, Laima Jansone, J?nis Pori?is (1909-1992), Aloizijs J?smi (1915-1979; concert kokles)
Nikolajs Heis (1864-1934), P?teris Kor?ts (1871-1957), Gun?rs Igaunis, M?ris Jansons, Eduards Klints, ?irts Laube, Krists Lazdi, K?rlis Lipors,[4] Imants Robe?nieks (concert kokles),[5]J?nis Pori?is (1909-1992), Andris Roze, J?nis Rozenbergs, Rihards Valters, Edgars Vilmanis-Me?enieks,[4] Don?ts Vucins (1934-1999)

Kokles[2][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] (Latvian pronunciation: ['kk.les]; Latgalian: k?kles) or kokle[6][10][14][17](k?kle) is a Latvian plucked string instrument (chordophone) belonging to the Baltic box zither family known as the Baltic psaltery along with Lithuanian kankl?s, Estonian kannel, Finnish kantele, and Russian gusli. The first possible kokles related archeological findings in the territory of modern Latvia are from the 13th century, while the first reliable written information about kokles playing comes from the beginning of the 17th century. The first known kokles tune was notated in 1891, but the first kokles recordings into gramophone records and movies were made in 1930s.[18] Both kokles and kokles playing are included in the Latvian Cultural Canon.[19]


According to Finnish linguist Eino Nieminen, the name of the instrument, along with the names of most of its neighbouring counterparts (Lithuanian kankl?s, Finnish kantele, Estonian kannel and Livonian k?ndla), possibly comes from the proto-Baltic form *kantl?s/*kantl?s, which originally meant 'the singing tree',[13] ultimately deriving from the Proto-European root *qan- ('to sing, to sound'). However, Lithuanian ethnologist Romualdas Apanavi?ius believes kokles could be derived from the Proto-European root *gan(dh)-, meaning 'a vessel; a haft (of a sword)', suggesting that it may be related to the Russian word gusli.[20]


The kokles has a hollow trapezoidal body (?ermenis or korpuss) usually carved out of a single piece of wood (vienkocis) that's topped with a thin ornated wooden soundboard (ska?galdi). A distinct feature that sets kokles apart from most of the other string instruments is that the strings don't rest on a bridge, making the sound quieter, but richer in timbre. Wooden (or sometimes metal) tuning pegs (tapas) are set into the wide tip of the body, while at the narrow tip is a metal rod (st?gturis) upon which the strings are secured, giving them a slightly fan-shaped arrangement. The strings may be of brass or steel. Traditionally, there were 6-9 strings which later increased to 10 and more.[21]


Latgale kokles player in Riga

The technique of kokles playing differs from most other plucked string instruments, including that of zither, harp and guitar. There are also some playing differences between the regional types of Latgale and Kurzeme instruments. In Kurzeme kokles was generally played while sitting on a stool, bench or chair without armrests and placing it horizontally in the lap with legs slightly parted. It could be played while laid down on the table as well. For Latgale kokles the size and form of the instrument also allowed for it to be steadily placed in the lap in a vertical position, resting the shorter edge of kokles against the stomach and placing both arms on the instrument for extra comfort and stability.[22][23]

Strumming is done with the right hand's index finger, while the left hand is used for muting unwanted strings by lightly placing fingers on them. An alternative string muting technique found in Latgale features the fingers being inserted in-between the strings, but such option heavily restricts the movement of the left arm. The left hand can also be used for picking strings.[22][23]


Tuning of the kokles is a diatonic scale, with some lower strings traditionally functioning as drones. A few traditional tuning variations include D-G-A-H-C for 5-stringed kokles written down by Andrejs Jurj?ns at the end of the 19th century, D-C-D-E-F-G-A for 7-stringed kokles and D-C-D-E-F-G-A-H-C for 9-stringed kokles both used by traditional suiti kokles player J?nis Pori?is. However, as kokles began to be constructed with more strings and Latgale kokles became the dominant type of kokles among many other factors,[24] the drone strings have gradually lost their function and become just a lower range extension of the kokles' diapason. Since the 1980s, the most popular tunings among kokles players for 11-stringed kokles are G-A-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (GA) and G-A-C-D-E-F-G-A-B?-C (GA-b?).[25]


In his book "The Baltic Psaltery and Playing Traditions in Latvia" (Kokles un koklana Latvij?) Latvian ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktup?vels distinguishes 3 types of traditional kokles - Kurzeme kokles (Kurzemes kokles), Latgale kokles (Latgales kokles) and zither kokles (c?tarkokles)[26] - and 3 types of modernised kokles - the so-called 15-stringed Krasnopjorovs'-?irpis' diatonic kokles (Krasnopjorova-?irpja diatonisk?s kokles) and the concert kokles (koncertkokles) both designed in the Latvian SSR in 1940s to 1960s, as well as the so-called 13-stringed Linauts'-Dravnieks'-Jansons' kokles (Linauta-Dravnieka-Jansona kokles) that emerged in the Latvian American community in the 1960s.[27]

Kurzeme kokles

Side view of the so-called "Piltene kokle" (Piltenes kokle). Below transcript of the engraved symbols and its possible translation (in Latvian) according to ethnograph Mat?ss Sili

In the Latvian historical region of Kurzeme kokles are traditionally constructed smaller in size and without a "wing", but with more ornate carvings and ornaments. It also usually has fewer strings than Latgale kokles, ranging from 5 to 6 stings for the ones found at the west coast of Kurzeme and Selonia to 7, 8 or even 9 strings for the suiti inhabited areas.[28]

On May 17, 2015, during Latvia's presidency of the Council of the European Union, a Kurzemes kokles built by the crafter J?nis Rozenbergs was donated to the Musical Instruments Museum of Brussels.[29]

Latgale kokles

11-string Latgale kokles with aspen body, fir soundboard and oak tuning pegs

In the largely Catholic Latgale region of Latvia, it was characteristic for the kokles to be constructed with an extension of the body beyond the peg line called a wing, that reinforces sound of the instrument and can also be used as an arm support. Estonian ethnologist Igor Tõnurist believes that the wing may be a more recent innovation, that developed sometime before the 14th century for the Baltic psaltery played in the Pskov and Novgorod lands and later was borrowed by some neighboring Baltic and Baltic Finnic people, such as Setos, Vepsians, and Latgalians. In comparison with Kurzemes kokles, the finish of Latgale kokles is less thorough; the instrument is bigger and heavier, with more strings (sometimes even up to 12 and only in rare cases less than 9) and with a more sober decoration.[30]

In the Aug?zeme-Vidzeme region both types of kokles, as well as mixed forms (for example, kokles with a small wing) were constructed.[31]

Zither kokles

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century kokles traditions were influenced by the construction and playing style of the Western zithers coming from Germany and other Central European countries. Thus arose the so-called zither kokles: kokles with larger, zither-type cases, steel tuning pins, and an increased number of strings (from 17 to sometimes even up to 30 single or double strings).[32]

Concert kokles

Latvian concert kokles ensemble

The first larger "concert kokle" with a three-and-a-half octave range and 25 stings was constructed in 1951 by Rom?ns ?irpis for the Latvian folk music orchestra's soloist Hel?na K?ava-Birgmeistere. It was the first to have devices for changing the pitches of strings in order to change keys. Few years later concert kokles saw a few more innovations in the construction and the new design gradually spread in the Latvian Conservatoire and musical schools, as well as amateur kokles ensembles.[33]

For a long time concert kokles were produced at the Musical Instrument Factory of Riga, mainly from leftover materials used for pianos. But after Latvia regained its independence the factory was closed and until the mid 1990s instrument was left without any professional makers. Soon Imants Robe?nieks who had previously worked at the factory started making and fixing kokles again after receiving numerous requests from kokles players. Since then he has been the only master of concert kokles in Latvia.[34]

In mythology

Valdis Muktup?vels regards kokles as the most highly socially and economically valued Latvian instrument. Mythologically kokles may have been linked with the solar and celestial sphere as they are also sometimes called "Kokles of Dievs" (Dieva kokles) or "golden kokles" (zelta kokles) and sun ornaments were traditionally carved in the soundboard. Kokles, kokles playing (koklana) and kokles players (kokl?t?ji) are mentioned in 274 Latvian dainas and mythological kokles players include J?nis and other unnamed sons of Dievs, as well as Saule playing kokles while sitting in the Austras koks.[6]

In modern music

M?ris Muktup?vels tuning kokles during a concert with the post-folk band Ii, July 24, 2010
Kokles player Laima Jansone at a concert in Sweden, February 5, 2015

Already at the first kokles revival in 1930s and 1940s kokles music saw an influx of newly composed folk music-inspired compositions and orchestral arrangements of folk songs. However, only recently kokles has truly grown to transcend the boundaries of traditional folk music. From the experimental post-folk band Ii,[35]Biruta Ozoli?a's and DJ Monsta's electronic folk collaboration,[36]Laima Jansone's free improvisations and fusion of kokles' sounds with jazz in the project "Zarbugans"[37][38] to a more heavier kokles-accompanied folk metal sound of Skyforger.[39]

In 2002 record label Upe released a double CD by ethnomusicologist Valdis Muktup?vels titled "Kokles", dedicated to the instrument. The first disc "Muktukokles" contained 9 Muktup?vels' original kokles compositions and 2 arrangements of traditional songs accompanied by other instruments (sarod, tambura, and tabla), as well as the vocals of R?ta Muktup?vele, while the second disc "Tradicion?l?s kokles" contained 24 Kurzeme, suiti and Latgale traditional tunes and dance melodies.[40][41]

In 2016 record label Lauska released a CD Trejdevi?i kokl?t?ji (Thrice-nine kokles players) featuring some of the best known Latvian kokles players (Valdis Muktup?vels, Laima Jansone, Biruta Ozoli?a and Ansis Jansons among others) and Baltic psaltery players from abroad (Leanne Barbo from Estonia and Jenni Venäläinen from Finland), as well as Latvian concert kokles ensembles, with a collection of 13 compositions that span from traditional to ethno-jazz and ethno-baroque genres. A bilingual Latvian-English hardback booklet was also included with notes on performing musicians and their compositions, as well as a brief history of kokles.[42]

Further reading


  1. ^ "Latvijas Pasts comes out with its 320th stamp release: Musical instruments stamps in joint Europa series". Latvian Post. April 8, 2014. Retrieved 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e Muktup?vels 2018, p. 141
  3. ^ "Magic of Latvia's kokle showcased by young maestro". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. December 16, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Where do I get a kokle?". Piekuns.com. Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ Sheeter, Laura (October 29, 2005). "Latvia celebrates national instrument". BBC News. Retrieved 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Muktup?vels, Valdis (1999). "Systematics of Latvian musical instruments" (in Latvian). Latvijas M?kslas augstskolu asoci?cija. pp. 96, 100-101. Retrieved 2017. Kokles, kokle (K; Z; V), k?kles (L), k?kle (L)
  7. ^ Rice, Timothy; Porter, James; Goertzen, Chris, eds. (2017). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Europe. Routledge. pp. 170, 503-504, 505. ISBN 978-1351-5442-6-9. Retrieved 2017. The most characteristic and significant instrument in Latvian traditional music is the kokles, a board zither with five to twelve strings. (...) Small plucked zithers include the langeleik (Norway), the kantele (Finland), the kannel (Estonia), the kankl?s (Lithuania), and the kokles (Latvia).
  8. ^ Stone, Ruth M., ed. (2017). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: The World's Music: General Perspectives and Reference Tools. Routledge. p. 503. ISBN 978-1351-5441-1-5. Retrieved 2017. kokles Latvian plucked zither, carved from a wooden plank and having five to twelve strings. (8)
  9. ^ Djupsjöbacka, Tove (May 24, 2016). "The kantele - not exclusively Finnish". Finnish Music Quarterly. Retrieved 2017. The official status of kanteles varies from one country to another. In the Baltic states, these instruments (the kannel in Estonia, the kokles in Latvia and the kankl?s in Lithuania) have a firm official status.
  10. ^ a b Broughton, Simon; Ellingham, Mark; Trillo, Richard, eds. (1999). World Music: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The Rough Guide. pp. 16, 19-20 and 24. ISBN 978-1858-2863-5-8. Retrieved 2017. Baltic psalteries variously called kantele, kannel, kokles or kankl?s. (..) Kokles and citara. (...) The Latvian Baltic zither is called the kokle or kokles (...) it's usual to tune the lowest string of a kokles to a drone a fourth below the key note.
  11. ^ Cusack, Carole M.; Norman, Alex, eds. (2012). Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production. Brill. pp. 351, 362-363. ISBN 978-9004-2218-7-1. Retrieved 2017. The kankl?s known in Latvia as the kokles, and has analogues in the kannel of Estonia, and the kanteles of Finland
  12. ^ O'Connor, Kevin (2006). Culture and Customs of the Baltic States. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 176-177. ISBN 978-0313-3312-5-1. Retrieved 2017. The most popular Baltic folk instrument is the board zither (psaltery), known as the kannel in Estonian, the kokles in Latvia and the kankl?s in Lithuania. (..) the early kannel-kokles-kankl?s was a five stringed instrument
  13. ^ a b Williams, Roger, ed. (1993). "The Singing Tree". Insight Guides: Baltic States. APA Publications (HK) Ltd. p. 85. ISBN 978-9624-2118-2-5. Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ Bousfield, Jonathan (2011). The Rough Guide to Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania (2nd ed.). Rough Guides. pp. 379 and 381. ISBN 978-1848-3688-8-0. Baltic zithers variously called kantele, kannel, kokles or kankles.
  15. ^ Williams, Roger; Hoefer, Hans (1993). Baltic States. Apa Publications. p. 85. ISBN 978-1848-3688-8-0. The more sophisticated ones such as the kannel/kokles/kankles (...)
  16. ^ Slobin, Mark (1993). Subcultural Sounds: Micromusics of the West. Apa Publications. p. 38. ISBN 978-0819-5626-1-6. "revival" of the Latvian kokle zither (...) interact with the newly emerging kokle (...) the usefulness of kokle-playing
  17. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 12-14
  18. ^ Valdis Muktup?vels. "Kokles and kokles playing" (in Latvian). Latvian Cultural Canon. Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ Romualdas Apanavi?ius. Ancient Lithuanian Kankl?s, Institute of Ethnomusic, Vilnius, Lithuania
  20. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 15-16
  21. ^ a b Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 41-42
  22. ^ a b Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 69-70
  23. ^ Muktup?vels, Valdis (2009). "The small or the big kokles? A Shift of Preferences in the Context of the Folklore Revival Movement". Musiikin suunta (1): 12. Retrieved 2017.
  24. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, p. 90
  25. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, p. 6
  26. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 22-26
  27. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, p. 15
  28. ^ "Latvia donates kokle to the Musical Instruments Museum of Brussels". Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia. May 17, 2015. Retrieved 2017.
  29. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, p. 17
  30. ^ Muktup?vels 2018, p. 145
  31. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, pp. 19-20
  32. ^ Muktup?vels 2013, p. 240
  33. ^ "Kokle master preserves 'the sound of a Latvian soul'". China Daily. November 4, 2005. Retrieved 2017.
  34. ^ Strautmanis, Andris (September 10, 2001). "Ii not sure what to expect in America". Latvians Online. Retrieved 2017.
  35. ^ Kaljo, Egils (October 27, 2013). "New release features Latvian folk songs with a twist". Latvians Online. Retrieved 2017.
  36. ^ Kaljo, Egils (January 20, 2014). "Unique recording with Latvian instrumental music". Latvians Online. Retrieved 2017.
  37. ^ Peeters, Tom (December 1, 2015). "Laima Jansone and her cool kokle". Bruzz. Retrieved 2017.
  38. ^ Kvetkovskis, P?teris (October 2, 2011). "Kokle". Skyforger. Retrieved 2017.
  39. ^ J?tniece, Amanda (April 7, 2003). "Double album reveals range of Latvian kokle". Latvians Online. Retrieved 2017.
  40. ^ Hanson, Jennifer (June 21, 2003). "Valdis Muktupavels, Kokles". Rambles. Retrieved 2017.
  41. ^ Kaljo, Egils (October 15, 2016). "Various performers show diversity of "kokle" styles on new CD". Latvians Online. Retrieved 2017.


External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



Music Scenes