Lute revival in Pinsk

Unique Pinsk master restores ancient musical instruments while performing medieval music all over Brest Region
By Yuri Chernyakevich

Pinsk’s residents are now able to admire lute music, after two centuries of oblivion. Many years ago, this musical instrument was viewed as Belarus’ musical symbol — alongside the cembalo. After the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s split in the late 18th century, it almost disappeared but, around 15 years ago, Pinsk school teacher Yuri Dubnovitsky decided to restore this medieval Belarusian ‘mandolin’.

Mr. Dubnovitsky learned from foreign experts and, like Stradivarius, devoted all his time to inventing his own ‘medieval guitar’. Several years on, success arrived: in 1999, his first lute was made and, since then, Yuri has been producing new instruments. His work has made him well-known far beyond Belarus. He explains, “Many facts confirm that, in the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the lute was popular in Novogrudok, Nesvizh and Pinsk. Amateurs and professionals played the instrument, which is interesting from a musical and historical point of view. Unsurprisingly, I was eager to revive it.” 

According to the master, the ‘Belarusian sitar’ is suitable not only for 16th-17th century music. He tells us, “Any kind of music can be played — including jazz, ragtime and modern ballads. With this in mind, I view the lute as a promising instrument.” Mr. Dubnovitsky teaches pupils at the local musical school, making them tune their instruments for a full five minutes before playing. On hearing the melody of an ancient knight’s ballad, there’s no doubt that you are transported to another time: perhaps to a medieval ball celebrating the birthday of a nobleman or his daughter’s wedding.

Modern Pinsk lutists can now play the most complicated melodies, although their ancient ‘science’ is far from simple. “A lute has 13 double strings, so the positioning of hands and technique of playing differ drastically from that of a guitar. All those familiar with music will understand that it’s a true challenge to learn to play the lute,” explains Mr. Dubnovitsky.

Despite the difficulties, Yuri’s pupils are demonstrating progress and, with their teacher, often perform at Pinsk and Brest festivities, as well as visiting other towns across the Brest Region. Their small band is named Saltarello — after a genre of Italian dance and instrumental music popular in Europe in the 14th-16th century.

Alongside the cembalo, the lute was once Belarus’ musical symbol, spreading countrywide, thanks to Pinsk enthusiasts’ efforts.
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