Impressions from the festival Slovisha in Novgorod

Back from Veliky Novgorod I am full of impressions after the Slovisha Musical Antiquities Festival, to which I had the privilege of being invited.

For a long time it has been a dream to come to Novgorod, ever since I in the 1990s first heard about the magnificent finds of musical instruments from the excavations there and the work of Vladimir Povetkin (1943–2010). He was a pioneer as an instrument builder, performer and researcher. He used a kind of experimental archaeology in his work to recreate the sound and music of the instruments of the black earth of Novgorod.

In 1990 Povetkin founded The Novgorod Center for Music Antiquities ( Here his reconstructed instruments are exhibited and used in research as well as popular lectures of Novgorod’s early music and Russian traditional folk culture.

The material in the excavations dates from the period from the 10th to the 15th century. Objects of wood are often surprisingly well preserved, thanks to good preservation conditions in marshy, oxygen-poor soils. Among the many instrument finds, there are several discoveries of gudoks, which are among the earliest bowed instruments we know of in Europe (see photo). The parallel in Western Europe is the rebec. Novgorod also has several important finds of the the string instrument gusli, which is the relative of the Finnish and Baltic kantele, kankle, or kokle. A five-string gusli from the 11th century has the inscription “slovisha”, which may have either referred the instrument itself or, alternatively, to the owner of the instrument.

The inscription has thus given the name of the festival, which is built around the finds in Novgorod, in combination with folk music from Novgorod and the surrounding areas, from different sides of modern national borders. Historically, there were many connections from Novgorod to Scandinavia, and in the Viking Age the city was known as Holmgard. Later, Novgorod became part of the Hanseatic trade. You can read more about Novgorod’s interesting history on this website:

Slovisha was a very interesting and rewarding festival. It had a good mix of lectures and musical performances, and a nice geographical balance, with a focus on the area historically belonging to the Novgorod region. It provided an opportunity for exciting explorations of similarities and differences in the folk traditions. Furthermore, cultural and scientific exchange is in itself a good thing. Meetings crossing modern political borders, like this, are more important than ever.

Gjermund Kolltveit

Music archaeologist, ethnomusicologist, musician – Nesodden, Norway. Main research interests: sound and sound tools (e.g. jew’s harps, lyres, ringing stones, bells) in human culture and soundscapes.

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