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higheghe

chordophone

Since the 1990s you will occasionally have seen solitary street musicians on our streets playing an unusual instrument that looks like a cross between a violin and a trumpet and sounds like an old gramophone. Those musicians are Romanian gypsies and they all come from Bihor, a district on the border with Hungary. There, and pretty well only there, this 'trumpet fiddle' - the higheghe or vioară cu goarnă ('violin with horn') - has rooted itself in traditional music. And in the fairly recent past it has even become the region's musical emblem.    

The instrument was also named Stroh violin after its designer Augustus Stroh (1828-1914), an English engineer of German origin, who developed it around 1900. It provided a solution to a problem which affected violins in particular in the early days of recording: it was difficult to direct the diffuse sounds of an ordinary violin into the pick-up horn, so Stroh replaced the body with a metal horn. It amplifies the vibrations which are picked up via the bridge by a membrane (the diaphragm) in a round metal box, just like the soundbox of the old gramophones.

When the Hungarian composer and folk music researcher Béla Bartók was making field recordings in Bihor between 1909 and1917, the trumpet-violin was still a young instrument used mainly in recording studios, so it is hardly surprising that Bartók makes no mention of it. But even Traian Mârza, who carried out fieldwork in Bihor between 1961 and1973, did not register a single dance melody played on the trumpet-violin. Only in the 1970s did the instrument gradually begin to take over from the classical violin in Bihor. In 2005 the ethnomusicologist Mircea Câmpeanu collected 260 dance melodies in the district, sixty percent of which were played on the trumpet-violin. So the higheghe or vioară cu goarnă became the symbol of Bihor in the space of no more than a few decades.

The one in the mim was purchased in 2007 from Ioan Pop, a famous folk musician from Maramures, a district in the north of Romania. Pop didn't know exactly where the instrument had come from, nor who had built it. This information came to light in the summer of 2011 when Wim Bosmans, Curator of folk instruments, went over to Romania to investigate. In the village of Lazuri near Roşia he knocked on the door of Bihor's famous builder of trumpet-violins Dorel Codoban (1946-2012), who was also one of its best players. Bosmans showed Codoban the photographs of the instrument in the mim. Codoban didn't hesitate for a moment: it was one of his! 

Dorel Codoban's first encounter with the trumpet-violin is a remarkable story. As a violinist with a folklore group, in 1965 a concert tour took him to a provincial town in Serbia where he got his first glimpse of a magnificent trumpet-violin in a dusty display cabinet in an antique shop. But it was a Sunday and the shop was closed. Codoban couldn't get the thought of the instrument out of his head. At home he tried to build a copy without really knowing how. Eventually, after many sleepless nights, he succeeded. He put together his first instrument using the horn of a clarion belonging to the Pioneers (Communist youth movement) and a soundbox from a gramophone given to him by a neighbour. Over the years many hundreds of orders followed from home and abroad. It is largely thanks to Dorel Codoban that the trumpet-violin has become so popular in Bihor in the last forty years. He died in February 2012, at the age of just 66, barely six months after Wim Bosmans' visit.  

The instrument in the mim dates from the end of the last century. Here, too, Codoban used components recuperated from elsewhere: a His Master's Voice soundbox and a horn from a discarded trumpet.

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higheghe 2008.001
higheghe 2008.001
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