1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pandura

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PANDURA (tanboura, tanbur, tambora, mandore, pandore, bandora, bandoer, &c.), an ancient oriental stringed instrument, a member of the lute family, having a long neck, a highly-vaulted back, and originally two or three strings plucked by the fingers. There were in antiquity at least two distinct varieties of pandura, or tanbur. (1) The more or less pear-shaped type used in Assyria and Persia and introduced by way of Asia Minor into Greece, whence it passed to the Roman Empire. In this type the body, when the graceful inward curves which led up gradually from base to neck were replaced by a more sloping outline, approximated to an elongated triangle with the corners rounded off. (2) The oval type, a favourite instrument of the Egyptians, also found in ancient Persia and among the Arabs of North Africa, who introduced it into Spain. Our definite knowledge of the pandura is derived from the treatise on music by Fārābī,[1] the Arab scholar who flourished [ 646 ] in the 10th century. He mentions two kinds of tanburs, devoting to each a chapter, i.e. the tanbur of Khorasan, the Persian type, and the tanbur of Bagdad, the Assyrian variety; these differ in form, in length, and in the arrangement of the frets. Unfortunately, Farabi does not describe the shape of the body, being more concerned with the musical scale and compass of the instrument; but means of identification are supplied by ancient monuments. There is a tanbur on an Assyrian bas-relief of the reign of Assur-nasir-pal, c. 880 B.C. (British Museum), on a slab illustrating camp life; the musician is playing on a pear-shaped tanbur with a very long slender neck, which would have served for two strings at the most, while two men, disguised in the skins of wild beasts, are dancing in front of him.

There were in Farabi's day five frets at least, whereas on the tanbur of Khorasan there were no fewer than eighteen, which extended for half the length of the instrument. Five of these frets were fixed or invariable in position, the thirteen others being interpolated between them. The fixed frets, counting from the nut, gave an interval of one tone to the first, of a fourth to the second, of a fifth to the third, of an octave to the fourth, and of a major ninth to the fifth, thus providing a succession of fourths and fifths. The additional frets were placed between these, so that the octaves generally contained seventeen intervals of one-third tone each. The two principal accordances for the tanbur of Khorasan were the marriage when the strings were in unison, and the lute or accordance in fourths. Farabi mentions a tail-piece or zobaība, to which the strings, generally two in number but sometimes three, were attached; they rested on a bridge provided with as many notches as there were strings. In the tanbur of Khorasan they were wound round pegs placed opposite each other in the two sides of the head, as in the modern violin.

Pollux[2] states that the pandura was invented by the Assyrians or Egyptians, and had three strings. Theodore Reinach[3] is of opinion that pandura was a generic term for instruments of the lute type during the Roman and Alexandrine periods. This may be the case, but from the modern standpoint we cannot in our classification afford to disregard the invariable characteristics observed in the modern, no less than in the ancient and medieval, tanburs or panduras.

To be able to identify the pandura it is as well to bear in mind the distinctive features of other instruments with which it might be confounded. The tanbur had a long neck resembling a section of a cylinder and a highly vaulted back, and its strings were plucked. In the rebab the neck was wanting or at best rudimentary, consisting of the gradual narrowing of the body towards the head, and during the middle ages in Europe, as rebec, it was always a bowed instrument. The early lutes had larger bodies than tanburs, the neck was short compared to the length of the body, the head was generally bent back at right angles, and the convex was not so deeply vaulted as that of the tanbur. The barbiton or bass lute had a long neck also, but wider, to take six, seven, or even nine strings, and from the back or profile view the general appearance was what is known as boat-shaped.

Under the Romans the pandura had become somewhat modified: the long neck was preserved but was made wider to take four strings, and the body was either oval[4] or slightly broader at the base, but without the inward curves of the pear-shaped instruments. A striking example of the former is to be seen among the marbles of the Townley Collection at the British Museum on a bas-relief illustrating the marriage feast of Eros and Psyche, a Roman sculpture assigned to c. 150 B.C. This example is of great value to the archaeology of music, for the instrument can be studied in full and in profile. The arrangement of the four pegs in the back of the head is Oriental.

The Persians had a six-stringed tanbur,[5] which they distinguished as the scheschta,[6] whereas a three-stringed variety was known as the schrud.

The tanbur survived during the middle ages and as late as the 18th century; it may be traced in the musical documents of several countries. In England the name of pandura or bandoer was given to an instrument with wire strings having no characteristic structural feature in common with the ancient tanbur but resembling the cittern (q.v.). The bandoer had a flat back and sound-board joined by ribs having a wavy outline. A smaller size of the same instrument was called orphoreon, and a larger and wider penorcon; these are described and figured by Praetorius,[7] who suggests that this instrument, invented in England as bandoer, is probably similar to the Greek πανδοὒρα. This bandora, we learn from an entry in Sir Philip Leycester's[8] index to his commonplace book of 1575, was invented by “John Rose dwellinge in Bridewell anno 4to Elizabeth, who left a sonne farre exceedinge himself in makinge instruments.”

A 17th-century French MS. (Add. 30342, fol. 144) in the British Museum, containing drawings of musical instruments, gives the tambora, not the English hybrid, but a true descendant of the ancient Oriental tanbur, with nine strings, a rose sound-hole and seven frets; the French writer erroneously states that it is similar to the cistre (cittern). Filippp Bonanni[9] gives an illustration of the same kind of instrument, with ten strings in five pairs of unisons, and calls it pandura. (K. S.)


  1. See Michael Casiri, Bibl. Arab. Hisp., i. 347.
  2. Onomasticon, iv. 60.
  3. See Daremberg and Saglio, Dict. des antiquités grecques et romaines, article “Lyre,” p. 1450; also Revue des études grecques, viii. 371, &c., with illustrations, some of which the present writer would prefer to classify as early lutes, owing to the absence of the characteristic long neck of the tanburs.
  4. This instrument resembles the oval tanburs represented in the miniatures of musicians in the Cantigas di Santa Maria (13th century) having two strings, and on each side a group of three very small, round sound-holes, probably of Moorish origin. The MS. is numbered J. b. 2 in the Escorial; the miniatures are reproduced in J. F. Riaño's Critical and Biogr. Notes on early Spanish Music (London, 1887).
  5. In the miniatures of the Cantigas there are oval tanburs with six or seven strings, one played by a Moor; both have the tailpiece in the form of a crescent.
  6. See Hammer von Purgstall on the “Seven Seas,” in Jahrbücher der Literatur, xxxvi. 290 (Vienna, 1826).
  7. Syntagma musicum (Wolfenbüttel, 1618), pl. xvii. and ch. 28, 63; reprint in Publik. d. Ges. f. Musikforschung (Berlin, 1884), Jahrgang XII.
  8. See Dr F. J. Furnivall's edition of Captain Cox or Robert Laneham's letter. Ballad Society (London, 1871), p. 67.
  9. See Gabinetto armonico, ch. 49, pl. 97 (Rome, 1722).