Text by Eija Kankaanranta and Satu Sopanen                                                                                                                               Photo by Koistinen Kantele ltd.

Kantele has lived through decades in many forms as an instrument and musical phenomenon. Kantele has deep roots in ancient history and has made it’s way to become recognized as a versatile and inspiring instrument throughout musical genres. The music played today is anything from archaic tradition to children’s songs, contemporary music, improvised music and pop.

Kantele is not just one instrument, it is a family. It means instuments of various forms and sizes from 5-string kantele to the concert kantele and electric kantele with 39 strings as well as traditional and modern playing styles used by contemporary musicians. It is an instrument that touches people with it’s sound in most exceptional way that no other instrument can. It is delicate, furious, healing, energetic, magical, ancient, modern, unique, you name it!

The 5-string kantele belongs to the zither instruments and more specifically to the Baltic Psalteries. Similar instruments with 5-9 strings are played in the Baltic countries and in Russia. The body of the instrument is made of wood, ususally maple or alder, and the material of the strings is steel. The 5-string kantele has been used in contemporary compositions by for example Juhani Nuorvala, Pekka Jalkanen, Tero Lanu, Pehr Henrik Nordgren, Hannu Saha and Kaija Saariaho.

The concert kantele is basically diatonic and tuned in C major, ranging from G1 to c4 (G1 to C6 according to the international midi system). To obtain chromatics and enharmonic solutions the concert kantele and the electric kantele have a tuning mechanism with hand-operated levers. The basic sound is made by plucking the strings with the fingers. The long and beautiful decay of the sound is the most significant feature when compared to the guitar or the harp. A wide variety of extended playing techniques is being used in contemporary works, for example flageolets, scratching the bass strings, playing with mallets or an ebow etc.

Kantele musicians with active international careers include Eva Alkula, Ida Elina, Senni Eskelinen, Eija Kankaanranta, Arja Kastinen, Maija Kauhanen, Sinikka Langeland (Norway), Juulia PölönenMinna Raskinen, Marjo Smolander and Timo Väänänen.


  • 12 concertos by, for example, Kimmo Hakola, Pehr Henrik Nordgren and Hugi Gudmundsson.
  • dozens of solo works, for example Manaus – Ghost sonata (1988) by Jukka Tiensuu, Interludes (2000) by Karin Rehnqvist, valse griffyre (2002) by Asta Hyvärinen, Magnolia (2002) by Alex Freeman, Dispersion (2020) by Christopher Fitkin and Concertino for electric kantele and tape (2000/2014) by Juhani Nuorvala.
  • chamber music for various ensembles, for example sival (2007, kantele & violin) by Lotta Wennäkoski, Light Still and Moving (2016, concert kantele, 15- & 5 -string kanteles, C flute, alto, piccolo and bass flute) by Kaija Saariaho, Sketches before a storm (2006, kantele & flute) by Matthew Whittall and September (2019, guitar, kantele & harpsichord) by Akira Kobayashi.
  • operas and orchestral works, for example, Only the Sound Remains (2016, opera) by Kaija Saariaho, The Canine Kalevala (2003, opera) by Jaakko Kuusisto and Ikisyyt (2008, work for chamber orchestra) by Jukka Tiensuu.
  • transcriptions of works by J. S. Bach, Claude Debussy, G.F. Händel, Astor Piazzolla, Arvo Pärt, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Nico Muhly, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams and many more.


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Welcome to the page of Kanteleliitto, Kantele Association! We are an association providing information, education and news concerning kantele in Finland and world wide.

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