North American Basque Organizations
  A federation of organizations to sustain BASQUE culture


  Izan ziralako, gara, eta garalako izango dira  
"Because they were, we are, and because we are they will be"
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Feliz Navidad y
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ño Nuevo!

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ël et
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TXISTU: the Basque flute

The txistu is a version of fipple flute that became a symbol for the Basque folk revival.  The name may stem from the general Basque word ziztu "to whistle."  This three-hole pipe is played with one hand, leaving the other one free to play a percussion instrument.

Related links:
Txistu Txoko
Basque Musical instruments
Tunes for dance groups
Basque music videos

U.S. Music Groups
Musical Groups

Evidence of the txistu first mentioned as such goes back to 1864. Yet it is apparent that it was used earlier, although it is not easy to establish when it started out; actually, it is impossible to do so, the txistu being the result of an evolution of the upright flutes widespread as early as the Late Middle Ages, when minstrels scattered all over the Iberian Peninsula brought in instruments that locals, noblemen first and common people later took on and developed. At the beginning, txistu players (txistularis) were named in romance written records after the tabor (pipe and tabor were played together): tamborer, tamborino, tambolín, tamborín, tamboril, músico tamboril, tamborilero, tamboriltero. However, when named after the flute, they are called in Spanish pífano, silbato, silbo, silbo vizcaíno, chilibistero to name a few.

The three-hole flute was no doubt used by people in much of Spain not only in the Basque Country, but recordings of Basque names for the instrument turn up later: txilibitu, txirula, txirola, txürula, txulula, txilibitulari, txilibistari. While some instruments fell into decay, from the Renaissance on the three-hole flute raised its profile and increasingly took on the length as we know it today (42 cm) in the western Basque Country.  In contrast, the (t)xirula, the version that prevailed in the Iparralde (northern Basque Country)  remained shorter in size. At that point, three-hole flutes were made of wood (despite some instances of flutes made in bone).

Up to the XVIIIth century, since chistu was played along the pattern of tabor and pipe, it needed no tuning; yet in the XVIIIth century the chistu was adopted by the Count of Peñaflorida and his Basque Enlightenment cultural revival, and became a part of Basque aspirations for the nobility, resulting in more instruments (usually other chistus) joining the pair, so they started to be tuned. The instrument was modified to give it a range of two octaves, and a larger version called in Spanish the silbote was fashioned to accompany polyphonic compositions. Rural txistu musicians continued their own traditions with self crafted rustic txistus, while the urban txistularis formed schools to teach the brand-new sophisticated instrument.

At different stages of the three-hole flute's history reeds and metal mouthpieces were applied for a better sound. While some claim that it is closely related to the early link of the Basques to iron and the forging industry, others suggest that the embedding of such pieces began in the industrial revolution of the XIXth century.





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