In the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb are kept two collections which consist of traditional musical instruments, the Collection of Instruments and the Collection of Instruments of Franjo K. Kuhač (in storage). In the Collection of Instruments there are about 560 items which represent valuable examples of folk music creativity, produced and decorated by various methods and techniques and which were played in various social contexts. The oldest examples are from the mid-18th century whilst most of them belong to the 19th and 20th centuries. The instruments are sorted according to HS classification as aerophones, chordophones, membranophones and idiophones.
The most numerous are the aerophones amongst which the simplest are the (animal) horns, bučine and trumpets made of tree bark. The many single and double pipe instruments with a series of holes for playing such as the frulica, dvojnice, jedinka were normally made by shepherds for their own enjoyment and they can be throughout the area of Croatia. Sopile are characteristic instruments from Istria, the Croatian Littoral and Kvarner islands whilst the diple, a double pipe instrument with holes and reeds can be found in the regions of Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Hinterland and Lika. The diple can be separate or can be attached to a goat’s or sheep’s skin bellows, which is used as an air reservoir, and in this way, a new type of instrument is created, like bagpipes - mješnice, mišnice, gajde or dude. The mješnice are geographically linked to the Croatian Adriatic region, the gajde with highland and lowland Croatia, whilst the dude were used in the Bilogora-Križevci region and in the far northeast area of Croatia.
Of the chordophone instruments the museum’s collection of gusle - instruments with one or two strings, with their bodies covered with thin animal’s skin are a special part. The gusle are a feature of the Dinaric cultural region, unlike the lirice, which are found in the southern part of Dalmatia. Also in the Collection are tambura, from the small bisernica and dangubica for solo performances, to the larger bugarija and tambura to the bass (berde), of which small ensembles, as well as whole orchestras, can consist of.
The group with the smallest number of items is the membranophones: in Croatia there are only two small drums, whereas there are twenty or so idiophone instruments. In most numerous are the čegrtaljke (rattles) which are mainly made of wood, with a mechanism which by turning creates a rattling noise. They have a special role in annual customs being used in carnival parades to make the loudest noise, and during the last three Lenten days before Easter in order to announce the church ceremony. Since these musical instruments are part of folk creativity and were made mostly by individual craftsmen, many instruments also have an artistic value and the characteristic ornamentation on individual instruments often refers to the magical component in folk creativity.
The Collection of Instruments of Franjo K. Kuhač has been stored in the Museum since its very foundation, more precisely the Croatian Music Institute, to which Kuhač sold his collection on the basis of the purchase act of 16th March 1886. The institute handed it over to the Ethnographic Museum for long-term storage on 7th November 1920, and it is still stored here today as part of the holdings of the Ethnographic Museum. Franjo Ksaver Kuhač is considered as an originator and certainly one of the most versatile researchers of Croatian music who with his work set the foundation of the development of the Croatian science of music and is ranked among the most prominent Croatian scientists of the second half of the 19th century (Marošević, 2009:237). His collection consists of 56 instruments collected during field research which Kuhač carried out in Croatia as well as the wider Balkans’ region in the period between 1857 and 1886.
The instruments which Kuhač collected are of exceptional significance, not only because they are the oldest preserved examples, some of which are more than 250 years old, but also because certain examples point to the continuity of the musical traditions in a specific region.
Such examples are, bourdon dvojnice (listed under the inventory number POH-465/1920) with allocated holes for playing 6:0 which indicate the use of bourdon two-part playing in the area of the city of Zagreb as a specific way of playing where one voice plays a base tone (one long tone) whilst another voice plays a melody of a smaller range. Such dvojnice are no longer used today. The dvojnice from Žminj in Istria are very significant because they point to the use of thumb holes from way back in 1882 (arranged for playing as 4:3, POH- 463/1920 (cf. Galin, 1984:12). Also no longer in use today are the trojke from Hrvatsko Zagorje (POH-461/1920), orgljice (POH-467/1920), the horn of the night-watchman from Slavonia (POH-437/1920, POH-438/1920) or the bučine from Slavonia (POH-437/1920, POH-438/1920). There are also three instruments from India and China in the Collection.
Kuhač analysed expertly and in detail almost all the instruments that belonged in his private collection into the first comprehensive ethnoorganological study in Croatia ‘Prilog za poviest glasbe južnoslavjenske: kulturno historijska studija’ (‘Contribution to the history of the music of the Southern Slavic people: a cultural-historical study') (1877-1879, 1882).In 1984 the Collection of Instruments of Franjo Ksaver Kuhač was exhibited and presented to the public in its entirety at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall as the exhibition ‘Franjo Ksaver Kuhač - Life and Work’ which was organised upon the 150th anniversary of his birth.