Die Drehleier

by Marianne Bröcker

This part of the website is an English translation of the definitive hurdy-gurdy reference book Die Drehleier (The Hurdy-gurdy), written by Marianne Bröcker. For general information about this translation please see the Index Page.

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Chapter 7: The Uses of the Hurdy-gurdy in the Middle Ages


A. Its Position in the Medieval Instrumentarium

The numerous musical instruments of the Middle Ages were mentioned in the literature of the time especially when the authors wanted to describe the brilliance of a festive event. For this they often used long lists of instruments in which they named many different instruments. The authors avoided repeating the name of an instrument and characterized different forms of an instrument group with a special appendage. [fn][1] If several instruments of the same type were played this was indicated by the use of the plural or by the appendage of a number.[fn][2]

Since various instruments are so often described as being together it must be supposed that they were also played together.[fn][3] Accordingly there was already in the Middle Ages a type of orchestra with varying and different members. Next to ensembles, in which only instruments of one family were played[fn][4], there were also groups which consisted of wind, percussion and string


instruments, as well as standard ornaments which were used over a longer period of time and variously put together.[fn][1]

It should not be concluded from the varying arrangements of such ensembles that there was unordered and noisy playing or that the instruments were played in unison. "It is in no way to be imagined, as is usually done, that the medieval orchestra consisted of members playing many instruments haphazardly and that now and then a uniform harmonic impression was given, just as the opposite cannot be imagined, namely that all the instruments played the same melody together. There is no reason to deny that a musical practice striving for an aesthetic and harmonic effect existed in the Middle Ages".[fn][2] With the use of many instruments arose "a rich texture of unique tonal magic." [fn][3]

Among the instruments of this time the hurdy-gurdy also frequently appears in texts and in pictures; this is an indication that its harmonies were not dissonant when it was played together with various other instruments.

The instruments played simultaneously which are mentioned in texts were arranged by the authors in various ways, and often a grouping according to certain points of view can be established. All instruments played in the same way are named one after the other, such as wind, percussion, plucked or bowed instruments. They may also be arranged according to their loudness of tone, such as loud and soft. The instruments with which the hurdy-gurdy was grouped in these lists vary. A grouping according to related tonal effects is frequently found in connection with the hurdy-gurdy.

The hurdy-gurdy is often grouped with other string instruments in the lists, (ill. 3, 24, 25) [figlink], partly separated from other bowed instruments by the plucked instruments,


partly directly associated with these:

"Que gigue, harpen e simphonie"; [fn][1]
harpe ende symphonien"; [fn][2]
"ay [sp][a-y/macron] auje çinfonjas farpa giga e rota"; [fn][3]
"Harpes, gigues et cyfonies"; [fn][4]
"Harpéors et Bretons, Giges et chifonie"; [fn][5]
"audivi suon di gighe e ciunfonie"; [fn][6]
"Rubebes, leuths, vielles, syphonie"; [fn][7]
"Symphonies, rotes, sautier" [fn][8]
"Cistole, rothe, syphonie"; [fn][9]
"Citole i ot e viele
E synphan, q'amour novele". [fn][10]

Next to this are found also instrument lists in which the individual instruments appear arranged in pairs. In these sources the hurdy-gurdy is always


named together with a bowed instrument which either has drone strings, like the vielle, or which is played together with the hurdy-gurdy as a descant instrument:

"De gighe sot, de simphonie"; [fn][1]
"Et sifonies et vieles"; [fn][2]
"Cil porte gige cil simphonie"; [fn][3]
"videln und symphonien"; [fn][4]
"e cyphonies et vielles"; [fn][5]
"On rebube and on symphonye". [fn][6]

Even in the 17th century we find the violin and hurdy-gurdy played together:

"Überkam ich eine discant=Geige ihr zugehallen/
und halff ihr ........ in ihre Leyr spilen." [fn][7]

Among the arrangements of the hurdy-gurdy with other string instruments there are some in which only the plucked instruments are named directly together with the hurdy-gurdy, and it is to be supposed that when these instruments were played together the hurdy-gurdy took over the playing of the melody:

"Ces chytolles, ces chyphonies"; [fn][8]
"Chyffonyes et monocordes"; [fn][9]
"harpe, siphonie"; [fn][10]
"baldosas y linfonías"; [fn][11]


"cinfonia, guitarra non son de aqueste marco"; [fn][1]
"La ne fut demandee chalemeal, ne cytolle,
Harpes ne cyphonie". [fn][2]

It also happens that the hurdy-gurdy is mentioned as the only bowed instruments among plucked instruments, so that it belongs with the wind instruments to the loud melody instruments:

"Then myxt [sp][my-yogh-t] men here many glewes,
Pipe and Trompe, and many nakeres,
Synfan, lute and Citoleres". [fn][3]

A separation of the wind from the string instruments occurs by mentioning the drums in between:

"Fluctes, bedons, simphonies, rebelles".[fn][4]

These were apparently also played as rhythmic instruments together with bowed (and plucked) string instruments:

"At þis bruydale was plei i-nough: [sp][i-dash-nou-yogh-h]
song and gret hoppingue,
Tabours and fithele and symphanye"[fn][5];
"In harpe and tabour and symphan gle Wurschep God" [fn][6];
Taburs et cifonies i vont lor lais cantant" [fn][7].

The groupings of plucked instruments, wind instruments, and the hurdy-gurdy (ill. 50) [figlink] not only depicts


both different groups of string instruments separated by the wind instruments, but perhaps also the consciously emphasized tonal relationship of the hurdy-gurdy to the stringed instruments:

"With harpe and pype and simphonye"[fn][1];
"And whenne he was nye the palyse,
he hurde harping, luting, pipinge, tromping and þe symphonie" [fn][2].

With this last example the author leaves the number of instruments uncertain, while he emphasizes the hurdy-gurdy with the singular case, the addition of the 'and' as well as the definite article.

The sharp and nasal sound of the hurdy-gurdy with its piercing drone tone is, like that of the bagpipes, quite loud. Therefore even in the Middle Ages the hurdy-gurdy was frequently placed with the wind and percussion instruments in instrument lists and in representations (ills. 47,48) [figlink], in order to make explicit its tonal relationship to the wind instruments:

"Belles, chymbes, and symfan" [fn][3];
"Cumballes et tambors, semphaines, trompettes et violettes" [fn][4];
"Gigues et harpes et vieles,
Muses, fléustes, et fresteles
Tympres, tabors et syphonies" [fn][5];
"cimbales, simphonies, choros, challemies, doulchaines" [fn][6];


"Chifonie, flaios de saus" [fn][1];
"De timbres, de cors, de busines
E de tabors e de tröines,
De flageus e de simphonies" [fn][2];
"Tabors, et timbres, et frestèles,
Fléustes, cors et syphonies" [fn][3];
"organs in weth cymbalys
recordys ha symphony" [fn][4]
"trompes, chiphonies, chalemies, bombares,
muses, fleutes, douchaines" [fn][5];
"with grete foyson of hornys, trumpys, symphonys,
and other mynstrelces"[fn][6];
"and the sound of organys, symphanys
and of instrumentis of all musyke" [fn][7].

The fact that in all this last text only two instruments are mentioned by name and the others are only summarily mentioned seems to indicate the tonal similarity and the compatibility of these instruments on account of their drone tones. The relationship of the hurdy-gurdy to the wind instruments is also depicted in a picture of minstrels in a 14th century manuscript from the Alexander Roman (ill. 48) [figlink]. The instruments represented are arranged in two groups, apparently distinguished according to tone and separated from each other by the kettle drums: bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, shawm, portative organ, kettle drums, mandola, harp, fiddle and psaltery. The hurdy-gurdy is among


the wind instruments and is next to the bagpipes, whose sound is most similar to its own.

Aside from the medieval organ with its drone pipes, the bagpipes were especially suited to be played with the hurdy-gurdy. For this reason even today the bagpipes are the instrument most often played with the hurdy-gurdy. In the Middle Ages these instruments were played together on account of their common tonal characteristics. This is made clear by several sources in which either the hurdy-gurdy is named directly with the bagpipes or both instruments appear one after the other:

"ne cyphonie, ne meuse" [fn][1];
"Citole, rothe, syphonie, La chevrecte d'Esclavonnie" [fn][2];
"Saltiers, gighes, vïeles, muses et sifonies" [fn][3];
"Et estives et chiphonies" [fn][4];
"Cors et musettes, simphonies doulcettes" [fn][5];
"Tabours and fiþele and symphanye:
stiues and harpingue" [fn][6];
"He herde the symphony and cornemuse" [fn][7];

To this last place belongs the grouping of 'symphonie' and 'croud' which occurs several times in the Middle English literature. In these cases 'croud', the Latin "chorus" must denote the bagpipes [fn][8] and not the string instrument 'croud' or 'crwth':


"and whanne he cam, and neixede [sp][nei-yogh-ede] to the hous,
he herde a symphonie and a croude" [fn][1];
"and symphonie and croude weren herd
whanne apostles knewen alle wittis" [fn][2];
"Ther ys harpë nor gyterne,
Symphonyë, nouther crowde" [fn][3];
"Croude he herde and simphonye" [fn][4].

An especially clear indication to playing the bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy together can be seen in the Annals of the Menetriers Jehan and Estienne Ferrier of Geneva. They report about a countess who went out to meet her returning husband in the year 1390 with the entire court and many minstrels. The minstrels blew horns, played harps and flutes, cymbals (cymbales), fiddled (rebbeis), and played hurdy-gurdies (cyphonies) and bagpipes (musettes), "die zusammenstimmten und schlugen Trommeln" [that played together and beat drums]. [fn][5].

As the texts make clear, the hurdy-gurdy had a permanent place in the medieval instrumental ensembles. Since it was one of the "bas instruments" [fn][6], the hurdy-gurdy


is always listed with the melody instruments. It was therefore in no way merely an accompanying instrument unsuited for playing melodies, as Hugo Steger supposes [fn][1]. On account of the method of shortening the strings by means of keys, it belonged instead to those instruments that had a fixed tonal scale, and thus it could take up an important place in the medieval instrumentarium.

B. The Tuning of the Hurdy-gurdy

On the basis of the possibility of tuning a scale exactly and sustaining each note indefinitely, the hurdy-gurdy could also have been used as a demonstration instrument. Thus the hurdy-gurdy and the organ took up position next to the monochord as intonation aids for the singers in the late Middle Ages, the monochord being used in ancient times and in the Middle Ages as a demonstration instrument and as a choral aid.On account of the hurdy-gurdy's long sustained notes a singer could be easily corrected or the tuning of other instruments could be made considerably less difficult. The hurdy-gurdy was also used to teach the young, as illustrations 19 and 47 depict. Finally the author of the "Summa Musicae" recommends the organ, monochord and hurdy-gurdy, on account of their fixed intonation, to the poor singer as supports: "Item rudis cantor ... instrumenta musica exerceat, et saepius eis utatur, qualia sunt monochordum, symphonia, quae dicitur organistrum, in organis etiam cantare laboret. In his etiam instrumentis nota de facili errare non potest, et a sono suo longius distorqueri, eoguod notae per claves certas et signatas facile possunt considerari, et promte proferri absque socio vel magistro cantore" [fn][2]. Even in the 17th century Marin Mersenne suggested using the hurdy-gurdy when tuning the spinet, insofar as its keys were correctly positioned: "La Vielle peut seruir


pour accorder les Epinettes, et particulierment celles qui sont Luthées [sp]"[fn][1].

The importance of the hurdy-gurdy as a church instrument and its popularity as a musical instrument in the late Middle Ages is mirrored in treatises which were written especially for this instrument and which must be viewed as the most important sources of information about the tuning of the medieval hurdy-gurdy. These treatises contain directions for the correct placement of the keys, with whose help the single melody tones are produced on a string.

All of the treatises preserved come apparently from the 13th century. The most correct and the most exact information is contained in the treatise earlier ascribed to Odo of Cluny. The others are not exact in what they relate. The treatise is ascribed to Odo since he is mentioned in the appendix of this work. The copy comes from the 13th century; the treatise therefore is considered to be also dated to the 13th century.[fn][2]. The question concerning the dating of this work is thereby however not cleared up, since the copyist of Odo's work could have relied to some extent on the tuning directions of an older author.

Scholars who busy themselves with the organistrum often claim that the keys, which are later also called 'claves' [fn][3] had at this time, the 13th century, the name of 'plectra' [fn][4]. This however does not come clearly from any of the treatises. Only in the following article are two 'plectra' mentioned, which however denote bridges that are situated at the beginning of the keybox and directly behind the wheel.


[NB: in the following pages the "square b" is shown with a small thorn: þ]
[NB: in the following pages b, þ, b-flat, and h are all used to label notes. It's not clear yet whether the translator knew which symbol related to which note, or how the notes referred to in the original text relate to modern notation, so these issues remain to be resolved.]

The text runs thus:

"Quomodo organistrum construatur"

In primis a capite iuxta primum plectrum, infra usque ad aliud plectrum, quod ponitur post rotulum, per duos passus metire, et in primo passu pone C. secundus finit. A C ad finem metire per tria, et quartus retro reddit G. a G ad finem per tres, et quartus retro pone D. a D ad finem per III. et in primo passu pone a. De a. ad finem pone III. et in primo retro pone E. Et ab E. ad finem per III. in primo passu pone þ. Item a C. ad finem per II. et III. retro pone F. ab F. ad finem per IIII. in primo passu pone b." [fn][1]

If the strings are divided in accordance with these instructions and the keys situated on the prescribed points, the result is as follows: the tonal range of the organistrum extends over a diatonic octave with both semitones before the octave, b-flat and b. To achieve this, eight keys must be so placed that the following string relationships result: [fn][2]

The string relationships of the individual are accordingly:

From the string relationships it is apparent that the hurdy-gurdy was tuned with a Pythagorean temperament. Tuned this way the fourth and fifth were pure. The third on the other hand consisted of two major whole tones 8/9, so that the major Pythagorean third of 64/81 arose. This third is about 80/81,or the syntonic comma, larger as opposed to the pure third of 4/5.


The second treatise, which is also anonymous, comes from around the same time and has the title:

"Mensura Organistri. A. C. novem passus usque ad sustentationem chordae facias. Ieam a D. novem passus. Item a C quatuor passus. Item a C. tres passus. Item a D. tres passus. Item ab F. quatuor passus, primus passus terminat in b. molle. Item ab E. tres passus, primus passus terminabit in þ; quod si adhuc c. acutam, quae diapason cum C. sonat, ponere volueris, quatuor passibus a G. usque in finem dimensis c. supradictam reperies." [fn][1]

This set of tuning directions is apparently the work of a copyist since it is not only less accurate than the preceding work, but with the notes D to G the writer merely mentions into how many parts the string is to be divided, without saying which notes the individual divisions produce. He also even forgets to provide the length for the sixth, the a. However it can be deduced from the string relationships of the other notes. The relationships are the same as in the preceding treatise, and thus the tuning is the same:

The hurdy-gurdy was also tuned in the same way according to the following treaties, which has two tuning methods in it which are different in that according to the first method three notes are tuned differently, whereby the G and the þ are produced by a division of the string which deviates from the other methods but which leads to the same result. A third note however, the b-flat rotundum is found here, otherwise than in the other tuning methods, not by dividing the string from F as the fourth 3/4 of F, but by the equidistant division of the length Aþ. When the major whole tone Aþ is divided with the ratio 8:9 = 16:18,


then from A we have for the note b-flat the ratio 17:18 with 99 cent.

The second tuning method of this treatise is essentially the same as the others. Only the conclusion is noteworthy, which is almost identical to the previously discussed treatise.

"Item alia mensura organistri. Omnes voces organistri elevatione et depositione lignorum intenduntur et remittuntur. [fn][1] Equaliter enim dividimus dupla proportione organistrum avolubili etta [fn][2] usque ad locum quo ponenda est prima littera scilicet C, et relicto primo passu vacuo et in fine alterius C posito ut diximus, iterum redimus ad ettam novenis passibus et primo passu D invenimus epogdoa proportione. Similiter a D ettam novem passus facientes primo passu E ponimus, F vero a C ut G a D usque ad ettam disponimus sesquitercia proportione, A vero a D ut þ quadratum ab E invenimus sesqualtera proportione. Synemenon vero equa divisione illius toni qui est inter A et þ quadratum invenimus.

Volens autem Item alia mensura quis organistrum disponere a C VIIII passus usque ad separationem chordae faciat, primus D ponit, item a D VIIII passus fiant, primus E ponit, a C vero IIII passus faciat, primusque ponit F, item a C tres passus metiantur, primusque G ponit, a D quoque tres passus fiant, primusque A ponit, ab F autem IIII passus faciat, et primus b rotundum, id est synemenon ponit, ab E tres ponantur passus, primusque þ ponit quadratum, quod si adhuc C acutam que dyapason cum C gravi sonat ponere voluerit, IIII passibus a G usque in finem


dimensis C supra dictam reperiet." [fn][1]

A further tuning method, in which the wheel is mentioned, also dates from the 13th century. According to this treatise as well the hurdy-gurdy is given a Pythagorean tuning.

"Si organistrum regulariter mensurandi notitiam subtilem habere volueris, mediocritas magaga ut magna post rotam ponatur. In primis inveniat, ut illuc usque inferius mensura porrigatur quo corda superius sonans extendit, in primis igitur C prime vocis nota inferioris magne locum [check this - looks like a typo in the Bröcker original] obtineat, hinc id est a C et magda inferiori quaterna divisione ad magdam superiorem quam preterire metiendo non poteris, procedas, et primus passus diatessaron complectens terminabis F. Secundus vero diapente continens desinit in c acutam, reliqui duo vacant. Iterum ad magdam inferiorem revertens, in primo passu ternarie divisionis G invenis, reliqui duo vacant. Deinde vero a G incipies et ternaria divisione facta circinum inferius a G moderatum retorquas et D habebis litteram secundam. Item incipias in D et ternaria divisione in termino primi passus a acutam diapente notantem invenies et ut per G unum ternaria divisione processisti circinum retorquendo D invenisti sic per a invenies E, S. b rotundum [fn][2] et þ quadratum, que adhuc restant invenienda facile inveniuntur: si b rotundum per F quarternaria divisione queratur, þ quadratum per e ternaria dimensione investigetur. Notandum quoque est alteram c positam non esse necessariam, sed gratia consonantie diapason superadditam fore. Quod si lingua que loco eiusdem c acuta posita fuerit incidatur ut consona sic iocunda, ut ita dicam, vox necesse est conficiatur." [fn][3]

Of the five tuning methods preserved the following dating to the first half of the 13th century is the most difficult to decipher. In an appendix to an article about organ pipes which concludes the treatise, the copyist


makes several remarks about various musical instruments. The tuning method given there would be incomprehensible without a knowledge of other other organistrum treatises. It concerns the locations of keys on a 'organica lira' (see page 191). The keys are denoted as 'magada' by the writer. The word 'magada' (in the previous treatise also 'magda') comes from the Greek 'magás-ádos' and means 'bridge.'

"Organicum quicumque liram metiendo laboras a magda C gravem passibus angenovem. In D passus erit a c D novem sed E quaerit C dabit F v(...) G passibus A dabit E. Quattuor amagada tot ab F stabit b rotunda passibus hinc geris littera quam gravis. Invenit equivocam tribus invenit e þ c quartam hic placeat suus regula dicta brevis" [fn][1].

Although these instructions are very incomplete, the formation of the major third from two major whole tones and the use of b-flat and b is evident. This article then gives the same tonal range as the others. That the 'organica lira' is a hurdy-gurdy is clear by the remarks that follow the tuning directions. There follows the two octave Greek system with b-synemenon as the 16th note. The writer gives the letters A-G to the Greek symbols for the intervals, but in such a way that A corresponds to our modern c. The letters A-G used here do not indeed agree with the tuning method for the 'organica lira' above. From this it follows that the writer of this treatise placed several older copies under each other without bothering to harmonize them.

Following this the writer remarks that these are the 16 strings of the monochord, and that the newer ones have an additional two strings. At the end of the treatise come a few remarks about the consonance of the fifth, fourth and octave.


For a better overview the placements of the keys according to the individual tuning methods will be shown again. In this schematic representation the bracketed Arabic numerals behind the starting note show into how many equal parts from there onwards the string is to be divided in ordered to produce the note to which the arrow points.This also indicates the note from which new notes are reached. The arrow in reverse indicates that the string is divided from the starting note to the end of the string, but that the note is not reached in the same direction, but by the transfer of a part of the division to the opposite direction [fn][1].

[Editor's Note: the translator included some observations on this table, which have been included below. The editor cannot support, confirm or deny any of the statements and conclusions reached by the translator.]

[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: I have failed to see how the directions above, the schemas as given, and the note [fn][1] below correspond. The schema Gec [fn][4] should give, according to the directions above, 5/8, for c=1/2 [sp] of the entire length of the string, and if this length in turn is divided into four equal parts, increments of 1/8 of the entire string length will result. There are four of these increments from the end of the string to c, and hence the addition of one more will result in 5/8 for G. But G, according to the tuning directions of the first treatise, equals 2/3. Note 1 appears to refer to this locating of G since it is the first instance of a reverse arrow and the only instance of finding any note from c. But note 1 shows the length of string from c to the end as being divided into three parts, not four. If the '4' in Gec [fn][4] is changed accordingly to '3', then the result is the one desired; for 1/3 of the length c-to-the-end-of-the-string is 1/6 of the entire length of the string. 'c' represents 3/6 (one half of the string) and thus the addition of one more increment will make G 4/6 or 2/3. The schemata can hence be rendered serviceable if in all cases of the 'reverse arrow' the numeral in brackets is reduced by one (1). By the way, a formula useful for translating the schemata is the following:

Let L= the fraction length equivalent to the starting letter (C=1) and N= the numeral in brackets and X= the fraction length equivalent to the note sought; then if L(N)dX, then L-(L/N)=X and if Xe L(N), then (L/N-1) +L=X

example: Eea (4)=(16/27) + 16/27= 64 3 81 ]



What is noteworthy about these treatises is that the tunings are all in major keys, observed by Hugo Reinmann. [fn][1] Implicated in the use of a major tonality is however is also the use of major thirds, that is, pure thirds in the relationship 4/5 ( or 386.3 cents). Compared with the pure third the Pythagorean ditonus, formed from two major tones with the relationship 8/9 (each 204 cents), is 64/81 (408 cents) too high. This third sounds dissonant in harmony since beats are formed that can clearly be heard. On instruments which were built to be played harmonically and which show an obvious major tonality, one would expect a pure tuning; as a matter of fact however all the tuning methods preserved depict Pythagorean tuning. In this however these treatises do not differ from the likewise Pythagorean tuning for the monochord or for the organ [fn][2], which in the Middle Ages was also a drone instrument. It must be said to this however that the Pythagorean tuning is not contrary to pure tuning, since it does not exclude pure thirds. Rather the Pythagorean tuning leads almost necessarily to pure thirds, as soon as in the chain of fifths b-flat f c g d a e b eight tones have been passed. If a ninth note e-flat is tuned to the eight notes, the interval b- e-flat, disregarding the octave position, gives an almost pure third, which differs from the third 4/5 only by the so called schism of 1.9 cents. If an f-sharp is tuned over the b, then the interval f-sharp - b-flat (a-sharp) can be used as a pure third. With twelve tones in the octave there are four pure thirds. With increasing chromaticism in the Pythagorean tuning therefore pure thirds necessarily have to be attained. Thus there were


many attempts made to attain a pure tuning from the Pythagorean tuning. Even the Kirnenberger tuning utilizes the schismatic equalization and in its first version is nothing else than a twelve-tone tuning in fifths. Likewise the Bonn pure instrument with its 72 notes in the octave was based on this tuning in fifths; each manual in itself is tuned in the Pythagorean manner.

For the medieval theoreticians however, an almost pure third (b - e-flat) attained in this manner could not be consonant, since the numerical relationship underlying it, (2/3)^8 [sp][8 is superscript], was too complicated.

On the diatonically tuned hurdy-gurdy with its seven or eight notes in the octave the thirds attained by the schismatic equalization could not be utilized. In its place however the hurdy-gurdy player could correct the pitch by means of the keys. It can be surmised that such a correction of the pitch was used already on the instrument with rotating keys. This results from the following considerations: If a string is stretched between two end bridges over a sounding-box, and the string is to be shortened from below by placing another bridge upright, then the string's end bridges do not need to be as high as the other bridge when it is turned upright, since otherwise the bridge will not make sufficiently exact contact with the string (a). The pressure against the string would not be strong enough to evoke a clear tone. The string then must lie low enough between the two end bridges so that when the other bridge is vertical the string is really shortened (b). This method of stringing results in a premature contact between bridge and string when the form is set upright, so that the pitch is not insignificantly changed before the bridge reaches its upright position (c).



Sliding keys offer a similar possibility to the player. The keys have wooden tangents attached to them which perform the function of shortening the string (see page 102). On most hurdy-gurdies the keys can be pushed further into the keybox than is necessary to produce the desired pitch. Thus the string touched by the tangent is stretched more and the pitch raised (a). My own attempts


sometimes resulted in raising the pitch more than a semitone, especially with the higher notes. This changing of the pitch by pressure was consciously used with the hurdy-gurdy. The contemporary French instrument has two full chromatic octaves (d'-d'''), in which due to lack of space, one note (c#''') has been left out. The usual practice is to produce the c#''' simply by applying more pressure to the c''' key, which with some practice succeeds with amazing exactitude. " Le vielleur modifie la hauteur en appuyant sur les touches" [fn][1]. On the first hurdy-gurdies to be preserved there is to be observed, besides the technique of varying the pressure on the key, yet another method of correcting the pitch. The tangents serving to shorten the string do not sit firmly in the round holes in the keys made for them (a). The part of the tangent that fits into the keys is also round, so that the player is able to turn the tangent back and forth (b), which implies a change in the pitch. With this technique the fine tuning of the individual notes on the two unison tuned melody strings of the French hurdy-gurdy is attained even today.

Since there are various ways of changing the pitch, an exact measurement of the individual tones is hard to achieve. At the beginning of this century Ludwig Riemann investigated the pitches of the various notes of a "Baurenleyer" [peasant hurdy-gurdy] from Zurich [fn][2]. He emphasizes however that the result of his


investigations are subjective. He apparently wrote down only what he heard when he was playing. Unfortunately the author says nothing about the instrument which he used, but just gives the scale of the "Baurenleyer" among 94 scales of instruments. It is apparently an instrument with a diatonic tonal range of one octave. As a standard for the deviations in tone of the individual instruments Riemann used a tempered scale. Deviations from the tempered note he symbolized with a whole note divided into 8 parts: the staff pointing up indicates a higher pitch, and when pointing down a lower pitch. With the "Baurenleyer" he also used in addition sixteenth notes.

The deviations established with the hurdy-gurdy are:

Quarter note deviations and sixteenth note deviations below. The whole note denotes agreement with the tempered note. Riemann produced the following scale for the "Baurenleyer":

First off it must be assumed that the instrument fell out of tune one semi-tone, for a f# scale is thoroughly unusual for a west European hurdy-gurdy.

In order to make the other deviations more clear, cent values are given to the individual notes. From this a more precise picture of the distance between each tone results. The octave has 1200 cents, the tempered whole tone 200 cents, the tempered half tone 100 cents, the quarter tone 50 and the sixteenth tone 12.5 cents. In order to make the differences more apparent the Pythagorean and the just tuning in cents are added.


As can be seen from the table, almost all of the notes of the Riemann scale are impure. Either they are extremely small (whole tone of 162 cents) or extremely large (whole tone of 237.5 cents). In the center of the scale is a normal tetrachord: a# - b - c# - d#, which is flanked above and below by intervals of 350 cents (f#' - a#' and d#" - f#").

It is particularly noteworthy that on this instrument neither the third, fourth or fifth are pure, but the major seventh, on the other hand (1087.5 cents) corresponds to that of the pure tuning (1088 cents). When major intervals like the fourth and fifth are not perfect, but about a quarter tone too low, they are very noticeable, particularly because a drone instrument like a hurdy-gurdy almost always has its drone in the fifth or the fourth. The drone strings are so tuned that the fifth sounds pure to the prime tone. On the scale that Riemann has produced the fifth would sound dissonant, since the fifth of the melody string is about a quarter-tone lower than the fifth of the drone string.

Unfortunately Riemann says nothing about the instrument which he investigated. Doubts about this scale must arise however since the author emphatically established that the folk instruments were so tuned that the practical tones were in agreement with the overtone phenomenon and with the fading of the


tones, [fn][1] which is not the case with this hurdy-gurdy. Riemann also mentions the extraordinarily frequent occurrence of the major third on folk instruments [fn][2]. On this hurdy-gurdy however the thirds f#' - a#' (350 cents) and d#" - f#"(350 cents) are pitched as so-called 'neutral thirds' (347 cents) right between the major and the minor thirds; for the major third of 386 cents the lower, f#' - a#', is 36 cents too small, the upper, d#" - f#", is for the minor third of 216 cents 34 cents too large.

It can be assumed that Riemann was dealing with a normal instrument whose tangent positions could be changed and whose keys could be pushed into the body in varying degrees. With this assumption, this scale loses its value because it cannot be checked if Riemann perhaps did not push the keys in as far as they would go, but just so far that a note was produced. The impression of a really subjective auditory investigation arises here, for the impurity of practically every note speaks against the use of a scale such as the one Riemann depicted.

When played together with other instruments the pitch of the hurdy-gurdy could be corrected simply by applying more or less pressure to the keys or by repositioning the tangents. This was probably done without any great difficulty even in the Middle Ages. The adjustment of pitch differences of wind instruments when played with other instruments was known, and on the clavichord pitch differences could be adjusted by stronger or weaker pressure on the key. [fn][2]

On the hurdy-gurdy, besides the fine tuning available by turning the tangents and by varying the pressure on the keys, there is yet another way of changing the tuning of the melody string slightly. This happens with


the help of two separate nuts, one for each melody string, placed at the beginning of the keybox after the exit of the strings from the peghead (a). Each nut can be moved, so that the pitch of the entire string can be changed.

In order to tune an out-of-tune hurdy-gurdy in such a way that all the notes sound more or less pure, a musician with a good ear and much skill needs two to three hours, since he must check every single note. Tuning is particularly difficult when the hurdy-gurdy is to be played with another instrument, such as a bagpipe or a second hurdy-gurdy. That even in the 16th and 17th centuries value was attached to a well tuned instrument and that this demanded a good ear and skill is indicated by a proverb which was recorded in the 17th century: "Ils accordent bien leurs vielles" [trans. SB: "They tune their hurdy-gurdies well."], with which it is supposed to be said that they are clever people ("ils ont de l'intelligence"). [fn][1]

C. Early Polyphony and Instrumental Practice

To judge by the representations, the numerous references in the literature and above all from the treatises on tuning which have been preserved, the hurdy-gurdy had a respected position


in the medieval instrumentarium. The instrument could probably only assume this position because it could be polyphonically played, which is indeed indicated by the hurdy-gurdy's medieval names (see page 187). The harmonies which could be realized on the instrument were indeed limited as to type, but these nevertheless corresponded to the earliest known forms of medieval polyphony. The term used for this music practice, 'organum', shows that there was a connected between these polyphonic forms and the musical instruments, which can be recognized clearly in the name for the organ ('organum') and for the hurdy-gurdy ('organistrum'). 'Organum' does not denote just the organ and the polyphonic music practice, but also, quite generally, an 'instrument'. [fn][1] If 'organum' still had a general meaning (instrument) and a special meaning (organ) for Augustine and Isidor, then later authors used this term to denote just the organ. [fn][2]

It was known from Augustine and Isidor in the early Middle Ages that 'organum' was the name for the organ or another instrument. If this name was later given to a polyphonic music practice, then the connection between musical instruments and the polyphonic organa cannot be simply disregarded. The use of this name as a term for a music practice leads to the conclusion that this type of polyphony


was first executed instrumentally. This is indicated for example by Johannes Affligemensis, who speaks of naming a particular method of playing after an instrument. [fn][1] The parallel organum accordingly was "named in view of the effect organum already known in the instrumental music: this was a characterization which, used for a choir of human voices, can only be explained in that this manner of singing was intended to imitate the instrument (organa)". [fn][2]

Next to the thesis that parallel organa were performed solely by voices [fn][3] the opinion has also been aired that the musical instrument were only subsequently constructed so as to meet the requirements of the vocal parallel organum. [fn][4] Both interpretations contradict the sources which lead to the conclusion that the term 'organum' first indicated an instrument and then was transferred to a polyphonic choral practice with instrumental accompaniment. Thus Heinrich Husmann attempted to explain the origin of the term 'organum' for a choral practice as a transfer from the Byzantine organ, since this had a 'mixtur' register which sounded several pipes with parallel octaves and fifths when played on one key. Since in principle this is the construction of the primitive parallel organum, its name (in the first beginning phase) could have been borrowed from the parallel technique of the organ of that period." [fn][5] That this form of polyphonic choral practice has its origins in instruments is shown by the comparison of the singing with the hurdy-gurdy's sound:


"A donc seront les voiz ohiez En semblance de chifoniez". [fn][1]

The theoretician's sources also speak for a participation of instruments in the execution of 'organa'. [fn][2] Besides the "dyaphonia basilica" the author of the "Summa Musicae" mentions instrumental participation in the "organica dyaphonia." [fn][3] The same author clearly indicates an instrumental execution of the lowest voice when he remarks that the cantus organicus goes so low that it cannot be sung. [fn][4] The Anonymous IV even testifies to the performance of the drones on the organ, [fn][5] and the Anonymous from St. Emmeram thinks of organum as being a mixed vocal and instrumental presentation, whereby the author characterizes the instrumental tenor as being a 'burdo.' (see page 48). [fn][6]

If however the term 'organum' served to denote an instrumental practice, then the terms derived from it are also connected with instruments.[fn][7]


Cosuequently the term 'organisare' can denote "to play polyphonically', and 'organistra' denotes the 'organ' or 'instrument player', [fn][1] and the term 'organicus punctus' can be interpreted, not just literally but in reference to the instrument as 'organ point'. [fn][2] The later addition of the human voice to an instrumentally performed polyphonic music is indicated by the naming of the accompanying voice as 'vox organalis'. It was of course not just the human voice that was denoted by 'vox', but also the voice of an instrument, so that it does not appear to be wrong to think of an instrumental voice with the 'vox organalis'. [fn][3] Ernst Ludwig Waeltner believes that the term 'organum' was originally not used for the entire practice, but just for that of the 'vox organalis'. The accompanying voice was hence first used in connection with the instruments. Only then was the term applied to the entire practice. "The adoption of the term 'organum' indicates that the use of instruments was an important factor of this method of presentation." [fn][4]

The connection between 'organum' as a polyphonic music practice and 'organum' as instrument is clearest however in the term 'musica organica' which was common in the Middle Ages for denoting instrumental music. [fn][5]

Since apparently the term 'organum' was transferred from instruments to a certain manner of presenting polyphonic music, these instruments must have already been polyphonic. However t here was a great number of such instruments


in the Middle Ages. Therefore it can be assumed that instruments of this type were used also in the presentation of organa practice, although the sources of early polyphonic music which have been preserved do not indicate to what extent musical instruments participated. [fn][1] Probably this will never be known since a strict distinction between vocal and instrumental music was not known until modern times, as for example the addition of a 'da cantare o suonare' to many title pages of old music shows. [fn][1] Even for the 16th century music the question as to whether it is to be performed instrumentally, instrumentally and vocally, or just vocally cannot be answered since there were not set rules. "Music was played just how the instruments and the voices were available." [fn][3] With instrumental accompaniment for vocal music the instruments available were played, whereby these could fulfill various functions: they could support the harmony or substitute for missing voices.[fn][4] The participation of instruments was not exhausted however in these two duties. It can no longer be established what function the individual instruments had, but the medieval instrumentarium which has been preserved in word and picture shows nevertheless such a great number of various types and forms that the conclusion seems to be justified that musical instruments were extensively used in that period. There must have been accordingly a marked instrumental practice about which however only suppositions can be made, since the preservation


of instrumental music began only very late and even these sources do not usually give any information about the use of certain instruments. This may be connected with the fact that while there was a great number of instruments of various types, these instruments were nevertheless in various stages of development, so that no 'instrumental style' for specific instruments could arise.[fn][1]

D. The Hurdy-gurdy in Church Music

It has already been mentioned that the hurdy-gurdy functioned as a church instrument in the late Middle Ages (see page192). The instrument's harmonies allow certain deductions to be made about its repertoire. The construction of the instrument permits only those harmonies which are also found in the earliest sources of sacred polyphonic music, for which reason the hurdy-gurdy appears particularly suited to the execution of the organa. This polyphonic practice of the parallel and drone organa was common in medieval secular music as well as in sacred music. "Parallelness and drone technique" form the "pillars of the polyphony cultivated in the European ars antiqua." [trans CH:"old music"][fn][2]

Both forms of polyphony were established early in sacred music. Probably the first reference to the practice of organa is found in the writings of Bishop Aldhelm from the 7th century. [fn][3] The Musica Enchiriadis, which contains the first extensive description of the parallel organum dates from the middle of the 9th century and originated in the vicinity of Metz. This organum with parallel voices has been handed down [note: better wording = ?] in fourth and fifth intervals. [fn][4] Hugo Riemann questions


the practical performance of the parallel organum and considered the whole family as simply scholarly tinkering on the part of theoreticians. [fn][1] This view resulted from our modern sense of sound which finds sequences of fifths and fourths empty and graceless. This is because the harmony of the root note with the fifth or fourth which fades away very rapidly and which has a high degree of consonance. "It should be generally known that even in our music sphere untrained singers, when they want to sing with others in a choir, often sing along in the fifth, thinking they are singing in the same pitch." [fn][2] Even in the Middle Ages the marked fading-in of these 'perfect' consonances was recognized and hence were used to create a stronger tonal effect.

The treatises which deal with the parallel organum do not represent a fixed establishment of a new "invention", but appear only to order a wide spread type of polyphony " into a fixed theoretical system and provide evidence for the practicability of its use in church choral music" [fn][3].The author of the Musica Enchiriadis then expressly emphasizes that this polyphony was called "assuete organum"[fn][4]. Popular parallel music was spread throughout the whole of Europe, and the origins of the church organum are probably to be sought in a popular music practice [fn][5]. Up until the 16th century polyphonic music of the type of the early organum was known


throughout Europe [fn][1]; thus the example in Hungary [fn][2] and in Catalonia, from whence comes a manuscript, the "Cantorale Sti. Hieronimi" from the 15th century. Despite its late date it also contains "two or three voice organa in the style of the 13th century with quadrate notation" [fn][3]. The last part of a choral manuscript from the first half of the 16th century forms "an almost rigid fifth organum interrupted by unison parts" [fn][4]. Even in recent times, until 1928, [fn][5] this parallel organum practice existed in the Icelandic Tvísöngvar ( plural of Tvísöngur). [fn][6] Another example of the organa music practice is found in Macedonia in a type of social epic, in which two choruses alternating sing in epic verse and finally together end the piece in a interval of a fifth. "Diese Musikpraxis erinnert stark an anser frühmittelalterliches Organum." [fn][7] [trans MM: "This music practice very much recalls our early medieval organum"]

The drone practice was probably much more developed than the parallel music, as the large number of drone instruments in the Middle Ages testifies. Both types of folk polyphonic music practice appear to be very old and have been spread throughout the whole of Europe. They probably did not originate


in the Middle Ages, but much earlier. Their age cannot be determined, but early forms of polyphony must have been known in antiquity, since the instrumentarium of those times was too complex to allow it to be supposed that there was just a unison presentation practice [fn][1]. This variety of instruments existed also during the entire Middle Ages, and it appears to be certain that instruments were used for just these forms of polyphonic music. Thus a northern European source reports of several instruments being played together, among these apparently some hurdy-gurdies, and to which a vocal organum was sung: "sumir leika salterium ok simphon, sumir troda [sp][tro-d/stroke-a] organum, sumir berja bumbu, en sumir blása í trumbu" (Some played the psalerium and simphon, others performed organum, some played the bumbu and others blew the trumbu) [fn][2]. An instrumental basse dance from the 16th century has parallel fourths, fifths and octaves which return over the tenor and which recall the parallel organum [fn][3].

If the folk music of the Middle Ages had a definite instrumental character,then the use of instruments even in the early medieval church polyphony is not to be excluded from consideration. The theoreticians do not provide any basis for determining the extent to which musical instruments were used in the church organa practice but it must be nevertheless be assumed that they participated


in this music practice [fn][1]. Many of the preserved sources would in fact remain incomprehensible if the participation of instruments was rejected [fn][2]. In any case, the participation of instruments cannot be denied on the grounds that "It is church music for which the participation of neither organ (organum) nor instruments (organa) is handed down" [fn][3]. How would, according to this point of view, the source discussed on page 363 be valued, which reports of participation of minstrels with their instruments at the daily masses? The use of "instruments in organum" was rather " so understandable for the theoreticians that it did not need to be specially mentioned" [fn][4].

A reference to instrumental participation in parallel organum is given in the Paris Treatise, which allows both 'human' as well as instrumental voices for octave doubling [fn][5]. The instrumental version is supported by the frequent use of large intervals as ninths, tenths, sevenths, etc., and by the frequently prescribed individual notes isolated by pauses [fn][6].

Another point which leads us to think of an instrumental presentation is the slowing down of the tempo in organum. The Köln treatise, like the Paris treatise as well as the Musica Enchiriadis emphasize the slower tempo of the organa


in comparison with that of the choral presentation [fn][1], which itself slows down when instruments are added. "We know from our own experience that plain-chant slows down when it is accompanied by the organ" [fn][2]. "Die Verlangsamung des Zietmaßes im Organum ist ein besonderes Merkmal der frühen Organalpraxis. Sie ermöglichte es den im Organum beteiligten Instrumenten, wie auch Sängern, ihre jeweiligen Töne zu kolorieren. Diese Kolorierungen stellen gleichsam di Verbindung zwischen den einzelnen Klängen her."[fn][3] ("The slowing down of the tempo in organum is a special characteristic of the early organa practice. It made it possible for the participating instruments, as well as for the singers, to color their respective tones. This coloration produces, as it were the connection between the individual tones of the organum and hence between the individual sounds." Ernst Ludwig Waeltner considers the organum to be an essential part and a specific manner of presentation, of the liturgy [fn][4] and even assumes a definite individual instrumental-vocal formation for the early practice of organum. [fn][5] With this he accords to the sound of the organum which have been handed down in writing only a supporting function as a harmonic tonal foundation, over which it is freely improvised. The numerous instruments serve "through improvisation to increase the splendor of the organum's chordal pillars. It was therefore music which set large masses and means in motion in order to achieve the fullest possible sound" [fn][6].

Since the musical instruments apparently already had such a great significance for the execution of parallel organum, they must have been even more in demand for the drone organum. Long sustained drone tones are found in sacred music first in the drone organa of the 11th and 12th centuries. Already Guido of


Arezzo gives an example of the drone organum [fn][1]; this type of organum is further described in a 12th century anonymous treatise [fn][2]. The constant return to the primary tone and to the fifth have a drone character in sequences, the texts of which frequently mention musical instruments [fn][3]. "Both tones are so to speak drone tones and are executed as such with instrumental accompaniment" [fn][4]. As in two short tonal pieces by Perotin a "dyaphonia basilica' (see page 47) is also found in a 15th century manuscript from Innsbruck (Innsbruck Hs. Univ. Ms. 457) [fn][5]; in a 'organum quadruplum' by Perotin in the F of the tenor is held for over 130 measures [fn][6], and this could be performed on the hurdy-gurdy or on wind-bag instruments (organ, bagpipes).

The thesis of the instrumentally executed tenors is also supported by the fact that the low drone of the tenor gave its name to the lowest octave on keyboard instruments. In the instrument making treatise of Henricus Arnaut of Zwolle (c. 1440), the notes of the lowest octave of


a keyboard instrument are called 'barduni' [fn][1], as was also the low unshortened string of the bowed-instrument vielle, which ran along the side of the finger-board, characterized by Hieronymus de Moravia as a drone string: "Secunda (chorda), quae bordunus est aliarum, D solum facit" [fn][2].

An excellent source for sacred instrument presentation practices is provided by the organa of the Saint Jacob's Liturgy of the Codex Calixtinus [fn][3]. This codex originated in Santiago de Compostela, the most important pilgrim center in the Middle Ages and at the same time a meeting place of musicians with their various instruments, for the "mittelalterlichen Wallfahrtsorte und Heiligtümer Europas waren immer lebendiger Mittelpunkt der mehrstimmigen, volkstümlichen und Instrumentalmusik" [fn][4] ("medieval pilgrim centers and shrines of Europe were always lively centers of the polyphonic, popular, and instrumental music.")

The well developed music practice in Santiago was not only preserved by the hand written sources but also by especially generous representation of numerous instruments on the cathedral and on the archbishop's palace. The hurdy-gurdy was also pictured on both buildings which indicates that it was especially valued in the Santiago instrumentarium. The two player organistrum used there was probably utilized mainly for the performance of church music, "and in most cases it was the center of a large orchestra" [fn][5]. "The organistrum is placed in the center of the group. The circumstance of a rather prominent place being given to it ... suggests that it was used in sacred music rather as a church-organ" [fn][6].

The instrumental practice cultivated in Santiago is indicated especially by the 23 organa of the Codex Calixtinus,


of which, according to Walter Krüger, 15 were performed with drones. [fn][1] Many of these organa show not only long drones but also a moving melody of the 'vox organalis' in contrast to the 'vox principalis'. "Doppelgriffe (falls nicht Mixturen) jedenfalls auf Instrumentalpraxis auch der Principalis hinn." [fn][2] ("Double fingerings (if not 'mixturs') also point to an instrumental practice of the principalis as well". Various other factors also strengthened the instrumental presentation practice of the organa. Dom German Prado established that the 'conductus' of the Codex has its origin in dances from Toledo and Seville, and that for example the conductus 'Ad superni ragis' stems from a Galician dance for the bagpipes [fn][3], for which reason Krüger supposed that this piece was also performed in Santiago either on the bagpipes or on the hurdy-gurdy [fn][4]. Besides, there are numerous references to instruments in the text: "Clerus cum organo / et plebs cum tympano / cantet redemptori"; "Organa dulcia conveniencia sunt resonanda" [fn][5]; "Jocundetur et letetur, augmentetur / fidelium concio, / sollempnizet, modulizet, organizet / spiritali gaudio" [fn][6]. The 'symphonia' is found in another conductus text, which is interpretated as being a hurdy-gurdy by Marius Schneider: "cum hera simphonia, tuba et canora" [fn][7].

The chonicler reports that the pilgrims, arranged according to nationality, presented themselves in the cathedral of Santiago and sang to the accompaniment of instruments which they had brought with them from their home countries [fn][8]. In the sacred processions the musicians, and indeed instrumentalists, were represented, as was always the case with medieval pilgrimages and liturgical celebrations. The Codex includes several


polyphonic pieces which were suited to solemn processions accompanied by dancing and instrumental music [fn][1].

If one accepts the participation of instruments in the presentation of organum in the churches, then the next question is: 'What instruments known to us from this period were especially suited for this music practice?'. For this question one fact which is essential for the use of the instruments in this context but which often is not sufficiently considered is decisive. The organum was a church practice which was tied to the wide and high spaces of cathedrals and churches. From this in itself results a natural selection of instruments which are particularly suited for these spaces. Indeed all available instruments could be used, as was often the case, but some instruments, on account of their construction and their musical possibilities sounded especially good in a church. Preference was therefore given to those instruments with which the musician could produce not only a loud, but a carrying sustained tone as well. On account of the slow tempo of the organum the players of the participating instruments had to be able to hold each note as long as possible. The wind and bowed instruments were well suited for this purpose, while the quickly disappearing notes of the plucked instruments were unsuitable.

The organ, whose relationship to the organum practice is made clear by the common term 'organum', seems to have been especially well suited for this presentation practice [fn][2]. If the technical aspects of this instrument


were still imperfect, it was suited nevertheless as a drone instrument on account of the loud sustained tones which were attributed with special respect in the sources [fn][1]. It is certainly not correct to think that there was no connection between the organ and organum on account of the primitive mechanism of the instrument [fn][2]; at the Leonin [?] the organ already had keys and the player was quite able to execute faster movements [fn][3]. The close relationship between the organ and parallel organum is made clear by a late quint organum, which appears in the 14th century in the first English tablature [fn][4].

Aside from the organ, two other members of the wind instrument family, the double shawms and the bagpipes were of special interest for the organum, since they likewise enable the player to sustain polyphonic harmonies. Among the bowed instruments the hurdy-gurdy especially belonged to the ranks of the polyphonic instruments.

The medieval name of the hurdy-gurdy 'organistrum' indicates a close relationship between the organum and this instrument. Next to other shortening methods the 13th century hurdy-gurdy


also had a key mechanism which appeared as if made just for played fixed organum (ill. 2) [figlink]. "The music peculiar to this type of lyre to a great extent confirms the assumption that the vocal Organum arose from an attempt to imitate the instrumental effect" [fn][1]. The individual keys of the hurdy-gurdy in illustration 2 are provided with letters for the notes, which indicate that the range of the instrument was one octave with b-flat and b. This picture clearly shows the construction of the keys, which when turned 90 degrees upward simultaneously contact all three strings. The rotating keys of the hurdy-gurdy effected a simultaneous shortening of all the strings. If the instrument had several strings and all the strings could only be shortened simultaneously, the question arises as to how these strings were tuned. Van Waesberghe is of the opinion that all the strings were tuned to one pitch: "Zoals men ziet, wordt met een draaing van de pennen de snaar (of de gelijkgestemde snaren) ingekort ... Dit 'organistrum' kende aanvankelijk een, twee, of drie snaren die allen dezelfde toon voortbrachten" [fn][2]. [trans: JW: "As can be seen, the string (or strings tuned in unison) are shortened with a turning of the keys ... This 'organistrum' knew, originally one, two, or three strings that all produced the same tone."]

Tuning all the strings to one pitch would have meant that the particular features which the hurdy-gurdy had to offer would not have been utilized. As illustration 2 shows however, the instrument was so built that mixed tones could be played, and it certainly did not correspond to the idea behind the construction to avoid such sounds by tuning the strings to the same pitch. The hurdy-gurdy had with 'organistrum' a name derived from 'organum'. 'Organum' however denoted not only the organ, which could without doubt produce a mixture of tones [fn][3], but also a polyphonic music practice. This polyphonic organum practice was known even in Spain, despite the domination of the Arabs, [fn][4] and hence it is that area from which the first preserved representations


of the hurdy-gurdy come. The chronicler Vergilius Cordubensis of Spain, in his listing of the professors and departments at the university in Cordoba, mentions also two music masters and expressly the type of music which they taught: "et duo magistri legebant de musica, de ista arte quae dicitur organum" [fn][1].

Only one representation of the hurdy-gurdy from this period seems to depict a one-stringed instrument (ill. 13) [figlink]; on all the other representations it is clear that the normal hurdy-gurdy was strung with more than one string. Why then tune all the strings to the same pitch on an instrument which was meant to be played polyphonically? This was not necessary to strengthen the single tone, since the instrument must have had quite a loud sound, if only because of the resonating body. From the modern small hurdy-gurdies we know that the wheel causes a much stronger rubbing than a bow, and that therefore, the tone of the instrument is very loud and wide reaching. [Editor's Note: The modern practice is to tune the melody strings in unison or in octaves.]

Analogous to the other instruments of this period on which drone and mixed sounds could be produced, and corresponding to the organum practice which gave the hurdy-gurdy its name, it must be supposed that the strings were tuned to different pitches. The organum and the organistrum are closely related not only by name but also in respect to their effects. The organum was a church practice and the organistrum was at this time a respected church instrument [fn][2]; and it was precisely with its function as a church musical instrument that Van Waesberghe concerned himself with in his article [fn][3].

Noteworthy about the instrument mentioned is the simultaneous shortening of all three strings resulting in a division of all the strings at exactly the same places. If the three strings were not tuned to the same pitch, then they must nevertheless have been so


tuned that necessarily resulting harmonies always remained consonant when the strings were shortened. Thus it is not surprising that most scholars who mention this picture immediately thought of the parallel organum with its primary-fifth-octave sound and did not even consider the possibility that the three strings were all tuned the same [fn][1]. "L'organisrum produisait donc trois sons à la fois et l'on pouvait les soutenir indéfiniment." [fn][2] [trans: SB: "The organistrum thus produced three tones simultaneously and could be sustained indefinitely."] On this hurdy-gurdy then harmonies in the sense of the fixed parallel organum were realized with the use of the keys. Edmond de Coussemaker considers therefore the hurdy-gurdy to be an instrument constructed for the performance of the parallel organum: "L'instrument qui porte ce cachet de la manière la plus frappante est 'l'organistrum'. Son nom ... en est lui-même une preuve manifeste: car 'l'organum' était précisemént le nom des accords formes de réunions d'octaves, de quintes ou de quartes, ce qui indique parfaitement sa destination" [fn][3]. [trans: SB: the instrument which demonstrates this characteristic the most strikingly is the 'organistrum'. Its name ... is in itself manifest proof of this: for the 'organum' was precisely the name of the chords formed by the joining of octaves, fifths or fourths, which clearly demonstrates the purpose of the organistrum."]

As the treatises and illustration 2 prove, the hurdy-gurdy normally had the tonal range of one octave beginning with C and including b-flat and b natural. Deviations from parallel sounds were not possible for the hurdy-gurdy with rotating keys, on the other hand however the instrument already had accidentals of necessity. If one accepts the tuning of the strings in the interval of the lower fifth, or at another time the lower fourth, the following notes result:


With the construction of the hurdy-gurdy which provided only these rotating keys for all three strings, the musical possibilities of the instrument were exhausted in the performance of the parallel organum. The limitations of the instrument is not due to the simultaneous shortening of all three strings, but rather to the shortening of the strings at exactly the same points, which means that the chords playable on the instrument were always similarly constructed. Since the distances between keys were fixed and in each case always remained the same, no change could be brought about in the construction of individual chords.


This instrument was indeed excellently suited for the presentation of a parallel organum, even without the participation of other instruments, but by its nature its tonal possibilities were so limited that its harmonies were unavoidably uniform. It could therefore not be avoided that when polyphony became more varied the hurdy-gurdy made for parallel sounds was given up.

On the other hand the hurdy-gurdy with drone strings has maintained itself up to the present day. By attaching one, two, or more drones, the use of the instrument was considerably extended. With three strings, two strings could be tuned in intervals of a fifth or fourth and be shortened by keys while the third functioned as a drone string (see page 114).

The hurdy-gurdy found use in sacred music as a drone instrument as well. In the 13th century it was a large instrument played by clerics, which, on account of the size of its resonating body and the length of its strings, enabled the musician to produce a deep drone sound.

Compared to most other musical instruments it had the advantage that the player could sustain indefinitely each single note. The large organistrum was especially suited to the performance of the sustained organum with its drone sounds and the tenors with their slight ambitus and the slow alterations in the scale, since this large hurdy-gurdy as a bass instrument with its loud sound was in the position of being able to support all other instruments or voices and perhaps even to drown them out. On the other hand, the instrument was operated by two players, whereby one of these had both hands free to operate the keys. With two hands the musician could even achieve a certain fluency, so that he could play a more moving melody on the melody string. If the instrument was only to serve as a drone instrument, then double drones, double octaves but above all alternating drones, which perhaps changed several times in one piece, were produced. Another advantage lay in the fact that the hurdy-gurdy's strings could be quickly retuned to another key.


It can be said with certainty that the large organistrum for two players was a low sounding instrument and that for a long time it was used in churches as the predecessor to the organ. The frequent representation on 12th century north Spanish churches seems to confirm this, since for the same period, from the 9th to the 12th century, it cannot be established that there were organs in the Spanish churches. [fn][1]

The large organistrum must have been exclusively a church instrument. On account of the technique required for playing it and the operation by two players it had the disadvantage as compared to other instruments that it could be played only in a sitting position. Small hurdy-gurdies are found in representations only since the 13th century. They must however been around earlier, since the literary sources in the 12th century already mention the use of hurdy-gurdies in celebrations and processions. The hurdy-gurdy probably existed at some time in two different forms and had two different functions: as a large church instrument and as the small instrument of the minstrels. As far as sound goes, the large hurdy-gurdy was doubtless suited for large areas and open spaces. When we hear the considerably smaller hurdy-gurdy of modern times we are still astounded by the sharp and far-carrying sound of this instrument. Hence the hurdy-gurdy for two players must have had a very loud sound, so that with its piercing tone it could properly fulfill the requirements that were placed on an instrument intended for large spaces. The opinion that the instrument, on account of its sound which was compared to a 'rasping shriek', was played only outdoors, "where one can in any case think of the good effect" [fn][2], cannot be brought into agreement with its great popularity and its position in the medieval instrumentarium.


E. The Hurdy-gurdy in Medieval Secular Music

Besides the large organistrum used in the church there existed already at the same time the small instrument for one player. This hurdy-gurdy was given a quite different sphere of duties, which for the secular instrumental music of the Middle Ages was of great importance. In this sphere however the small one-player hurdy-gurdy could only be used and enjoy such great popularity for such a long time because it offered tonal possibilities different from those of the large bass instrument of the church. By shortening the entire length of the instrument and hence the strings as well it became a descant instrument. Along with the decrease in its size the hurdy-gurdy lost the disadvantage of immobility of the large organistrum; it could now be easily transported and handled, and was thus quite suited to be played while standing or walking and hence could become one of the instruments of the minstrels.

Although the small hurdy-gurdy belonged to the instrumentarium of the minstrels, it was also used in the churches, since the minstrels with their instruments were not excluded from the field of church music. Thus the hurdy-gurdy was a popular instrument of the pilgrims and was expressly mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in his "Canterbury Tales" as one of the instruments which the Canterbury pilgrims played: "With harpe and pype and simphonye" [fn][1].

One of the important semi-sacred duties for the small hurdy-gurdy lay in the accompaniment of dances which were certainly cultivated in many pilgrim centers as well. Above all the participants in processions and celebrations danced one part of the liturgical music, and religious dances with instrumental accompaniment even took place in churches. [fn][2] The Montserrat Dance of Death for example was actually conducted as


a round dance with choir and leader [fn][1]. The pilgrims at Montserrat also danced and sang continuously between prayers [fn][2]. In this context it is significant that these dances were accompanied with instruments. Even the accompaniment of cult dances by instruments has been testified to [fn][3], and when the liturgical tunes were later no longer danced to, the music nevertheless has a certain dance character and betrays its origin from dances [fn][4].

The performance of this music was generally entrusted to the medieval minstrels, whose repertoire was apparently very extensive. The same minstrels played with their instruments every type of secular and sacred music at feasts and solemnities [fn][5]. They even performed music in the church, and this practice was apparently so widespread that the Councils had to forbid it from the Spanish churches. [fn][6] Pilgrims were accompanied on their way by minstrels who also preceded processions, marriage celebrations and other festivities with their instruments. In many areas marriage processions were led by musicians up until the 20th century. These musicians played uninterruptedly all the way to the church. Thus for example in marriage festivities in some French provinces bagpipe players and hurdy-gurdy players led the way in the procession to the church [fn][7].

The hurdy-gurdy belonged to the instruments which were classed as 'soft instruments' and which were used in the performance of liturgical music and in mystery plays [fn][8]. With the use of musical instruments however was at the same connected the presence and participation


of minstrels in the church [fn][2], who until the end of the 15th century played in instrumental ensembles in religious ceremonies and church marriages.[fn][2]

Very little is known about the structure of medieval secular music [fn][3], but the literary and pictorial sources testify that the instruments played an important role in it. From the literature it is apparent that the minstrels had to be good instrumentalists; they should be able to play at least nine instruments, as Guiraut de Calanso advises in his Sirventes "Fadet Joglar". He lists that he plays more than these nine instruments, among these the hurdy-gurdy [fn][4].

A jongleur had to master the a wide variety of skills, but his principal task lay in the performance of music: he made dancing music and entertained his public with instrumental music together with other musicians or by singing to an instrumental accompaniment. The medieval minstrel was an indispensable entertainer in the houses of the rich. Johannes de Garlandia mentioned around 1200 in his "Dictionarius" the many different instrumentalists, among these hurdy-gurdy players as well, whom he had seen in wealthy homes: "Sed in domibus divitum vidi liricines, tibicines, cornicines, vidulatores cum vidulis, alios cum fistro, cum giga, cum simphonia, cum psalteria ..." [fn][5] These minstrels had also to provide the background music for the dinner, which included both instrumental and vocal music [fn][6].


Since 'Tafelmusic' was often performed by instrumentalists, a prerequisite was the grouping of different instruments into one ensemble (see page 235). [fn][1] Thus Mathieu d'Escouchy reports of a dinner during which it was sung to the accompaniment of several instruments: "et apprez, ou pasté, juèrrent les aveugles, de vielles, et aveuc eulx ung leu bien acordé; et chantoit aveuc eulx une damoiselle de l'ostel de ladicte duchesse nommée Pacquette, dont la chose ne valoit pas pis" [fn][2].

An especially important part of the instrumentalist's task lay in vocal accompaniment since almost all old French poetry was recited in song [fn][3], and all were intended to be executed by singing [fn][4]. [Note: These don't seem to differ - resolve.] The most important medieval poetry, the 'chansons de geste', were extensive epics which usually contained more than 10,000 verses [fn][5]. The presentation of these 'chansons de geste' belonged also to the repertoire of the jongleur: "On n'était pas bon jongleur si l'on n'avait pas dans la memoire un grand nombre de chansons de geste" [fn][6]. Like the 'chansons de geste' the Lives of the Saints were also sung by the jongleurs [fn][7].

Hardly anything is known about the composers of the 'chansons de geste' or about their musical structure. It is


certain however that they were sung [fn][1], otherwise this type of epic would not have been called a 'chanson'[fn][2]. Melodies for the chansons have not been handed down, since it was not customary to commit them to paper [fn][3]. Johannes de Grocheo however has something to report about them [fn][4], according to which the melodies were constantly repeated. They would be then 'short melodies' which all the jongleurs and the copyists of the manuscripts would know, so that it would be superfluous to write them down [fn][5]. The singing of the chansons was accompanied by instruments [fn][6] as is indicated in the texts of the chansons [fn][7]. According to the information from the texts only string instruments were used to accompany the song [fn][8]. According to the 'Chanson de Horn' the presentation of a lay was conducted in the following manner: first the jongleur would tune his instrument, then he would play an introduction and then accompany the song. Each time after the song he would repeat the melody on his instrument [fn][9].


The jongleurs with their instruments participated in the presentation of songs of the troubadours and of the trouveres. It is true that the troubadours also presented their songs by themselves, a fact which is particularly emphasized in their biographies [fn][1]. A polyphonic accompaniment and ornamentation through instruments were just as familiar to the German minnesinger as to the French troubadours and trouveres. This is testified by Gottfried von Straßburg, who called Walther von der Vogelweide a master in "organieren und wandelieren" [fn][2]. Hermann, a monk from Salzburg, wrote some songs with instrumental parts (among these the "Taghorn" and the "Nachthorn") , in which the instrumental part remains confined to one note which only changes to the lower fourth or the octave, and which is thus quite similar to a drone [fn][3].

Music formed an essential, part of courtly life and middle-class society, which is why so many instruments are mentioned in medieval poetry. Of approximately 50 Middle High German epics only nine do not mention music at all, while in the others together 29 different instruments are introduced by name. [fn][4] The pictorial representations must also be added to the numerous instruments mentioned. When therefore, as the sources prove, musical instruments played a significant role, then it is unthinkable that they occupied only a subordinate position and could easily have been done away with. Karl Nef believed that the 'chansons de geste' were performed without any accompaniment just as


the Gregorian chant was, even though he quoted some of the texts which report the practice of song with the simultaneous playing of an instrument, If however the instrument did happen to be used, then Nef purports that its duty consisted more or less of playing along with the melody in the same pitch [fn][1]. Other authors also share this opinion: "la viola acompanyava el cant dels trobadors a l'unison o a l' octava" [fn][2][translation JW: "the viola accompanied the troubadour's song in unison or at the octave"] . "Die Begleitung des Gesanges kann nur im Mitspielen der gegeben Melodie, im Einklange, nur Angeben einzelner Haupttöne bestanden haben." [fn][3] ["The accompaniment can only have consisted in playing with the given melody in unison by providing individual principal notes".]

This idea of the unison performance by an instrument and voice is made problematic by the "often extraordinarily long unsingable colorations" in Minnesinger melodies, which caused Arnold Schering to reject a vocal presentation and to consider them as "instrumental colorations" [fn][4]. If the melodies were performed on an instrument, then it would have had to enable the player to perform fast passages. The hurdy-gurdy, whose sliding key mechanism (see page 102) made it into a moving melody instrument, was one of the instruments suited for this. The hurdy-gurdy could be excellently used for vocal accompaniment since it always provided a harmony with its drone strings. Compared to the viella, which was bowed, it even had an advantage which lay in the way the instrument was held: the viella was leaned against the shoulder, which had to influence the song when the player and singer were one and the same, while the hurdy-gurdy allowed complete freedom of movement for the upper part of the body. The use of the hurdy-gurdy as an accompaniment instrument was therefore very widespread, and in the sources it is frequently named together with the singers or as the accompanying instrument of a singer.

Like the French jongleurs the Spanish juglares also made use of the hurdy-gurdy for the presentation of 'chansons de geste' [fn][5]. The most precise source for the accompaniment of these chansons


by the hurdy-gurdy is given by Jean Corbichon, a chaplain of Charles V of France (ruled 1364-1380). In 1372 he translated the work of Bartholomaeus Anglicus "De propietatibus rerum" into French and corrected the author, who in his definition of 'simphonie' relied on Isidor (see page 104): "Mais on apelle en françois une symphonie l'instrument dont les aveugles jouent en chantant les chansons de geste" [fn][1]. [translation: JW: "But in French a simphonie is the instrument which is used by the blind while playing and singing the "chansons de geste"] The hurdy-gurdy apparently was very suitable as an accompanying instrument, as other texts indicate: "and with-in the cite there wente a-bowte a womman synggynge with a symphanye" [fn][2]. "Simphonides, simphonieur, qui chante en simphonie" [fn][3].

In Spain the romances of the 15th century were sung by juglares or by blind beggars everywhere to the accompaniment of the lute, the vihuela, or the hurdy-gurdy [fn][4]. Probably like the 'chansons de geste' the music of the romances consisted of short melodies which were constantly repeated, whereby the strophes of the text corresponded with those of the music. In long romances the melodies were ornamented and formed into variations, which were executed either vocally or instrumentally [fn][5]. Marius Schneider established that most of the musicians in representations both sing and play. According to his opinion the musician either sang or played the same part or sang one voice and played a counter voice.

We do not know how the songs which were accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy sounded. One reference point could be provided by a report about wandering bagpipe players from Grusinia, who still visited the small farms and provincial towns at the beginning of this century. They appeared at family gatherings


and at other festivities and sang songs appropriate for the occasion and accompanied them with their bagpipes, framing them in preludes and postludes. Their music was described as being always very much the same [fn][1].

But the hurdy-gurdy was used not just to accompany song, but was utilized as a melody instrument as well:

"Qui jouoit chançons sur la siphonie" [fn][2];
"Là péussiez oïr .m. calimels catant.
Taburs et cifonies i vont lor lais cantant" [fn][3].

The jongleurs and juglares with their instruments were not only singers of the 'chansons de geste' and the Lives of the Saints, but were also transmitters of news [fn][4]. "Die politische Berichterstattung und Tageskritik waren ... ein Hauptaufgabenfeld für die Fahrenden." [fn][5] ["Political reports and daily criticisms were ... a chief duty of the itinerants".] They could be met with everywhere; they served the princes of their day or sang and played at church festivities, church dedications or at the annual markets [fn][6]. In the cities they played for the public in courts and on crossroads [fn][7] and "functioned as the daily news of those times". [fn][8]

The daily news items represented


with instrumental accompaniment just as were the songs, and one of the instruments was the hurdy-gurdy. "C'etait au son de la vielle à roue que le Baenkelsaenger chantait les nouvelles et les scandales quotidiens." [fn][1] [Trans: JW: "It was to the sound of the hurdy-gurdy that the Baenkelsaenger sang the daily news and scandals."] That the presentation of such news was accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy is also shown by a decree of Charles VI of France in September 1395 which forbade the minstrels to mention the king, the Pope, or other French princes in their songs. Some months later measures again had to be taken "Contre les chifoineurs et chanteurs demourans à Paris" [trans: JW: "Against the symphonie players and singers living in Paris"], since the hurdy-gurdy players of Paris had not heeded the decree and had sung about the marriage of Richard II of England with Isabella, the daughter of Charles VI. The marriage took place on 11 March 1396, and five days later the guilty persons were jailed. They then wrote a petition to the king: "Supliant humblement les chifoineurs et chanteurs demourans a Paris, povres gens chargez de femmes et de plusieurs petis enfans" [fn][2][trans: JW: "Humbly pleading the symphonie players and singers living in Paris, poor people in charge of women and many small children"]. Bacon probably was also one of these hurdy-gurdy players and singers: "Un joueur de chansons sur la 'sifonie'" and one of the best known of the Paris minstrels shortly after 1400 [fn][3]. In 1495 this passsage in found in a letter of King Charles VIII of France: "Nous vous envoyons enclose soubz notre seel la requeste civile des chifrineurs et chanteurs demourans a Paris" [fn][4]. [trans: JW: We are sending you under Our seal the civil request of the symphonie players and singers living in Paris".]

In the Middle Ages the hurdy-gurdy was used for secular as well as for sacred music. The various areas of use however promoted a variety of methods of playing. On the large hurdy-gurdy the player who operated the wheel could produce uniformly sustained notes as they were required at the time. In accompanying the 'chansons de geste' and other vocal pieces the musician could shape the presentation with the hurdy-gurdy with supporting chords or by variations of the melody over a drone. When pauses were demanded, they could easily be produced by halting the crank, and finally for dances the rhythm could


be accented by turning the crank abruptly.

The various musical possibilities which were determined by the construction of the instrument indicate that the hurdy-gurdy probably belonged to one of the high points of instrument making technique in the Middle Ages. "The Simphonie probably marks the high point of medieval musical ingenuity" [fn][1]. The hurdy-gurdy in the Middle Ages was therefore in no case more imperfect than other instruments of the same period. It lost its position of respect however as more and more beggars began to play it.

In the late Middle Ages the hurdy-gurdy in all regions was pushed back into two areas in which it would maintain itself for a long time, and in part even up until the present time. On the one hand the hurdy-gurdy preserved itself as an instrument for the beggar's sentimental songs, and on the other as a well sounding instrument for the accompanying dances and village songs. In these two areas the hurdy-gurdy came to be used for completely different musical repertoires.

The music of the mostly blind beggars showed the last remains of the church practice: they sang mainly religious songs while turning the wheel evenly. A report concerning Russian beggars with hurdy-gurdies gives a good example for these 'beggar's lyres' and their repertoire. Their instruments had three strings which were usually tuned to the primary note, its fifth and its octave, whereby the drone strings were the lower octave and the fifth to the primary note. The White Russian hurdy-gurdy had 4 to 7 keys, the Ukranian had 9 to11, and thus the tonal range was extremely limited. "Die melancholish-monotone und trübe Musik der Leier entspricht am besten dem Repertoire der bettelnden Sänger, den geistlich-religiösen Gesängen".[fn][2].["The melancholy monotone and sad music of the hurdy-gurdy suits best the repertoire of the begging singer, the spritual-religious songs"] By turning the crank evenly the feeling of monotony was unavoidably conjured up. In Hungary the hurdy-gurdy probably got its name from the monotony of these religious songs which were sung to the instrument, where


it was also called "szentlélekmuzsika", which means 'holy spirit music' [fn][1]. Marin Mersenne, who had probably heard this type of music on the hurdy-gurdy, knew that it had also other possibilities to offer: " Si les hommes de condition touchoient ordinairement la Symphonie, que l'on nomme Vielle, elle ne seroit pas si meprisée qu'elle est, mais parce qu'elle n'est touchée que par les pauures, et particulierement par les aueugles qui gaignent leur vie auec cet instrument, l'on en fait moins d'estime que des autres quoy qu'ils ne donnent pas tant de plaisir" [fn][2]. [translation SB: "If men of a higher station regularly played the Symphonie, also called the Vielle, it would not be so despised as it is, but because it is only used by the poor and in particular the blind who earn their living with this instrument, it is held in less esteem than others which do not give as much pleasure"]. It appears as if the repertoire of the hurdy-gurdy played by beggars was very similar in the different countries. One reason for this uniformity is that the beggar wanted to attract attention to himself by his monotonous manner of singing and by the sad sound of his instrument, while the religious character of his songs were intended to awaken the sense of Christian duty. Another reason is that the beggar usually lacked any musical training. [fn][3] The hurdy-gurdy with its fixed tones and its easily managed tonal range was quickly learned, so beggars remained bonded to their instruments. The reports speak almost exclusively of blind beggars who play the hurdy-gurdy. A blind man could learn to finger the notes the most quickly on this instrument , since "die Leier klingt auch in der Finsterniss" [fn][4] ["the lyre sounds in the darkness as well"] The beggars were satisfied with a few pieces which they learned to present [fn][5]. Various sayings which refer to the small musical repertoire of the beggars indicate this: "ce vielleur n'aura qu'un double", [" this hurdy-gurdy player must have a twin!"] meaning that "il ne sait qu'une chanson". [fn][6] ["he only knows one song"]


"C'est une roue de vielle; c'est toujours la meme chanson, le même refrain" [" it's a hurdy-gurdy wheel, always the same song, the same refrain"] has the same meaning.. Correspondingly in German: "Es ist immer (dieselbe) alte Leier"[fn][1] "It's always the same old hurdy-gurdy"]; "Auf einer Leire bleiben / chordâ oberrare eâdem" [fn][2] ["To stay on one hurdy-gurdy"]; "Wer immer leiert Einen Ton, der hat nur Spott zum Lohn"[fn][3] ["He who plays the hurdy-gurdy to one note deserves only ridicule."]; "Es ist eine alte leir, ein versunaen liedlin" [fn][4] ["It's an old hurdy-gurdy and a sung out song."]; "es ist ein schlechter Leiermann, der nur ein Liedlein kann" [fn][5] ["He's a bad hurdy-gurdy player who can only play one tune".]; "Mochte jemand zu dir sagen, kanstu nicht mehr denn nur von menschen gerechtigkeit, weisheit, und sterke sagen, jmer von gottes gerechtigkeit und gnaden die schrift auslegen, und also nicht mehr denn auf einer seiten leiren, und nur ein liedlin singen?" [fn][6]. [trans pending]

The French proverbs "chascune vielle son deul plaint" ["to each vielle its grievous complaint"] and "chascune vielle a son tour plaint son deuil et dolour" [fn][7] ["each vielle in turn its grief and pain."] referred to the sentimental and monotonous playing of the begging hurdy-gurdy player. In the liturgical area the monotony of the "Kyrie eleison in der Christwelt" is believed to have been denoted by the Silesian expression "Leiermesse" [fn][8].

Quite a different method of playing the hurdy-gurdy was required in the country. Here it served as a dance instrument, usually played by peasants or craftsmen themselves at village festivities which is indicated by the Silesian term "Lajermann" for 'village music' [fn][9]. But not only the country folk provided the necessary dance musicians; begging and itinerant minstrels were employed for this for a long time: "Ich kam als ein Schelm unter die Blinden / und gieng mir wie einem Sackpfeiffer oder Leyendreher / der auf ein Dorff kommt / da Kirchweyh gehalten wird / da mag er leicht ein Liedlein


spielen, dasz Knechte und Mägde darnach tantzen, / wenn kein besser Musicant da ist" [fn][1]. [translation: JW: "I came as a naughty beggar amongst the blind / and acted as a bagpiper or hurdy-gurdy player / who arrives in a village / where a church fair is being held / where he may softly play a little tune to which lads and lasses can dance / when there is no better musician present."]

As a dance instrument the hurdy-gurdy was apparently widespread, as the mention of the instrument in connection with the dance indicates: "hätte Lyra nicht geleyret, so haette Luther nicht getanzet." [fn][2]; [translation: JW: "Had the hurdy-gurdy not been played Luther would not have danced."] "Die zwen mit der leiren haben zu Danz gemacht" [fn][3]. Women as well played the hurdy-gurdy for dances:

"Es solt och die lirerin
Ir aller gespiel sin
Und ain tanz machen
Das es gieng krachen"

In order to effectively accompany a dance, the hurdy-gurdy player had not only to know the repertoire of the dancer, but he had to play his instrument in quite a different way. At dances a uniform monotone manner of playing was probably avoided quite early and it was attempted to mark the dance rhythms by turning the crank unevenly and in jerks. It is not known when this was first started, just as it is not known when the trompette string was introduced as a means of strengthening the rhythm.

Dance melodies of the Middle Ages can be established only with difficulty since only late instrumental sources for dances were preserved. However during the entire Middle Ages dance was extremely popular[fn][5]. The preserved documentation indicates the predominance of major


scales [fn][1], and the western European hurdy-gurdy had no chromatic tones for a long time and was tuned in a major scale. Aside from this a strong emphasis was placed on the fifth and fourth [fn][2], and this is connected not only with the parallel music but also with the primary-note-fifth-(fourth)-drone sounds of the bagpipes or the hurdy-gurdy.

As in other musical areas there was no fixed instrumentation for dance music. Instead the instruments which happened to be available were played. This prevented also a specific instrumental character, so that from the sources preserved it cannot be established for which instruments these were intended. The various instruments when played together must have often sounded quite loud, since the sources mention quite a few wind instruments [fn][3]. The dances which were danced in every level of society differed however in their instrumentation according to the instruments used in the various levels. "Tanzmusik der Bauern und Bürger mag manchen 'unleidig rauh' geklungen haben. Die Aufführung durch mehrere Instrumente und der Bordun des Dudelsacks brachten Klangfülle und Mehrstimmigkeit. Da diese fast ausnahmslos improvisiert wurde, geben nur vereinzelte schriftliche Zeugnisse Kunde von ihr." [fn][4] ["The dance music of the peasants and burghers must have sounded 'unbearably crude' to many. The use of several instruments and the drone of the bagpipes produced a fullness of sound and polyphony. Since these were almost without exception improvised, there are only scattered written pieces which report of them."]

As the different uses of the hurdy-gurdy by the beggars, the peasants, and later by the French aristocracy indicate, the method of playing the instrument and the sound it produced changed according to its use: "Ein und dasselbe Instrument trägt anderen Charakter und verlangt eine andere Spielart, je nachdem, ob es der Kunstübung oder der Bewgungsbegleitung dient. Im ersteren Falled erstrebt der Spieler einen möglichtst 'schönen', gepflegten, veredelten Ton, im zweiten aber einen möglichst charakteristischen. Denn diesem wohnt eine viel stärkere Suggestionkraft


inne. Der charakteristische, also häufig ganz entstellte und unnatürligh gemachte Ton besaß die größte Zauberwirkung". [fn][1] "One and the same instrument has a different character and requires to be played differently according to whether it serves to practice art or to accompany movements. In the first case the player strives to produce a tone as 'beautiful', cultivated, and noble as possible, in the second however a one as full of character as possible. For this has a much stronger suggestive
force. The characterized and hence frequently distorted and unnatural tone possessed the greatest charm."

The hurdy-gurdy belonged to the dance instruments of the Middle Ages and was undoubtedly played in ensembles with other instruments, and it was used for dance music until quite recent times. Thus there was until around 1835 in the region of the upper Elbe and in the vicinity of Moravia a dance music ensemble, which consisted of a cymbal, violin, bass, harp and hurdy-gurdy [fn][2].





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Alden and Cali Hackmann
Olympic Musical Instruments

© Original text in German copyright 1977, Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft GmbH
© Translation copyright 2005, Olympic Musical Instruments and the Bröcker Tranlation Group