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Hurdy Gurdy Man: Rock Star of the Medieval Music Scene

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The hurdy gurdy is a musical instrument, or extra exactly, a string instrument, that traces its origin to the Center Ages of Europe. The hurdy gurdy was initially used to play sacred music, earlier than being tailored to play common and people music. Afterward, its standing was elevated even additional when it gained favor for a time on the French courtroom.

Finally, the hurdy gurdy’s reputation declined, and it grew to become a musical instrument that many wouldn’t have heard of. In latest occasions, nevertheless, the hurdy gurdy is having fun with a kind of revival, each in Europe and in North America.

Why is it Known as a ‘Hurdy Gurdy’?

Nobody really is aware of the rationale the hurdy gurdy known as as such within the English language. As a matter of reality, the English title of this musical instrument was solely coined in the course of the 18th century. One hypothesis is that the hurdy gurdy is expounded to ‘hurly burly’, which is used to explain an uproar or tumult, therefore a doable reference to the noise made by this musical instrument. The hurdy gurdy is thought additionally in French as a vielle à roue , which can be translated as a ‘wheel fiddle’, undoubtedly a reputation that gives a greater description of the instrument.

A hurdy gurdy participant. Blind Musician by Georges de la tour, 17th century. ( Public Area )

How Does a Hurdy Gurdy Work?

In essence, the hurdy gurdy is a string instrument, like a violin or a guitar. Not like such devices, which produce sound (by the resonance of the vibrating strings) by having the strings rubbed by a bow or by being plucked with the finger or a plectrum, the hurdy gurdy produces sound by having its strings rubbed by a rosined wheel. In a contemporary hurdy gurdy, the musician turns the wheel of the instrument, through a deal with (the crank) with one hand (normally the proper), whereas the opposite hand is used to play the tune on the keys in a keybox.

Illustration of the parts of a hurdy gurdy.

Illustration of the components of a hurdy gurdy. ( Public Area )

It has typically been remarked that the sound produced by a hurdy gurdy is just like that of a bagpipe. That is as a result of presence of a number of drone strings exterior the keybox, which sound the identical notice repeatedly. One in all these drone strings is supported by a chien (French for canine), which is a small moveable bridge. By cranking the wheel tougher, the chien could also be made to vibrate rhythmically, which produces a buzzing accompaniment to the tune.

Origin of the Hurdy Gurdy

The origin of the hurdy gurdy continues to be a matter of debate. In response to one hypothesis, it was the Moors of North Africa who launched this musical instrument to Europe. When the Moors invaded Spain, they introduced quite a few string devices with them, and one in every of these might have been a precursor to the hurdy gurdy.

The earliest type of the hurdy gurdy that’s identified for certain is named an organistrum. Depictions of that instrument have been dated to the 12th century. The organistrum was a bigger model of the hurdy gurdy and required two musicians to play it. It was primarily used within the church for sacred music, although the wood keys is also re-arranged with a purpose to play secular music as properly.

12th century relief indicating two players needed to play the organistrum. Church of Toro, Zamora, Spain.

12th century aid indicating two gamers wanted to play the organistrum. Church of Toro, Zamora, Spain. ( Public Area )

Within the following century, the scale of the organistrum was lowered in order that it could possibly be performed by one musician – and that’s how the hurdy gurdy got here into being. The important thing motion of this musical instrument was additionally improved. Whereas the troublesome key motion of the organistrum restricted it to enjoying sluggish melodies and easy harmonies, its enchancment made the hurdy gurdy appropriate for enjoying dance music. On account of this, the hurdy gurdy grew to become used much less for sacred music and extra for folks and common music.

The small hurdy gurdy is barely visible under the arm and cloak of the player in this 17th Century painting.  Gathering of Gamblers with Hurdy-Gurdy Player circa 1660.

The small hurdy gurdy is barely seen beneath the arm and cloak of the participant on this 17th Century portray.  Gathering of Gamblers with Hurdy-Gurdy Participant circa 1660. ( Public Area )

French Love for the Hurdy Gurdy

The hurdy gurdy reached its heyday in the course of the reign of Louis XIV , the King of France. Previous to that, the hurdy gurdy was considered a peasant’s musical instrument. Because the king was a fan of the Arcadian thought of rural bliss, his courtroom adopted his instance and thus elevated the standing of the hurdy gurdy, which was used to supply musical accompaniment for the pastoral performs that have been being produced at the moment.

The hurdy gurdy featured within the courtroom of Louis XV’s courtroom as properly, although it fell out of favor in the course of the reign of Louis XVI, who was not inclined to participation within the courtly diversions that his predecessors loved. Even his spouse, Marie Antoinette , although infamous for her indulgent way of life, was not significantly keen on pastoral performs, ensuing within the decline of the hurdy gurdy’s reputation. After that, the hurdy gurdy returned to the streets.

Young woman with a hurdy gurdy and a child with tambourine, 18th century.

Younger lady with a hurdy gurdy and a baby with tambourine, 18th century. ( Public Area )

Nonetheless, this musical instrument continued to be common in France. For instance, when peasants from the French countryside moved to Paris in the hunt for jobs, they introduced the hurdy gurdy with them. This musical instrument continued to be in use till the late 19th century, when it was changed first by the diatonic button accordion, after which the chromatic button accordion, as they have been simpler to play and fewer troublesome to take care of.

The Fashionable ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’

However in latest many years there was a revival of curiosity within the hurdy gurdy in Europe in addition to in North America. Maybe essentially the most well-known reference to the instrument for folks as of late is the tune ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan. Though the instrument isn’t performed on the tune, it was sufficient to spark some curiosity in it.

Immediately the hurdy gurdy seems in all types of various music kinds and there are even electrical and digital variations accessible to fashionable musicians.

Elf Fantasy Truthful 2010 hurdy gurdy. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Prime picture: Element of a Hurdy-Gurdy. Supply: Bisual Photograph /Adobe Inventory

By Wu Mingren

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