hurdy-gurdy being played (symphonia) 

click image for hurdy-gurdy sound 
(133kb wav)  
or here for the entire tune in mp3 format
. . . . . . . .
Kemp's Jig variation

The hurdy-gurdy is the first stringed instrument to which the keyboard principle was applied. The French name, Viella a Roue (wheel fiddle), describes the method by which sound is produced. The bowing action of the fiddle is replaced by a wheel cranked by a handle. The outer rim of the wooden wheel is coated with resin. When the crank is spun, the wheel turns and the gut strings vibrate.

Just as the bag of the bagpipe acts as a reservoir of air for continuous sound, so too the wheel makes possible continuous sound by avoiding changes of bowing. Both bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy use drones, provided in the former by reed pipes, and in the latter by strings which sound fixed pitches. Other strings tuned in unison provide notes of the scale. Tangents activated by keys press these strings at the appropriate points to produce different pitches.

Statue playing hurdy-gurdyThere is evidence of the hurdy-gurdy in Europe in the twelfth century. By the end of this century, the instruments was highly regarded. Before 1300 the instrument was often long enough to require two performers, one to crank, and one to push the keys. Single player instruments developed in the thirteenth century when the hurdy-gurdy became the ideal instrument for dance music. 

Musica Antiqua's hurdy-gurdy, really a four string symphonie or organistrum by Ellis, is based on a late fourteenth century Florentine marble figure in the Vienna Liechtenstein Gallery. It has two unison chanterelles, two drones, and an interior pegbox. It is oblong in shape and has tuneable tangents and a range of two diatonic octaves with drones on gand d1. The gut strings are difficult to keep in tune when there are changes in temperature or humidity. Notice the cotton wrapped around the strings to keep the circular bow from wearing through the strings. 

hurdy-gurdyhurdy-gurdyclick left image for wav 
or here for mp3 format


click right image for wav 
or here for the entire tune in mp3 format



Additional Resources:

  • Alden and Cali Hackmann's Hurdy-gurdy Site
  • Hurdy Gurdy maker Helmut Gotschy's site
  • Astra Thor's Brief History of the Hurdy Gurdy
  • E. de Bricqueville: Notice sur la vielle (Paris, 1911)
  • H. Panum: Middelalderen Strengeinstrumenter (Copenhagen, 1915)
  • C. Sachs: Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde (Leipsiz, 1930)
  • F. W. Galpin: A Textbook of European Musical Instruments (London, 1937)
  • W. Bachmann: Die Anfange des Streichinstrumentenspiels (Leipzig, 1964, English translation in 1969 as the Origins of Bowing and the Development of Bowed Instruments up to the 13th Century)
  • F. Harrison and J. Rimmer: European Musical Instruments (London, 1964)
  • F. W. Galpin: Old English Instruments of Music (London, rev. 4/1965 by T. Dart)
  • E. Veiga de Oliveira: Instrumentos musicals populares portugueses (Lisbon, 1966)
  • B. Sarosi: Die Volksmusikinstrumente Ungarns (Leipzig, 1967)
  • A. Buchner: Folkmusic Instruments of the World (London, 1971)
  • M. Brocker: Die Drehleier: ihr Bau und ihre Geschichte (Dusseldorf, 1973)
  • H. Zeraschi: Drehorgeln (Leipzig, 1976)

1989 Madrigal dinner hurdy-gurdy