Hurdy-gurdy – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Musical Instruments Glossary

What is a Hurdy-Gurdy?

The hurdy-gurdy is a stringed musical instrument that produces sound by a hand-cranked wheel rubbing against the strings. It is often described as a cross between a violin and a mechanical organ. The instrument has a long history and has been used in various musical traditions across Europe.

History of the Hurdy-Gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy dates back to the Middle Ages, with the earliest known depiction of the instrument dating back to the 11th century. It was popular in Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and was often used in courtly and folk music. The instrument experienced a decline in popularity in the 19th century but has seen a resurgence in recent years.

How does a Hurdy-Gurdy work?

The hurdy-gurdy consists of a wheel that is turned by a crank, which causes the wheel to rub against the strings. The strings are pressed down by keys or tangents, which change the pitch of the notes. The player can also use a small wooden wheel called a trompette to create a buzzing sound, adding a percussive element to the music.

Types of Hurdy-Gurdies

There are several different types of hurdy-gurdies, each with its own unique features and characteristics. The most common type is the symphonic hurdy-gurdy, which has a keyboard for playing melodies. The drone hurdy-gurdy, on the other hand, has no keyboard and is used primarily for playing drone notes. Other types include the vielle à roue, which is a French version of the instrument, and the nyckelharpa, which combines elements of the hurdy-gurdy with a keyed fiddle.

Notable Hurdy-Gurdy players

Throughout history, there have been many talented hurdy-gurdy players who have helped to popularize the instrument and showcase its versatility. One of the most famous hurdy-gurdy players was Tielman Susato, a composer and musician who lived in the 16th century. More recently, players like Nigel Eaton and Valentin Clastrier have pushed the boundaries of what the hurdy-gurdy can do, experimenting with new techniques and styles.

Modern use of the Hurdy-Gurdy

In recent years, the hurdy-gurdy has experienced a revival in popularity, with musicians from a wide range of genres incorporating the instrument into their music. It is often used in folk and world music, adding a unique and distinctive sound to traditional tunes. The hurdy-gurdy has also found its way into contemporary music, with artists like Loreena McKennitt and Eluveitie using the instrument in their compositions.

Overall, the hurdy-gurdy is a fascinating and versatile instrument with a rich history and a bright future ahead. Its unique sound and mechanical workings make it a truly one-of-a-kind instrument that continues to captivate audiences around the world.