As you can image, the hurdy-gurdy is not the simplest instrument in the world. To play it you have to turn the crank attached to a cylinder inside the instrument that turns on an axle. The cylinder rubs the strings, six of them, and produces a sound. To vary the pitch, the player tinkles on the keyboard of the hurdy-gurdy like violinists do when they put their fingers on the neck of their instrument. The keyboard is located on the soundboard, the part of the instrument that makes the sound resonate. The keyboard is attached to jacks that come into contact with the strings when the keys are pressed.
Apart from that, the hurdy-gurdy is fairly straightforward. This instrument, however, can replicate an entire orchestra. In addition to the strings, which play the melody, there is the percussion! And yes, the hurdy-gurdy includes its own drummer! If the musician gives the crank a sharp jerk, a drum beat will be heard. To do this, however, the crank cannot be turned evenly. Depending on the music and the musician, it can be turned:
The drum strokes, whether there are two or ten, must be contained in the one beat.
- in double time Boom Boom ... Boom Boom ... Boom Boom..........
- in triple time Boom Boom Boom ... Boom Boom Boom ...
- in quadruple time Boom Boom Boom Boom ... Boom Boom Boom Boom......
What about the chords? The hurdy-gurdy takes care of them too! There are two strings which, when rubbed, produce a continuous sound. As I explained earlier, the hurdy-gurdy can be an entire orchestra by itself and, in contrast with other instruments, can be very pleasant to listen to all on its own.
The hurdy-gurdy is a technically complicated and unstable instrument because it is sensitive to great many influences (temperature and humidity, stringing, state of the wheel, the mechanism of the keys and tangents, etc.). No two instruments are alike and each requires constant adjustment.
The hurdy-gurdy, like the bagpipe, was very widespread in Europe and played a number of social roles over the years. For example, it was once a church instrument and at other times the instrument of the aristocracy, of troubadours, of country people, beggars, dancers...
Each period changed the exterior appearance of the hurdy-gurdy. When the hurdy-gurdy became more popular than the lute, lute makers transferred their traditional method for manufacturing lutes to the mechanism of the hurdy-gurdy, thus completely changing its appearance. And even before this change, the hurdy-gurdy had made a giant evolutionary leap; it changed from a two-person instrument to one that could be played by a single person. The oldest instrument (for two players) was very long and thin; one person turned the crank and the other played the keyboard. Another major turning point for the hurdy-gurdy was the revolution of 1789 which saw it transformed from an instrument for the aristocracy to an instrument for the people. Street singers accompanied by their hurdy-gurdies could be heard everywhere in Paris. From then on, the hurdy-gurdy became a more rustic instrument and was adopted by country people.
In the middle of the 20th century, the hurdy-gurdy lived only
as an instrument of local tradition, mainly in central France,
Belarus and Bulgaria. During the 1960s, it was "rediscovered",
its popularity increased and it found a role playing music for
traditional dances, baroque music and even in jazz and rock music!
Origins of the hurdy-gurdy:
The first sign of an instrument like the hurdy-gurdy dates Back to the 12th and 13th centuries. This was the "organistrum", mainly used in churches and abbies to accompany tympanic chants. The "organistrum" required two players.
We can see that the hurdy-gurdy can look quite different depending on how old its style is. Some 19th century hurdy-gurdies look like several books put together and the crank is very well concealed.
The hurdy-gurdy seen above has had an additional trumpet to make it sound louder but the result was not very good. Moreover, it was difficult to handle.