Saturday 6 March 2010

Hurdy Gurdy Man

This is a brand new, unused card showing a man playing a "vielle", which I have recently discovered is translated as a hurdy-gurdy.  I have always thought a hurdy-gurdy was the same as a barrel organ.

The hurdy gurdy has a history that dates back to the 12th century in Spain, from an organistrum which was played by two people and used mainly for sacred music.  It evolved into a one-player instrument used for secular music while the organ took over the role in sacred music.

By this time the instrument was called a symphonia, then a chiffonie.  Only from the 18th century could it be called a hurdy-gurdy, or vielle.

Folklore groups in the centre of France continue to uphold the traditions of this instrument and each year there is a festival of "Maîtres Sonneurs" in a local château. 

There is a site dedicated to the hurdy-gurdy in France where you can find the history of the instrument in greater detail, translated into something approaching English.

Even if you don't want to wade through all of that, though it isn't so much really, you might like to listen to a few of the piece there.  The first, Fêtes des Apôtres - IXème siècle is pretty dire and is likely to put you off for ever.   But please think of listening to the  Suite de la valse N°2 de Chostakowitch et de la valse reine de musette.   It doesn't sound the least like bagpipes.


  1. As a fan of hurdy-gurdy music (which I first knew from Hungarian as the tekero - two little dots over the o), I love this card!

  2. What a wonderful story! Unfortunately, my Mac won't open the non-dire file you link to - or has enough sense not to, I'm not sure which - I will have to forgo your promised non-bagpipe sonorousness for the time being. But what a wonderful-looking instrument! A pox on those who say its manufacture is a waste of labor and varnish.

  3. I note in your picture that the drone strings are missing. What a wonderful innovation to omit them!

  4. @Greta, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

    @Max, you too of course. It's rather a shame you couldn't hear the music. Are you sure you tried properly? Try a non-Mac, I dare you.

  5. No, it didn't sound like bagpipes at all. Finally, someone who knows how to play it. :)

  6. I know its sort of out of context, but Hurdy Gurdy makes me think of this....around 1:20 in particular

  7. @Max again, you must hum the tune to me, in proof that you really did listen. :)

    @Ana - that is SO funny!! Thank you for leaving the link. Hurdy gurdy music will never be the same. )


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