Hurdy-Gurdy (Vielle à roue)
Jean-Noël Grandchamp, Bourbonnais, France

The hurdy-gurdy (Vielle à roue in French—literally “violin with a wheel”) belongs to the family of mechanical violins or keyed fiddles - a family which includes the Swedish nyckelharpa, a keyed string instrument played with a short bow. The player 'bows' 3 to 6 strings simultaneously by turning a crank attached to a rosined wheel. Two of these strings are melody strings (tuned in either unison or an octave apart) upon which notes can be played by pressing keys plus two or more drone strings. Most vielle à roue have an extra drone string called a trompette, which is adjusted so that sharp movements of the wheel generate an harmonic accompaniment. A hurdy-gurdy may also have drone strings not in contact with the wheel but stretched the length of the instrument to sound further harmonics.

Hurdy-gurdies evolved in Europe, probably from one of the stringed instruments introduced into Europe by the Moors. The earliest known was the 12th century organistrum.  It was picked up by itinerant musicians and became known as a symphonia. By the seventeenth century the instrument was known all over Europe. In Germany it came to be called a drehleier, in Italy a ghironda, in Hungary a tekerõlant. Of all my farourite instruments, this one of my favourites.

Serge Laîné

Olympic Musical Instruments
Helmut Gotschy - Hurdy Gurdy Maker










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