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The Hurdy-Gurdy

The hurdy gurdy is one of the oldest European instruments, its first incarnations dating back to the time when polyphonic music was first being developed, when it bore names such as symphonia or organistrum. Its strings are set in vibration by a wooden wheel that is turned by a handle, the strings either carrying a melody that is played on a keyboard or playing a drone bass. A special type of bridge enables a type of percussion effect that is called the "trumpet", doubtless through its resemblance to the sound of the Trumpet Marine (q.v.). This effect is obtained by means of a special technique of giving short irregular blows to the moving wheel. This popular instrument came to favour in France at the beginning of the 18th century as part of the fashion for the imitation of rural life by the nobility, joining flutes, violins and oboes in chamber and orchestral music. It had a great success, Michel Corrette publishing a method on how to play the hurdy gurdy entitled La belle Vielleuse as late as 1783.


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