The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France


The hurdy-gurdy, or vielle, has been part of European musical life since the eleventh century. In eighteenth-century France, improvements in its sound and appearance led to its use in chamber ensembles. This new and expanded edition of The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France offers the definitive introduction to the classic stringed instrument. Robert A. Green discusses the techniques of playing the hurdy-gurdy and the interpretation of its music, based on existing methods and on his own experience as a performer. The list of extant music includes new pieces discovered within the last decade and provides new historical context for the instrument and its role in eighteenth-century French culture.


The HURDY-GURDY has been in continuous use in Western Europe for a thousand years; few other instruments can make that claim. in the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries it was found in the most musically cultivated circles; in the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries, it was played by the lowest classes. Today, it is a popular folk instrument in France, much like the banjo in American music.

The story of the hurdy-gurdy, or, as it is known in France, the vielle, is so interesting that much has been written about its use in different periods. in such surveys, the cultivation of the vielle in eighteenth-century France represents only a chapter, but so many beautiful instruments and so much information, relatively speaking, survives from this period that it has received more attention than any other. Nevertheless, there are many areas left to explore, and surprisingly, the music composed for the vielle and its performance is one of these.

Previous explorations of the vielle during the eighteenth century have revealed a certain blindness on the part of most authors. They have focused on its cultivation by lady amateurs at the highest level of society, most notably members of the French royal family, leaving the impression that fashion rather than musical considerations was largely responsible for the popularity of the instrument. in addition, most authors have not been players of the instrument and have failed to grasp the distinctive features of the repertory. I believe that these two considerations are largely responsible for a lack of interest in the vielle among those concerned with eighteenth-century music and its performance on period instruments. the purpose of this book is to place the instrument squarely within of the purview of the latter group.

This book is written with two types of audience in mind: those interested in eighteenth-century music and what the vielle and its music can reveal about the sound world of the period, and those who play the instrument and are familiar with the fundamentals of technique but wish to explore the interpretive possibilities. This book is not a method. Elements of technique are discussed only insofar as they are necessary for the general readeost perfect consonance in all Musicke, for that it is the
verie essence of all concords) representeth the perfection of that
most perfect number of five, which made the perfect atonement,
betweene God, and man.

Although Thomas Robinson, in his didactic The Schoole of Musicke (1603), finds analogies between concords (the unison, third, and fifth) and the deity, he also recognizes that music is not all about order and consonant harmonies. From the “unitie” springs all music, including the less aurally pleasant intervals. What of this discord? How can we understand its meaning within seventeenthcentury English culture? in 1605 playwright Samuel Rowley . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.