Academic journal article Notes

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France

Academic journal article Notes

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France

Article excerpt

The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France. By Robert A. Green. (Publications of the Early Music Institute.) Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. [xii, 109 p. ISBN 0-253-20942-0 (pbk.). $14.95.]

Robert Green is a musicologist whose study has led him, through a fascination with the hurdy-gurdy, to become a player. To find out what a hurdy-gurdy is you must turn to chapter 3, where the instrument's form and Function are described. The hurdy-gurdy is referred to throughout by its French name, the vielle. It would have been helpful to give the name in its complete form, namely, the vielle-a-roue (the violin with a wheel). This would enable the reader to form more easily some idea of the sound of this little-known instrument.

Chapter 1 gives an outline of the history and social use of the vielle from the eleventh century to the seventeenth before going into greater detail for the eighteenth century. There are very few eighteenth-century writings on the vielle, and Green is forced to draw on the Dissertation historique sur la vielle by Antoine Terrasson (Paris: Lamesle, 1741; reissued, Amsterdam: Antiqua, 1966). One should not accept this author's writings uncritically, since he seems to have been an amateur with little practical knowledge of the instrument. Terrasson's claim, for instance, that Henri Baton made vielles "on the backs of old guitars and lutes" is often quoted, but must be false since the structure of these instruments is much too light for use as a vielle. It is more likely that he used the wood from redundant instruments to make new ones. The instrument by Lambert (Paris), for example, uses an old guitar front only to reinforce the back of a vielle. The author successfully charts the social rise of the instrument, from its use by beggars to its becoming a fashionable instrument of the French aristocracy and bourgeoisie.

Chapter 2 deals with French musical style, and a discussion of the problems of composing for an instrument with fixed drone harmony. Although modulation is severely limited, the best composers still managed to find ways of touching on foreign keys without being offensive. The works fall into three categories: solo, solo bass, and duo. …

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