Die Drehleier

by Marianne Bröcker

This part of the website is an English translation of the definitive hurdy-gurdy reference book Die Drehleier (The Hurdy-gurdy), written by Marianne Bröcker. For general information about this translation please see the Index Page.

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Chapter 6: The Names of the Hurdy-gurdy

[page 187]

A. Organistrum

As mentioned already in the chapter on the wheel, the most important structural element of the hurdy-gurdy is the wheel. The importance of the wheel for this instrument is shown in German by the contemporary names of "Dreh-Leier" and "Rad-Leier". These expressions refer directly to the wheel or to the turning motion of the crank, while in the Middle Ages names were given to the hurdy-gurdy which referred to the polyphonic harmonies which could be played on this instrument. Since however these harmonies could be played on instruments other than the hurdy-gurdy, other instruments also received the same name, which makes it difficult to determine the actual identity of some instruments which are frequently mentioned in medieval literature.

According to the sources the use of the name "organistrum" (ill. 2,3) [figlink] is the most clearly established; the representation in the Hortus deliciarum of the abbess Herrad von Landsberg (c. 1200) (ill. 3) [figlink] is possibly the earliest proof of the use of this name.

Other sources also show that the 13th century the hurdy-gurdy was called by the name 'organistrum'. These are the tuning directions which were written at that time for the instrument by various unknown authors [fn][1]. In the treatise which had earlier been assigned to Odo of Cluny and which bears the title "Quomodo organistrum construatur" [fn][2], and in another treatise which is untitled but which begins which with "Si organistrum regulariter mensurandi", [fn][3] mention is also made of the hurdy-gurdy's wheel. Like two other


treatises with the titles "Mensura organistri" [fn][1] and "Item alia mensura organistri" [fn][2], another treatise which appears to be dealing with the hurdy-gurdy in that it gives information about the tuning, i.e., the correct positioning of the keys on an 'organica lira' [fn][3].

There are various theories concerning the origin of the expressions 'organistrum' and 'organica lira'. Different researchers, among them Edmond de Coussemaker and Carl Engel, [fn][4] have attempted to resolve the problem concerning the source of 'organistrum' by viewing the word as a combination of the words 'organum' and 'instrumentum'. They presumed for this theory that the hurdy-gurdy characterized as a 'organistrum' was, with its parallel sounds, a musical instrument for the parallel organum, which the representation of the instrument with rotating keys (ill. 2) [figlink] proves. According to this line of reasoning the name for a certain musical practice was given to an instrument which was especially suited for this. Heinrich Musmann also considers 'organistrum' to be a "logical derivation" from 'organum', but is not thinking here of the parallel organum, but on the monotone tenor of the organum as a model for the drone strings of the hurdy-gurdy. [fn][2]

According to Joseph Smits van Waesberghe 'organistrum' is an abbreviated form of 'organicum instrumentum'. In explanation of the added 'organicum' he offers three different interpretations: the hurdy-gurdy was one of the few instruments which possesses a fixed tuning, called 'organica dispositio' (11th century); [fn][6] it belonged to those


instruments whose lowest note was not the low A or G common to the monchord or church song teaching, but C, for which reason instruments with this unusual tuning were characterized as having a 'organalis dispositio'. [fn][1] He also supposes that the theoreticians might have wanted to refer to "constructed instruments" (?) with 'organicum', " in contrast to the instruments of the histriones, ioculatores, peasants etc." [fn][2] [Editor's note: question mark is in the original text.] Since in the case of instruments with a fixed pitch the coupling of 'organicum' to the instrument's name was a common practice, like 'organica cymbala' (cymbals), 'organica tintinabula' (bells) or the 'organicae fistulae" (organ pipes), 'organica lira' is not difficult to figure out. [fn][3] It should not however be overlooked that all of these, even without the added 'organicum', are names of certain instruments, whereas the 'organicum instrumentum' without 'organicum' simply leaves the meaning of 'instrumentum' remaining without referring to a specific instrument..

Consequently according to van Waesberghe, the term 'organicum instrumentum' as the original form of 'organistrum' refers to the fixed tuning of the hurdy-gurdy and not to this instrument's potential for producing polyphony, about which the medieval sources provide no information. It is nevertheless to be considered that all tuning directions, those for other instruments as well, always just give the notes playable on a melody string or pipe or a row of organ pipes. Since the hurdy-gurdy and the organ in those days had more than just one string or rank of pipes (see page 50 , and page 274), the existence of drone pipes and strings is silently presumed to be known of. Another important point of view which speaks against the naming of an instrument according to its fixed tuning is the illustration of the 'Hortus deliciarum' (ill. 3) [figlink], where a hurdy-gurdy without a single


key is expressly referred to as an 'organistrum'.

It is certain that the hurdy-gurdy was named neither after its fixed tuning nor after the already existing practice of the parallel or sustained organum, nor did it receive its drone strings due to the influence of this method of playing. Since there is obviously a connection between 'organistrum', 'organicum', and 'organum', the possibilities are not yet exhausted. The term 'organum' denotes both a polyphonic musical practice as well as the organ, which in the Middle Ages had drone pipes. It could have served as a model when it came time to name the hurdy-gurdy, since its type of polyphony was probably not very different from that of the hurdy-gurdy. The 'organistrum' then can be understood to be an instrument identical with or similar to the organ. Hug Riemann interpreted the name in this manner when he saw it as a diminutive of 'organum'. He thought that, similar to how 'poetaster' came from 'poeta', 'organistrum' came from 'organum' and meant originally 'little organ'. [fn][1] The hurdy-gurdy could also be characterized as a 'orgel', as medieval definition shows: "orghele. eyn seytin spel". [fn][2]

Probably the most convincing explanation of 'organistrum' is connected with another interpretation of 'organum'. The 'organum' is not to be understood only as the familiar parallel or sustained organum, but also as a collective name for various musical practices and could therefore mean even " 'polyphony' in the general sense". [fn][3] As 'polyphony' in the widest sense it therefore served to characterize an instrument upon which polyphone was possible, for which reason the hurdy-gurdy aalso received this name. Accordingly, if 'organum' or 'organicum' is translated literally, it was an instrument for polyphony or a polyphonic instrument. The other instruments listed with the


word 'organicum' prefixed to them would also not be so called because of their fixed tuning, but above all on account of the possibility of playing notes of various pitches simultaneously on them. This is supported by the use of the plural with the percussion and wind instruments and by the use of the singular with the 'organica lira', since with the instruments named above with the prefix 'organicum' several bells, several cymbals, or several pipes were necessary to produce the polyphony, while a single 'lira' itself enabled harmonies to be played. That can just mean however that just this 'lira' had several strings which apparently were not plucked, as the name 'lira' indicates. Since the expression 'organica lira' appears in only one tuning book for this instrument, wherein the position of the bridges is expressly mentioned (see page 230), there had to be at least one shortened string on this multi-string instrument. The use of bridges to shorten strings on a 13th century 'Leier' equipped with several strings leads however to the conclusion that the 'organica lira' was a hurdy-gurdy.

The name 'organistrum' for the hurdy-gurdy was apparently not widely used, since at the same time other names were used considerably more frequently. It is worthy of note too that this term, except in the theoretical treatises concerning the tuning of the instrument, is found only in the 'Summa Musicae' attributed to Johannes de Muris, who mentions it three times while listing various instruments. [fn][1] In poetic works framed in the national language, whose authors frequently conjure up long lists of instruments, the work 'organistrum' was not used at all, with one exception -- where the name appears in a corrupted form. In the poem 'Diu crône' by Heinrîch von dem Türlîn, dated between 1215 and 1220, numerous musicians are introduced who at the court of King Arthur celebrate the news that Gawain, believed dead, is still alive. In this most detailed listing


of musical instruments the organistrum is also mentioned:

"Ez entwolten ouch niht swîgen
Organiston und tambûre". [fn][1]

The reason for the use of the term "organistrum" no being widespread, and then when it is used almost exclusively being mentioned in Latin treatises may be that with this name the hurdy-gurdy was being characterized in its capacity as a church instrument. Since the hurdy-gurdy was played as an 'organum' instrument in the church, 'organistrum' could be a term used only by the clerics and theoreticians. "La vielle à roue ... portait le nom d'organistrum pour les savants, celui de chifonie pour le vulgaire". [fn][3] [trans AH: "The hurdy-gurdy ... carried the name of organistrum for the scholars, but the name of chifonie for the vulgar."] If 'organistrum' meant the church hurdy-gurdy, then at the same time it meant that the instrument with this name was the large hurdy-gurdy for two players. This explains why Heinrîch von dem Türlîn mentions the hurdy-gurdy twice in his list, once as 'organiston' and some lines previous to that as 'symphonîe'.[fn][3] This list is possibly the only medieval source in which the hurdy-gurdy is called by two different names, and this can only mean that the author was thinking once of the large hurdy-gurdy for two players and again of the small secular instrument.

B. Symphonia

While the name 'organistrum' was not common and also remained limited in time to the 13th century, another name for the hurdy-gurdy, the 'symphonia', must be considered to be the most widespread in the Middle Ages. During this time the instrument was almost always given this name, and it is to be explained why it was so named, that is, what connection there was between the older musical


term 'symphonia' and an instrument called the 'symphonia'.

The transfer of the word 'symphonia' to a musical instrument was connected with the definition of this term in the music theory of the time. Corresponding to its ancient meaning, the expression 'symphonia' was also used in medieval music theory to denote consonances or harmony in general. The theoreticians especially characterized the perfect consonances of the fifth [fn][1] and the fourth [fn][2] as 'symphonia', and even as 'symphonia divina' (Odo of Saint Maur). [fn][3] This writer, like Guido of Arezzo, [fn][4] did not use 'symphonia' in the sense of a musically permissible interval, but in the acoustical sense of a certain relationship between vibrations. [fn][5]

The author of the "Scholia Enchiriadis" explains 'symphonia' quite generally as a mixing of voices. [fn][6] That the harmony of several differently pitched tones was meant by this term is shown by the definitions of Cassiodor [fn][7] and Isidor of Seville. [fn][8] The manner in which a harmony was produced did not serve as a criterion for the use of this term: both the harmonies of several choral tones [fn][9] as well as the harmonies produced when


musical instruments were played were characterized as 'symphonia'. Used as the noun 'symphonia' or as a verb 'symphonizare', this term denoted the harmonies produced by consonant tones. Thus Hildegard of Bingen used the term 'symphonizare' several times in the last vision of "Scivias" to represent heavenly harmony, [fn][2] which does not, as H.P. Jürgensen supposes, manifest itself in unison, [fn][3] but in the complete harmony which arises through the blending of several consonant tones.

Consequently the term 'symphonia', whose principal meaning was 'harmony', was used in the Middle Ages to name just those various instruments on which harmonies could be produced. This shows that modern criteria for musical instruments like "material which can produce sound" or "method of producing sound" were not used in the naming of medieval musical instruments. [fn][4] Instead the manner in which harmonies were formed was decisive for the naming of such instruments, as for example those characterized with the term 'symphonia'.

Just how unimportant the sound-producing material was for naming an instrument is shown especially well by the definitions of 'symphonia' and 'sambuca' by Isider of Seville. He describes the 'symphonia' as a percussion instrument with two skins: "Symphonia vulgo appellatur lignum cavum ex utraque parte pella extenta, quam virgulis hinc et inde musici feriunt, fitque in ea ex concordia gravis et acuti


suavissimus cantus". [fn][1] This explanation by Isidor belongs to the meanings of 'symphonia' which have been repeated up until modern times. [fn][2]

The 'sambuca', although a wind instrument, is characterized by Isidor especially as a "species symphoniarum": "Sambuca in musicis species est symphoniarum, est enim genus ligni fragilis, unde tibiae componuntur". [fn][3] This wind instrument 'sambuca' apparently has several "tibiae" (shawms). H.P. Gysin wants to interpret it as being a bagpipe. [fn][4] Contrary to this Papias in his glossary, first appearing in 1053, indeed adopted the first part of Isidor's definition, according to which the 'sambuca' is a type of 'symphonia', but thought of it as a string instrument: "Sambuca in musicis species est symphoniarum -- Sambuca genus citharae rusticae". [fn][5]

Therefore in Isidor the word 'symphonia' appears in three different meanings: as a harmony of various tones, differently pitched; as a percussion instrument; and as a wind instrument. As variable as the meaning of the word appears to be, there is still unequivocally a common element in each. The percussion instrument has two skins, each of which are differently tuned: "fitque in ea ex concordia


gravis et acuti suavissimus cantus". [fn][1] This is made quite clear in the case of the 'sambuca', which he characterizes not as a 'symphonia' but as 'a type of symphonia'. It consists of several pipes on which various tones of different pitches can be played simultaneously. For this reason it was important for Isidor when he used the term 'symphonia' to characterize the harmony of various differently pitched tones. That means that instruments were called 'symphonia' which were made so that not successive tonal progressions, but rather simultaneous harmonies could be produced. "The name symphonia appears in all times to have been given especially to those instruments which could produce several harmonizing tones at the same time". [fn][2]

Since these instruments were named according to their potential for the formation of harmonies, the name 'sambuca' has been repeatedly claimed for the hurdy-gurdy. Although 'sambuca' does not appear in the literature as a name of the hurdy-gurdy, this term, provided with the suffix 'rotata', was interpreted by many researchers as one of the hurdy-gurdy names. The characterization of the instrument as a 'sambuca rotata' appears to go back to two lexicons of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the hurdy-gurdy (vielle) is also called 'rotata sambuca'. [fn][3]

The close relationship between the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes has already been referred to. The harmonies and tonal qualities which are peculiar to them lead to giving both instruments the name of 'symphonia'. The bagpipes received this name very early and in many parts of Europe is still known by this name in a corrupted


form. [fn][1] From the bagpipes this name was transferred to the hurdy-gurdy as well. [fn][2]

That the hurdy-gurdy was called 'symphonia' in the Middle Ages can be recognized from sources whose authors either used this name synonymously with another name likewise in use, or who characterized as false a definition of the instrument 'symphonia' as being no longer valid for their times. The author of the "Summa Musicae" gives two names for the hurdy-gurdy in his list of musical instruments: "symphonia seu organistrum", [fn][3] and in another place once again "symphonia, quae dicitur organistrum". [fn][4]

Since 'organistrum' quite clearly here indicates the hurdy-gurdy (see page 187), this coupling of the names 'organistrum' and "symphonia' prove that the latter also names the hurdy-gurdy. Just the fact that the term 'symphonia' was given first indicates that the author is more familiar with this name than with 'organistrum'. Referring to the player of the instruments both names were also used synonymously in France : ".II. synfonistri ou .II. orguenistre". [fn][5]

The often repeated claim that 'organistrum' was the first name for the hurdy-gurdy and was used until the 13th century when the name 'symphonia' took over, [fn][6] must be held to be false. These names were not used successively but simultaneously; 'symphonia' indeed even occurs earlier than 'organistrum'. The explanation for the simultaneous use of these different names lies probably in the different reference to the clerical (organistrum) and to the secular (symphonia) instrument. "la vielle à roue, également connue sous le nom de symphonie


ou chifonie, était un organistrum sécularisé." [fn][1]

Jean Corbichon translated the work "De proprietatibus rerum" of Bartholomaeus Anglicus (written before 1250) into French in 1372. He corrected the author, who in his description of the 'symphonia' had relied on Isidor: "L'acteur de ce livre dit que la simphonie est ung instrument de musique qui est fait de bois creux et est couvert da peaux de deux pars, et le fiert on de vergettes, de çà et de là, et rend un doulx son, si comme dit Ysidore. Mais on apelle en françois une simphonie l'instrument dont les aveugles jouent en chantant les chansons de geste". [fn][2] [trans AH/BF: The author of this book says that the simphonie is a musical instrument that is made from hollow wood and is covered with two skins, {and the fiert one of vergettes, of çà and of there, and returns a doulx his}, as is said by Isidore. But in French we calls a simphonie the instrument of which the blind people play while singing the { } songs."] That Corbichon meant the hurdy-gurdy with the 'simphonie' played by the blind is shown by the detailed explanation of the instrument by Johannes Gerson, who also refers to its use by blind players. Gerson also corrected the opinion of other authors who thought of the 'symphonie' as a string instrument stroked with the bow and expressly mentions the wheel: "Symphoniam putant aliqui viellam, vel Rebeccam quae minor est. At verò rectiùs existimatur esse Musicum tale instrumentum quale sibi vendicaverunt specialiter ipse caeci. Haec sonum reddit, dum una manu resolvitur rota parvula thure linita, et per alteram applicatur ei cum certis clavibus chordula nervorum"; "aut in rotatu, ut in symphonia".[sp] [fn][3]

Outside of Latin sources 'symphonia' is used frequently in medieval poetry, whereby the word is changed somewhat according to the regional language. However in most texts these changes in the names for the bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy do not make it difficult to determine which instrument is being referred to. At one time the hurdy-gurdy was mentioned almost exclusively in the literature of Western Europe, an area in which the medieval bagpipes mostly had other names (for example "musa", "cornamusa", "estives"), and besides both instrument names appeared in rather typically corrupted forms. The 'symphonie'


as the hurdy-gurdy maintained with few exceptions its bright opening vowel and occurs as "symphan", "semfonie", "chifonie" and others, and as the bagpipes it became "zampogna", "zumpogna", etc. Only in the eastern European countries are the bagpipes also called "cimpoae", "cimpoiu" [fn][1], in Romanian "cimpoias", [sp][cimpo(i-caron)a(s/cedilla)] and in Hungarian "zsimpolya". [fn][2] In these areas no confusion is possible since here the hurdy-gurdy is called by a different name such as the "lira".

Only in Spain are there difficulties since the names of both instruments are often not very much different from one another. There the hurdy-gurdy was called a 'çinfonia' in the 14th century [fn][3], and a "çampoña, quasi symphonia" in the 15th century. [fn][4] In the 18th and 19th centuries it was called "simphonía" [fn][5] or "sinfonía". [fn][6] { Heute heißt sie noch immer } "sinfonía" or "zanfoña", [fn][7] in Castille it was called "zanfonía" [fn][8] and in Portugal "sanfona". [fn][9] As the very similar name "zampoña" for the bagpipes shows, in Spanish it is difficult to correlate the proper instrument with a name derived from 'symphonia'.

In a Spanish poem of the 14th century the proper correlation is made easier by the fact that its author, Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste [trans?] of Hita, mentions four times instruments with names which are derived from 'symphonia', and which differ from each other in spelling.


Twice he mentions in different places an instrument called the "çinfonia":

"çinfonia e baldosa en-esta fiesta sson";
"çinfonia, guitarra non son de aqueste marco" [fn][1]

In connection with the line last cited follows a few lines later the name of another instrument:

"albogues e mendurria, caramillo e çanpolla" [fn][2]

In the same poem the author mentioned earlier a shepherd who played an instrument with a name which is spelled similarly:

"tenienao su çapoña E loz albogues espera" [fn][3]

Although the "çinfonia" which is named twice clearly differs in its spelling from "çanpolla" and "çapoña", some researchers considered all three terms as slightly different names of one and the same wind instrument with several pipes. [fn][4] On the contrary, it seems clear that the spelling was deliberately varied by the poet who intended to name two different instruments: the hurdy-gurdy (çinfonia) and the bagpipes (çanpolla, çapoña). This view is supported by the mention of the shepherd who is obviously playing the bagpipes (V. 1213b) and the naming of "çinfonia" and "çanpolla" shortly after one another (V. 1516b and V. 1517a).

In the 15th and 16th centuries the hurdy-gurdy received local names in almost all the countries in which it was known, while the bagpipes often continued to be named 'symphonie', and even scholars of the 18th century used the term 'samponia' to give an exact description of the bagpipes. [fn][5]


The 'symphonia' mentioned in the 12th and 13th century 'novels' of the French poets was probably a hurdy-gurdy. Around the middle of the 12th century Robert Wace mentions them in the "Roman de Brut" in a list of instruments:

"Lais de harpe de fretiax;
Lyre, tympres et chalemiax,
Symphonies, psaltérions,
Monacordes, cymbes, chorons". [fn][1]

Also from the 12th century comes an old French translation of the Bible, in which the 'symphonie' is mentioned. This mention of an instrument with the name 'symphonia' goes back to the Vulgate which was the basis for the translation. In the book of Daniel, there are two instrument lists cited below the Latin translation. In these lists 'symphonia' is substituted for the Hebrew 'sumpónjah' (Daniel 3:5, 3:15) and the Hebrew 'sipponjah' [sp][s(i-macron)pponjah] (Daniel 3:10). In the Vulgate 'symphonia' clearly does not refer to the hurdy-gurdy; however the French translator in the 12th century could have already known the hurdy-gurdy under this name. This was quite certainly the case with the English Bible translator John Wyclif (c. 1320-1384), who translated the Vulgate around 1360. The Latin of the Vulgate runs thus:

"In hora, quae audieritis sonitum tubae, et fistulae, et citharae,
sambucae et psalterii et symphoniae, et universi generis musicorum" (Daniel 3:5)

"Tu rex posuisti decretum, ut omnis homo, qui audierit sonitum tubae,
fistulae, citharae, sambucae et psalterii et symphoniae, et universi generis
musicorum, prosternat se et adoret statuam auream" (Daniel 3:10).

The English-Wyclif translation:

"in the hour in whiche ye [sp][yogh-e] shuln heere the sown of trumpe, and pipe, and harpe,
sambuke, sautrie, and syfonie, and all kynde of musikis".


"Thou kyng, hast putte a decree, or dome, that eche man that shal heere the sown of trumpe,
pype, and harpe, sambuke, and sautre, and synfonye, and al kynde of musykis,
putte doun hym self, and wirships the golden ymage". [fn][1]

The old French translation:

"Al houre que vous orrez le soun de triblers, de frestel, de harpe, de busines,
et de psaltries, et de symphans, et de symphonies, et de totes manères de musikes"

"Ha tu roy, tu as mys decreet à chescun hom qe avera oy le soun de estive,
de frestel, de harpe, de busine, de psaltrie, de symphans, et do totes maneres de musiks,
soi abate et ahoure l'ymange de or". [fn][2]

The French translator filled in the Latin text with another instrument of the same name "de symphans, et de symphonies", whereby he apparently wanted to indicate that he knew two instruments of the name, probably the hurdy-gurdy and the bagpipes.

As the frequent references to the instrument in the contemporary literature show, the ''symphonia' was spread throughout all of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. In the vernacular poems 'symphonia' was corrupted according to the particular language used, so that often the emerging term has scarcely any similarity to the word 'symphonia'. Nevertheless the hurdy-gurdy is also meant by these corrupted expressions, which can be recognized from the fact that in Latin [fn][3] and Old French sources instruments so characterized belonged to the string instrument:


"Chyffonyes et monocordes et main aultre instrument de cordes"; [fn][1]

"De symphoines, de cytholes et de aultres instrumens
que l'on fair sonner par dois et par cordes". [fn][2]

Especially in French the name was subject to many transformations, beginning in the latter part of the 12th century. From 'symphonie', [fn][3] 'syphonie', [fn][4] 'siphonie', [fn][5] 'sifonie', [fn][6] 'simphonine', [fn][7] through 'cifonie', [fn][8] 'cyfanie', [fn][9] 'chyphonie", [fn][10] and 'chyffonye', [fn][11] the hurdy-gurdy in France got the name 'chiphonie', [fn][12] which became the form most frequently used.


The hurdy-gurdy was also known under this name in Spain. [fn][1] In the 14th century in Italy the instrument was called the 'ciunfonie'. [fn][2]

The Romantic spellings 'çinfonia', 'ciunfonie' and 'chifonie' are less similar to the original 'symphonia' than the Germanic. In England the hurdy-gurdy was called 'symphayne', [fn][3] 'synfan', [fn][4] 'symphanys', [fn][5] 'symphanes', [fn][6] 'cyphans',[sp][c(y-tilde)phans] and in the Scandinavian countries 'simphon' [fn][8] or 'sinfon'. [fn][9] The word was maintained most purely in German and in Dutch, where 'symphonîe' [fn][10] or 'simphonîe' [fn][11] and the verb 'symphonien' [fn][12] likewise


referred to either the hurdy-gurdy or the playing of this instrument.

The change of the word 'symphonia' went so far in some areas that the original form can scarcely be recognized. From 'symphonie' or 'chifonie' came 'fonfonie', [fn][1] "fonfonio", "fanfonio", "fanfan" [fn][2] and "sansoño", "founfonie", "zounzeino", "sounseino". [fn][3]

The name 'symphonia' was applied not only to the instrument but also to the hurdy-gurdy player and in general to the instrument maker. [fn][4] The concept widened over the multi-talented medieval musician to include all entertainers, as in the old Hungarian language the expression 'szemfényvesztö' for jugglers, fiddlers, and clowns shows. [fn][5]

One feature is common to the medieval names 'organistrum' and 'symphonia': both characterize the hurdy-gurdy as an instrument whose characteristic is that of the sustained harmonies. This fact shows that the hurdy-gurdy was never an instrument with one string for a unison melody playing, but was always an instrument with several strings, even if the sources are not always explicit about this, on which either melody or drone tones or sustained parallel sounds could be played.

Only few other instruments had so many varied names as the hurdy-gurdy. There are, it is true, names ascribed to it by scholars which it never in fact had. Thus in the Middle Ages besides 'organistrum'


and 'symphonia' it is supposed to have been also called "rebel", "rubebe", [fn][1] or "rubelle". [fn][2] The term 'rota' caused much confusion in the classification of instrument names. 'Rota' was understood by many researchers to be one of the names of the hurdy-gurdy, starting from the assumption that the Latin meaning of the word 'rota' is equivalent to 'wheel'. [fn][3] This opinion was influenced probably by the false interpretation of this word found in the work of Johannes Cochlaeus. He translated 'rota' as 'wheel' and described the hurdy-gurdy under this name, although he added that the instrument is usually known by another name: "Rota vero instrumentum est quo caeci mendicantes utuntur ... Dicitur vulgo Lyra". [fn][4]

C. Is "Armonie" a Symphonie ?

Among the many names which have been ascribed to the medieval instrument was for a long time the name 'armonie', which in the old French literature was frequently used to denote an instrument, and which next to 'chifonie' also indicated the hurdy-gurdy. [fn][5] This name was given to the hurdy-gurdy because 'armonie', like 'symphonie', meant harmony. There are however no medieval texts which unmistakably indicate that a hurdy-gurdy is meant by 'armonie'.


The definition of 'armonie' as hurdy-gurdy was established towards the end of the 19th century. Arrey von Dommer could only report in 1865 that the armonie was an instrument of the minstrels, whose characteristics were unknown. [fn][1] In his lexicon he still considers the "chiphonie" to be a percussion instrument, a type of drum, but then in the appendix introduces it under 'symphonia' and 'chiphonie' as hurdy-gurdy. [fn][2]

In 1936 Théodore Gérold wrote that the hurdy-gurdy in the late Middle Ages was denoted by 'organistrum', "un peu plus tard par armonia ou symphonie". [fn][3] [trans: ] However he had indicated in 1932 that 'armonie' and 'symphonie' did not denote the same instruments. [fn][4] He established that the two terms often followed one another in texts and thus could not be synonymous.

When both terms appear in lists of instruments 'chifonie' and 'armonie' form mostly the end rhyme of two lines which follow one another, whereby 'chifonie' almost always comes first. With this arrangement possibly the pressure to find a word that rhymed had the result that for the sake of the rhyme the listing of the instruments was interrupted by inserting a general musical term. Whether this is correct cannot be definitely determined on account of the ambiguity of the term 'armonie'. However it is possible and could then be considered parallel to the rhyme forms 'chifonie' and 'melodie', which were likewise common in instrument lists. A possible cause of the ambiguity of the word 'armonie' could also be seen in the pressure to rhyme: the general musical term would then, determined by the ('false') use described above, have been gradually transferred to a musical instrument.

In the "Roman de Brut" 'armonie' does not refer to an instrument, but rather to the harmony of the


'simphonie' previously mentioned:

"De gighe sot, de simphonie
Si savoit assés d'armonie". [fn][1]

In Chretien de Troyes' "Erec" as well and in the "Romans de Claris et Laris" it is not an instrument, but rather a harmony:

"Rotes, harpes, viëles sonent
Guigues, sautier, et sinfonies,
Et trestotes les armonies
Qu'an poïst dire ne nomer". [fn][2]

"Et sachiez, qu'il y a de tez,
Qui portent harpes et vieles,
Salterions, citoles beles
Et fleutes et siphonies;
Si i ot maintes armonies
Tabours et cors sarradinois". [fn][3]

On the other hand in other lists it is clearly indicated that the 'armonie' must have been an instrument. In the "Roman de Troie" it is listed as one of 12 instruments:

"Iluec par ot si grant delit
Que gigue, harp e simphonie,
Rota, viële e armonie,
Sautier, cimbales, timpanon,
Monocorde, lire, conron, ---
Iço sont li doze estrument". [fn][4]

Jacob van Maerlant (13th century) brings 'sinphonie' and 'armonie' together in the same list in "De Trojaensche oorlog":


"Gigen, harpen, sinphonien,
Pleien, vedelen, armonien,
Salterion, sunbees, tympanon
Monocorden, chore, licion,
XII instrumente van musike". [fn][1]

'Armonie' also denotes a musical instrument in "Les deux Troveors ribauz":

"Si sai de muse et de frestele,
Et de harpe et de chifonie,
De la gigue, de l'armonie,
De l'salteire, et en la rote
Sai-ge bien chanter une note". [fn][2]

Likewise in "Floriant et Florete":

"Salteire, rotes, armonies
Et sauteles et sifonies";

"Cil tienent rotes et vieles,
Salteres et citoles beles,
Harpes de cor et armonies
et estives et chiphonies". [fn][3]

In the "Continuation de Perceval" by Gerbert de Montreuil both instruments are named one after the other once again, and here as well there is no doubt that here 'armonie' is an instrument: [fn][1]


"L'uns harpe, l'autres chifonie
Flagol, saltere ou almonie".

From the texts cited above it is apparent that an instrument was also named 'armonie', but that it was probably not the hurdy-gurdy. Friedrich Dick attempted to attach the term 'armonie' to a definite musical instrument. Rather than deriving the word from the Latin-Greek 'harmonia', he believed that the word was to be attributed to an imaginary region in Brittany, which was called 'Ermenie'. From this he concluded that, since England and Brittany are to be considered the countries from which the harp originated, that it was a harp. His logic is supported by a single citation from the 13th century:

"Qui chante et note, nus ne la puet desdire,
Lais et liax sons et harpes d'armonie". [fn][1]

Even when in texts only 'armonie' is mentioned, Dick wants to interpret these as referring to the harp, whereby he presumes that the authors in these texts simply left out the word 'harpe' which, according to him, is a more general term. [fn][2] The objection that in most of the lists 'harpe' is found besides 'armonie' [fn][3] he meets by claiming that it must have been a type of harp which was clearly different from the usual harp. He explains the infrequent occurrence of 'armonie' and its complete disappearance from the literature since the 14th century by saying that it was probably a large and unmanagable instrument. Dick's interpretation of 'armoni' as 'harp' as well as the derivation of the word from 'ermenie' does not appear convincing, especially since the only text cited by him can also be interpreted in another way: it could also be meant that "harpes d'armonie" denotes harps played chordally.


It has been discussed in various ways just what the authors of the instrument lists understood by 'armonie'. August Wilhelm Ambros believed that it was a "bell or clapper device for marking the rhythym". [fn][1] Johann Nicolaus Forkel expressed himself similarly, although he did not think that the 'armonie' was a real instrument. [fn][2] Both authors refer to an English translation of the work "De proprietatibus rerum" by Bartholomaeus Anglicus, handed down by John Hawkins. The section about the harmonie runs thus in Bartholomaeus: "De harmoniaca. Harmoniaca rhythmica est canora melodia ex pulsu et percussione nervorum et tinnitu metallorum generata. Et huic harmoniae diversa subserviunt instrumenta, ut tympanum, cymbalum, lyra, cithara, psalterium, atque sistrum". [fn][3] Bartholomaeus relied in his work as much on Isidor of Seville as Aegidius Zamorensis, whose treatment is thus almost identical: "Harmonia est rhythmica et canora melodia, ex pulsu et percussione nervorum, et tinnitu metallorum generata. Et huic harmoniae diversa serviunt instrumenta, ut tympanum, cymbalum, lyra, cithera, psalterium, atque sistrum etc.". [fn][4]

In the English translation handed down by John Hawkins the section on 'armonie' reads: "De Armonya. Armonya Rithmica is a sownynge melodye, and comyth of smyttyng strynges, and of tynklyng other ryngynge of metalle. And dyuerse instrumentes seruyth to this manere armonye, as Tabour, and Tymbre, Harpes and Sawtry, and Nakyres, and also Sistrum". [fn][5]

The translation of the same work from Provençe, dated 1380, is similar, except that the translator also mentions other instruments: "De armonia rithmica. Armonia


rithmica es dossa melodia per feriment de nervis et de metalhs engendrada. Et redo aquela melodia tambor, cimbol, lira, cithola, psautirio et semlans istrumens". [fn][1]

From the texts which adopt the definition of Isidor or Bartholomaeus it becomes clear that here 'harmonie' is the rhythm in harmony; thus various instruments are listed with which these rhythmical harmonies can be produced, and it turns out that these lists are in almost absolute agreement. It is noteworthy that these are only plucked or percussion instruments; wind instruments and bowed string instruments are not mentioned. The reason for this could be that all the authors and translators hung very closely to Isidor of Seville, who did not know of any bowed instruments. It can however also mean that these instruments were not suited properly for producing the 'harmonia rhythmica'.

All the authors who list instruments for the performance of 'harmonia rhythmica' also mention the psaltery. This is likewise mentioned in the poems in which in the instrument lists the 'armonie' is also mentioned. It is noteworthy that 'armonie' and the psaltery are always named after one another or even characterized as being interchangeable:

"... saltere ou almonie" [fn][2]

The groupings in the "Roman de Troie" and in the "Trojaenschen oorlog" are in the listing of the instruments most similar to the texts influenced by Bartholomaeus Anglicus:

". . . . . . . . . . . .e armonie,
Sautier, cimbales, timpanon"' [fn][3]

". . . . . . . . . . . .armonien,
Salterion, sunbees, tympanon". [fn][4]


'Armonie' and 'psalterium' also follow each other in the "Les deux Troveors ribauz":

". . . . . . . . . . . .de l'armonie,
De l'salteire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .". [fn][1]

This continuously similar arrangement leads to the supposition that the 'armonie' is an instrument which is especially suited for playing with the psaltery or even an instrument which is similar to the psaltery. It is possible that it was a percussion instrument with strings, comparable to the Tambourin de Béarn, which was used to accompany the Galoubet (see page 50).

The evidence discussed here leads to the conclusion that the 'armonie' could not have been a bowed or wind instrument. Considering the way in which musical instruments in the Middle Ages were ambiguously named, 'armonie' could have denoted various instruments which had only one thing in common, namely the production of rhythmic harmony. That the name 'armonie' does not denote a specific instrument is supported by the few proofs of the use of 'armonie' as a name for an instrument and its early disappearance from medieval literature.

In summary it can be established that the word 'harmonia' as a rule denoted 'harmony' and that when this word is used as a name for a musical instrument its type cannot be clearly determined.

D. Gaita

Names were derived from the term 'symphonia' which were used for both the hurdy-gurdy as well as the bagpipes. Since on both instruments the player could sustain the notes and play drone tones, these instruments had the same names. This is especially true of Spain, where the expressions for the


bagpipes 'zampoña' and for the hurdy-gurdy 'zamfoña' were very similar to each other.

There is another name which comes from Spain and which was also given to both instruments: 'gaita'. This term, like others (see page 26) is a name which was transferred from an animal, the donkey (Greek xxxxxxxx [sp][Greek gamma alpha-acute iota-dialytica delta alpha rho omicron sigma] ) to a musical instrument. Like the Spanish terms derived from "symphonia' (see page 199), with the use of 'gaita' it is difficult to determine which instrument is meant. In general the bagpipes were characterized with 'gaita', but sometimes the hurdy-gurdy as well. [fn][1] Frequently the word 'gaita' is provided with a suffix, but even then the instrument being referred to cannot be precisely determined.

The 'gaita gallega', which is the 'gaita' from the province of Galicia, was interpreted as a hurdy-gurdy by Felipe Pedrell. [fn][2] This term however is always used exclusively for the bagpipes. [fn][3] With the 'gaita zamorana' however things are different. Mentioned by Cervates in "Don Quixote", [fn][4] this instrument has often been taken for a hurdy-gurdy, [fn][5] but also for a set of bagpipes. The opinion that it is a set of bagpipes is based by Cecilio de Roda Lopez on the grounds that the hurdy-gurdy in Cervantes' time was not a respectable instrument and that therefore only the bagpipes


could have been meant. [fn][1] However he produces no good argument in support of his thesis. Better support seems to lie in the suffix 'zamorana': this adjective has been thought to be derived from the city name 'Zamora', and the 'gaita zamorana' hence is an instrument used or made in this city. This Spanish word however can just as well be another form of the Arabic 'zamr', and thus could indicate a wind instrument. [fn][2] It must however not be forgotten how much the meaning of instrument names fluctuate, as seen with 'symphonia' referring to percussion, wind, and stringed instruments. Therefore it cannot be excluded here that this name was also transferred from the bagpipes to the hurdy-gurdy. Particularly in one source the hurdy-gurdy must be intended with 'gaita zamorana', since a blind person, his leader and the dog are mentioned in connection with this instrument:

" ......... , tambíen \
Vendrá su vecino el ciego
Con la gaita zamorana,
El lazarillo y el perro' [fn][3]

Without further descriptions in the other sources it probably cannot be explained whether 'gaita' or 'gaita zamorana' refers to the hurdy-gurdy or to the bagpipes. It is most probable however that this name was first given to the bagpipes and then to a string instrument with similar tonal qualities, the hurdy-gurdy.


E. Hurdy-gurdy

As on the continent the hurdy-gurdy was known in medieval England under the name 'symphonie'. This name was superceded by another only in the 19th century. Since this time the instrument has been called the 'hurdy-gurdy' in England. [fn][1] This name can be traced back only to the middle of the 18th century, which does not mean however that is was actually first used at this time.

The origin of this term is not known. It is supposed to be an imitative construction similar to 'hirdy-girdy', which means "uproar, disordered noises". [fn][2] The similarly formed expressions 'hirdum-dirdum' and 'hurly-burly' have the same sense. The latter is supposed to have served as a model for the formation of 'hurdy-gurdy'. [fn][3]

If 'hurdy-gurdy' is in fact an imitative construction, then it can be concluded from this that it was the monotonous sound of the instrument which gave rise to this expression, which at the same time means that it was not a very respected instrument when this name was given to it. This naming occurred at the same time as the hurdy-gurdy fad was raging in France, which leads to the conclusion that the French direction in fashion was not imitated in England.

As with another name for this instrument (see page 231), derived from the turning motion of the crank, the name 'hurdy-gurdy' was later transferred to another mechanical instrument which was played with a crank, namely the barrel organ. This 'hurdy-gurdy' was also known up until the 1960's in the United States, where it probably arrived with this name from England, since in the United States


the name could not have been transferred from the instrument to the barrel organ because the former was not known there.

F. Vielle

Up until the end of the Middle Ages 'symphonie' remained the most widespread and common name for the hurdy-gurdy. Only in more recent times were different names given to the instrument in some areas. "The more the instrument descended from the cloisters to the lay people, the less the Latin names were used in place of the colloquial names" [fn][1]. The 'symphonie' became known as the 'vielle' in France, and as the 'Leier' in Germany and the Nordic countries. In some parts of France however 'chifonie' retained the meaning of hurdy-gurdy until the 19th century, as did 'chifournie' on Guersey and in Normandy [fn][2], and as 'fanfoni' in Midi. [fn][3]

When the hurdy-gurdy in France received the name 'vielle', the name 'symphonie' was no longer used for another instrument. In 1690 Antoine Furetière knew the instrument name 'symphonie' only as the former name of the 'vielle': "Symphonie est aussi un nom que les Anciens ont donné à celuy des instruments dont on a fait le moins de cas, qui est la vielle". [fn][4] [trans AH:"Symphony is also the name the ancients gave to those instruments whose ..... , which is the hurdy-gurdy"] Jean Jacques Rousseau distinguished music with and without symphonie, meaning voice with or without instrumental accompaniment, but no longer mentioned an instrument of this name [fn][5]. In the 19th century it was no longer generally known that 'symphonie' or 'chifonie'

[page] [218]

had once denoted the hurdy-gurdy. Heinrich Welcker von Gontershausen indeed understood the 'Viele' to be a type of viola or even a beggar's lyre, but he considered the 'chifonie' to be a type of lute. [fn][1]

Since the end of the Middle Ages the name 'vielle' was used in France to denote the hurdy-gurdy, and is still used today. Originally however 'vielle' was used for another stringed instrument which was played with a bow. The exact point in time at which the hurdy-gurdy recieved this name cannot be established. According to Jean Persijn's opinion it received it in the 15th century [fn][2] and around this time was also known in England under this name. [fn][3]

The stringed instrument 'vielle' was mentioned early in the medieval literature, and even in a time when it was not difficult to distinguish between a 'vielle' (bowed-stringed instrument) and a 'chifonie' (hurdy-gurdy), the bow was often added to the naming of the 'vielle'. Samples for the exact establishment of the instrument as the stringed instrument with the bow can be found as early as Colin Muset (13th century): "Atout la vïele et l'archet" [fn][4], and in Hieronymus de Moravia (13th century): "vielle, cum arco tangitur" [fn][5]. Hans Michael Schletterer ascribed a poem to Muset in which the author used 'vielle' for the bowed string instrument and for the hurdy-gurdy and indicated their different methods of stroking by a corresponding addition:

"Tambourin, Violon, Clochette,
Il fait la Basse et le Fausset,
Il inventa Vielle et Musette;
Pour la Manivelle ou l'Archet,
Nul n'egale Colin Muset" [fn][6]


This poem however cannot have been written by Muset who lived in the first half of the 13th century, since he knew neither the characterization "vielle pour la manivelle" nor the name 'violon' which was not used in the Middle Ages. On the other hand besides 'vielle' at this time the forms 'viole', 'viola' and 'viula' were known, which served to denote the same instrument.

The criteria used for naming an instrument 'vielle' or 'viola' can no longer be determined, since the origin and etymology of both words are not known.

A stringed instrument was always denoted with the French words 'vielle' and 'viòle', the Italian 'viola', and the Old Provençal 'viula'. The exception is in Occitan, where the verb 'viular' means "jouer de toute sorte d'instruments". [fn][1] [trans AH :"to play on all kinds of instruments"] The origin of these words is not known, and for this reason their roots have been sought in various Latin words. Thus the Old Provençal 'viula' is supposed to be derived from the Latin 'vivula' [fn][2], and the French 'vielle' from the Latin 'vivella'. 'Vivula' and 'vivella', in turn, are thought to be related to the Latin 'vivus'; "living, alive" [fn][3].

The interpretation of 'viola' most frequently upheld extends over the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Provençal 'viula', French 'viole', Walachian 'vioárë'; back to middle Latin 'vitula' which is supposed to be derived from Latin 'vitulari', which means "to spring like a calf, be playful". In explanation of this derivation it is said that the instrument was used to accompany joyful occasions [fn][4]. From 'vitulare' the noun ‘vitula' is supposed to have come directly as the name of the instrument, which, by being changed around somewhat it was first Provençal 'víutla', then 'víula', 'víola', and finally Italian 'vióla', while the form 'vielle', 'viele' originated from 'vitella', meaning "calf". [fn][5] The derivation of French 'vielle' from


Latin 'vivella' or 'vitella' is not correct acording to J. Corominas: rather this word has in 'víula' the same stem as 'viole'. From 'viula' then came 'vielle', because the northern French could not pronounce ‘íula'. [fn][1] Corominas considers the verb 'viular' to be the stem of the Old Occitan 'viula', whose origin he cannot explain. He thinks it is an onomatopoeic formation [fn][2] and compares it with the Old Catalan 'biula', which translates as the Spanish ‘pedo' (crack). The modern Catalan equivalent is 'piula', which is translated as ‘petardo' (blasting cap, figurative for cheating) [fn][3]. He also compares it to the Catalan dialect 'fiular', meaning ‘silbar' (whistle, hiss, howl) and to 'piular', meaning ‘piar' (peep). The South Sardic terms for the bagpipes, 'bídulas' and ‘vídulas', also belong to this group. [fn][4]

The onomatapoeic word formation seems questionable with 'viula' and 'viular', if the other expressions which belong to this group are considered. Corominas adds 'viulà', 'vivlà', 'ioula', 'vijoulà' which all mean "the kicking of a newly-born" or "the leap of a cow bitten by a fly" and therefore have a similar denotation as the Latin 'vitulari', "spring like a calf". The very late occurrence of 'vitula' in Latin makes its derivation from 'vitulari' or 'vitula' unlikely. Also, according to Corominas, the derivation of the word 'viula' from 'vitulari' is not possible for phonetic reasons. [fn][5]

Some words have a common root with 'viula', which indicates the production of a noise: in Pierrecourt 'vyonè' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-e/grave] is "faire entendre un bruit sifflant", in Chameroy 'vyoné' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-e/acute] is "faire une music desagreable", in Voisey 'vyonè' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-e/grave], in Menoux 'vyona' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-a/macron] and in Dole 'vionner' is "bruire (la toupie qui tourne)" [fn][6].

If Corominas' suggested correlation of 'viulà', 'vivlà', 'ioula', 'vijoulà' and 'vyonè' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-e/grave], 'vyoné' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-e/acute], 'vyona' [sp][vy-o/macron-n-a/macron], and 'vionner' to 'viula' is correct, then it is noteworthy that words


of the first group refer largely to an animal, while with those of the second group the production of an unpleasant loud or whistling sound is indicated. Such meanings in a word field to which 'viula' and 'viola' as the name of a stringed instrument also belong does not give any information as to which criteria were used in naming the instrument. Instead the production of a sound and an animal name point to instruments which sound loudly and which are partly made of animal skin. As already mentioned such a correlation exists with the bag instruments, on which an essential part of the instrument comes from as animal, namely the bag. From this deerivation the instrument also receives its name (see page 26).

When the characterization of a stringed instrument comes from a word group with animal and sound meanings, then the transfer to a stringed instrument must not have come from the sound meaning, but from the animal denotation. The development thereby probably ran as with the bag instruments over a container made out of the animal skin which perhaps first served as the body of such an instrument.

For the naming of instruments the names of containers appear to have played a major role, as shown by Augustine [fn][1], Isodor of Seville [fn][2], the Venerable Bede [fn][3] and Hucbald [fn][4]. These writers all characterize


"vasa organorum", i.e. musical "containers", as music instruments. The connection between container and music instrument is especially clear in the case of wind instruments which have a wind 'sack' or a blowing 'bag', which therefore partly consists of a container of leather, that is, of animal skin. Noteworthy in the connection is the similarity in sound of the words 'viola' and 'phiola'. 'Phiole' however denotes a 'container'.

The Greek xxxxx [sp][phi-iota-alpha/grave-lambda-eta] was adopted in Latin as "phiala" and changed around to the Middle Latin "fiola". The basic meaning of this word was "drinking bowl" [fn][1] or "a type of drinking container with a wide rim" [fn][2]. On account of its round form and hence the similarity with such a drinking bowl, the Latin word "phiala" also denoted "fons, aquarum receptabulum" [fn][3] "fountain of the Nile", and for the same reason a sea on the source of the Jordan was so named. From the name of a spring the characterization "phiala" was transferred also to a Nymphe of Diana. [fn][4] Derived from Middle Latin "fiola" were the Italian "fíala", Piedmontese "fiola" [fn][5], Old French "fiele", French "fiole", Provençal "fiola" [fn][6], Verdun/Châlons "fiòle", "fyol", New Champagne "fyula" [sp][fy-u/macron-la], "hula" [sp][h-u/macron-la], "hyola", "fyola", "fyula", "fielo", Gascon "hiolo" [fn][7], Old High German "fialâ" [fn][8], Middle High German "viole" [fn][9], middle Dutch "viole", Dutch "fiool" [fn][10], and English "phial" and "vial" [fn][11].


The meaning of the word changed from "drinking bowl" for the Greeks into "small bottle" or "bottle of glass or metal" [fn][1], mostly a "ball-shaped glass bottle with a long neck" [fn][2]. Going into the form of a bottle French 'fiole' as transferred to Corsican 'fiola' in the sense of "glass lamp" [fn][3]. Although with 'phiole' a small bottle is usually meant, this must not have been so small since a French diminutive form 'fiolete' "petite fiole, flacon" [sp][check spelling - flaçon?] [fn][4] could be formed from it..

The change in meaning from drinking bowl to bottle occurred over the function of both containers as receptacles of drinks such as wine. This also leads to the meaning of Latin 'fiala' or 'phiala' as "vas vinarium" [fn][5]. The bottle first characterized as 'fiala' or 'phiala' was probably a wine bottle. This seems to indicated by the French name 'fillole' [fn][6] for "grape vine", like the French 'fioler' and the other derivations from 'fiole' in French, which are all connected with "to drink too much" [fn][7].

If these container names are related to the previously listed animal denotations then the connection consists of the material obtained from the animal, namely the leather, serving to make these containers. The name Phialos [sp][phi-iota-alpha-lambda-omicron-sigma] appears to prove that the drinking bowls 'phiale' were originally made from the skin of the animals which were lead by the son of the cowherd Bucolion (who was identical with the sun-hero Hercules). [fn][8] If a connection exists between the names of a container and those of an animal then the names which are also connected with the objects produced from leather


related to obtaining this material. The Latin word 'violare', originally used for the removal of the animal skin, was made general and received a transferred meaning as "to treat roughly, hurt, mishandle, injure, dishonour, disgrace". [fn][1] The words "schoren" and "beraubin" in Middle High German have similar meanings. [fn][2] The Latin word 'violatio', the French 'viol', and the English 'violation' all mean "disgrace, dishonour", while the Latin "violator" means "disgracer". [fn][3]

These expressions for force, injury, and disgrace go back to the removal of animal skin, a connection, which in German already the similar sounding sounds of 'schänden' [to violate] and 'schinden' [to mistreat] show.

Between the instrument names 'viola' and the container 'phiala' accordingly a connection could exist based on the transfer of a name from the animal to a container produced from its skin which was in turn used as part of a musical instrument. This connection with the naming of bag-instruments could also be appropriate clearly visible for other instruments on which animal skin was used. As note earlier (see page 26, and page 214 ) the former name of the bagpipes in Germany was 'Bock', and in France 'chevrette' [trans AH: kid, literally "little goat"]. To these instruments belong not only the percussion instruments made with animal skins percussion instruments (drums and kettle-drums) but originally stringed instruments such as the five stringed Tanbûra described by Carsten Niebuhr, whose body was provided with a skin sounding membrane [fn][4]; the Moroccan Gnbrî, a two to three string long-neck lute whose soundboard 'head' consists of skin [fn][5]; or the Japanese Samisen, on which the body is fitted on both sides with cat skin [fn][6]. Also among the bowed instruments there are such whose soundboards are not made out of wood, but


consist of animal skin acting as the sounding membrane. This instruments include the Maraábba, a bowed instrument with one or two strings, which is suited for use as a violin and a drum at the same time; [fn][1] the Kemânge [sp][Kemân-g/breve-e] , the body of which is also fitted with snakeskin; the Chinese fiddle Hu k'in; and the upper Indian Sârangî [sp][Sâra-n/dot-gî ]. [fn][2] Today the Rabab [sp][Rab-a/macron-b] is still played in Egypt. This bowed instrument consists of a trapezoidal wood frame which is covered on the front and back with a donkey skin. [fn][3] The presence of an animal skin in place of a wood soundboard on the bodies of these instruments supports the premise that other stringed or bowed instruments originally had bodies which were not made entirely of wood. As with other instruments the naming of such stringed instruments can be deduced according to the source of certain parts or according to their development. In this way the name of an animal which contributed an important construction element is applied to the instrument itself. With this supposition a connection between the container 'phiala' and the instrument 'viola' can be seen. This is shown especially clearly in the different ways of writing the container name in English: the English 'phail' for 'vessel' was also written earlier as 'vial', 'viall', or 'viol' [fn][4], and therefore had the same way of being written as the word 'viol' which refers to the bowed instrument. [comment: need this translated again to assure intent]

Medieval sources also appear to indicate such a connection between 'phiala' and 'viola'. In a Charta of the Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy composed by Abbot Raoul d'Argences (1190-1220), the 'phyala' was placed as an incense container in the church in direct connection with the instruments used during the service."Quatinus caritate juvante et ipsi nobiscum et nos cum illis in leticia et exultatione, in symphonia et choro, in tympano et psalterio, in cordis et organo, in manibus tenentes cytharas et phyalas plenas odoramentorum


conspectui summi regis valeamus apparere". [fn][1] With the use of the word 'phyala' to denote the incense container the composer of the Charta could also be describing a musical instrument known to him. There was a musical instrument with this name in the listing of stringed instruments in the "Summa Musicae" attributed to Johannes de Muris, in which the author introduces two bowed instruments with similar names:"qualia sunt citharae, viellae et phialae, psalteria, chori, monochordum, symphonia seu organistrum, et his similia" [fn][2]. On account of the connection with 'et' it can be concluded that "viella et phila" were not a writing mistake on the part of the author, but that two different instruments were being referred to. Both instruments were certainly bowed instruments, because they are connected with 'et' in this list.

Therefore according to the author there was really a musical instrument by the name of 'phiala'. This is however not the only indication, for also in another source an instrument of this name is mentioned. Johannes Affligemensis (Johannes Cotton) wrote about it in an article about the division of music: "humano siquidem inflatur spiritu ut tibia, manu temperatur ut phiala" [fn][3]. This text was copied by Hieronymus de Moravia, who cited Johannes Cotton. Hieronymus exactly copied the words of the original, except that he changed one word. Where Johannes had written 'phiala', Hieronymus now wrote 'viella': "humano siquidem inflatur spiritu ut tibia, manu temperatur ut viella" [fn][4].

Accordingly 'viella' was substituted because it was simply the modernized way of writing and pronouncing 'phiala'. This does not exclude the possibility that the older form was still maintained in use at that time, especially when it was attributed to a certain type of the same instrument family. While the author of the "Summa Musicae"


places both the expressions directly next to each other, here they characterize different instruments of the same family. However the simultaneous mentioning of both names by this author does not exclude that the "viella" could have developed from the "phiala". That both of these instruments belong to the same group makes it even more probable that 'viella' was derived from 'phiala', so that both of these words are of Greek origin. The replacement of 'phiala' by 'viella' in Hieronymus' text also supports the hypothesis represented above that 'viola' and 'viella' go back to xxxxxx [sp][phi-iota-alpha/grave- lambda-eta].

An instrument named the "viella" was mentioned by the author of the "Summa Musicae" and its tuning was described exactly by Hieroniymus de Moravia [fn][1]. This was a drone instrument, but the hurdy-gurdy was not yet called by this name. At a later time it received the name 'viola' and then later 'vielle'. The hurdy-gurdy should have received the name 'vielle' after the bowed instument called the 'viole' was renamed. Against this supposition speaks the evidence that while the hurdy-gurdy was still uniformly called the 'symphonie' or the 'chifonie' in 13th and 14th century, in France not only the 'vielle' but also the 'viole' or 'viula' are mentioned, these names therefore already being known were.[fn][2] The transfer of the name 'vielle' onto the hurdy-gurdy must have succeeded later, and then it also became known by the name 'viola'. At the beginning of the 15th century (1410) in Catalonia the hurdy-gurdy was known by the name 'viola': "Una viola ab cordes e clavies" [fn][3]. [trans AH: "a viola with strings and keys"]


In France in the 16th century the "vielle" was first described as a blind person's instrument. In this passage concerning the 'vielle', only the hurdy-gurdy could have been meant: "ainsi demeure encore la vielle pour les aveugles, le rebec et viole pour les ménétriers" [fn][1][trans:] The author clearly distinguished the 'vielle' from the 'viole' and ascribed the former to the blind. This text speaks so naturally of the hurdy-gurdy, the 'vielle', as an instrument of the blind that it is tempting to suppose that this term had already been used for quite a while to denote the hurdy-gurdy. Once again the 'vielle' as a hurdy-gurdy is attributed to the blind without further description by Robert Estienne in 1606: "vielle = de quoy jouent communément les aveugles" [fn][2]. A little later in 1635 the hurdy-gurdy as 'vielle' without any particular descriptive addition had become so familiar in France that it was described under this name: "viele, instrument à cordes, dont on joue en tournant auec une ansete le rouet quiremue les cordes" [fn][3]. [trans AH: "viele, stringed instrument, — play by turning with a — the wheel which — the strings"]

The name 'vielle' was transferred to the hurdy-gurdy from another instrument . For the first time in the new naming of the instrument no reference was made to its tonal qualities. The transfer from a bowed 'vielle' to the hurdy-gurdy 'viele' was apparently made for other reasons. Various things could have influenced the transfer of this name. The manner of producing sound common to both instruments by the bowing or stroking of the strings could have determined the use of the same name. In order to better distinguish


both instruments then it became more common to use the term 'viole' for the bowed instrument and the name 'vielle' for the hurdy-gurdy. The opinion that this expression became unused for the bowed instrument and only then was transferred to the hurdy-gurdy is not likely, since then the transfer would have been deliberate. Rather the hurdy-gurdy recieved this name because little attention was paid to it in these times. Possibly the cause of the transfer is not so much to be sought in the bowing or stroking procedure, but from old vielles which were no longer used and converted to hurdy-gurdies and then, to distinguish them, were called 'vielle à roue' and later simply 'vielle'.

G. Leier

In Germany the hurdy-gurdy was at first likewise known under it's medieval name 'symphonie' but this was later replaced by 'leier'. In contrast to France, where after 'vielle' was given to the hurdy-gurdy 'symphonie' and 'chifonie' were no longer used to denote music instruments, in Germany the name 'symphonie' was given to another stringed keyboard instrument. At the beginning of the 18th century, the hurdy-gurdy was no longer understood under the term 'symphonie'. In 1511 Arnold Schlick mentions an instrument of this name among the stringed instruments which had chromatic halftones, and this does not correspond to German hurdy-gurdies of that period[fn][1]. In the same year Sebasian Virdung pictured the hurdy-gurdy with the inscription 'lyra' below it. (ill. 53) [figlink], [fn][2] and Martin Agricola also briefly spoke of 'leirn'. [fn][3] He mentioned 'symphonie' and


'leier' without further explanation in his listing of stringed instruments, which proves that both names had been so accepted as names for different instruments that no further explanation was necessary:

"Auch sind etliche mit Clauirn gemacht
Durch welch yhre Melodey wird vorgebracht.
Als sind / Clauicorden / Clauicymbal /
Symphoney / Schüsselfidel / Virginal.
Clauiciterium / Leirn / meyn ich auch
Vnd alle / die yhn gleich sind ym gebrauch" [fn][1]

From the fact that 'symphonie' denoted stringed instruments with keys [fn][2] some scholars concluded that in the Middle Ages 'symphonie' was already the generic name for these instruments, the hurdy-gurdy inclusive. [fn][3] However this practice only began in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The hurdy-gurdy recieved the name 'leier' or 'lira' from another instrument, whereby it cannot be explained what influnced the transfer. Although in the Middle Ages the ancient instrument called the 'lyra' was known in Europe, this name was used for such various stringed instruments as the plucked lyre, the bowed lyra de bracio and the hurdy-gurdy. Today the latter is normally not characterized as just as 'Leier', but always as a 'Radleier' or 'Drehleier'. These names which refer to the movement of the crank influenced the naming of a different


mechanical instrument which was also operated with a crank, the barrel organ ('Drehorgel') which even had another name which came from the hurdy-gurdy and which was given to it solely because of the similarity of the turning motion of both instruments, namely 'Leierkasten'. This expression was never used for the hurdy-gurdy as Hans Joachim Moser and Margot Sorensen incorrectly supposed, [fn][1] but always just for the barrel-organ.

Just as very little can be said about why the hurdy-gurdy was given the name 'Leier', little can be known about when it received this name. Probably the transfer occurred in different times in different regions. Around 1218 in the recommendations of Buoncompagno of Florence we find a sharp division indeed between viola and hurdy-gurdy players, but a grouping of the latter with the lyra players as well as the harpists with the rota players: Buoncompagno wrote an individual letter of recommendation for the viola player (de uiolatore), but common letters under the titles "De liratore uel symphonatore" and "De arpatore uel rotatore". [fn][2] However both expressions 'lira' and 'symphonia' were also clearly used synonymously in the 13th century in the "Mammotrectus" of Marchesinus: [fn][3] "Liris, id est Symphoniis" [fn][4]. On the other hand Johannes Gerson distinguishes between 'lyra' and 'symphonia': "sit viella, sit symphonia, sit lyra, sit rota". [fn][5] An exact description of the hurdy-gurdy under the name 'lira' appears for the first tme in a vocabulary of 1468: "lira, leyr, est instrumentum musicum quod habet in alueo vasis cordas et per rottulam de suptus vertibulo girante tactas in


pulso clauorum proporcionabilitar distantium consonatium variantes" [fn][1]

Up until the 17th and 18th centuries in Germany the hurdy-gurdy was known mostly by the name 'Leier'. H. J. Ch. von Grimmelschausen reported that the daughter of a beggar "auff der Leyer spilte" [fn][2]. In a short article by Jacob Adlung in 1768 it runs: "Then comes the Leyer. One does not wonder that even this despised instrument presents itself among the organists' instruments: for who does not know that it is governed [note AH: right word here?] even by a clavier?" [fn][3].

The keys with which the player shortens the melody strings were called 'lîren-nagel', 'lîren-staffel',[fn][4] or 'Leiernagel' [fn][5]; the hurdy-gurdy player was known as a 'Leyrer',[fn][6] 'Leierndreher' [fn][7], or as a 'Leiermann' [fn][8].

If another word was appended to 'Leier', this did not refer to a structural element of the instrument as it does today , but to its social position. Praetorius gave several names to the hurdy-gurdy, all with appendages to the word 'Leier'; among these were two expressions which are among the most frequently cited in the later hurdy-gurdy literature. While discussing the individual music instruments he comes to the instrument 'Lyra' and protests how one could think that he wanted to speak "von der Bawren - vnnd vmblauffenden Weiber Leyre" [fn][9]. In another place he lists "Lyra Rustica, seu pagana, ein gemeine Lyra" [fn][10]. The prefix 'gemeine'


is supposed to distinguish the instrument from the stringed instrument 'Lira' which was used at the same time. But even when just 'Lira' is mentioned, one can assume it is the hurdy-gurdy as long as it is the last instrument named, as in a 16th century inventory from Innsbruck (1st copy 1596) in which at the end of the list 'Ain lira' appears. In another inventory from the Innsbruck court (1665) after the plucked instruments a hurdy-gurdy is listed as the last instrument, this time denoted however by a prefix "Gemeine Leyr" [fn][1].

The name 'leier' spread to the north European and east European countries. In Scandinavia the hurdy-gurdy was called the 'bondlyror' [fn][2], 'vevlira' [fn][3], or simply 'lire' [fn][4], in Romania 'lira', and in Russia 'lira' [fn][6],'Ljera' or 'Rjelja (rylja)' [fn][7]. This last is to be understood to be metathesis of 'lira'.



1) Compare to the wording of these instructions on page 246ff of this work.

2) GS I 303.

3) Library of Congress Washington, ML 171.J.6, fol. 31v-32r.


1) GS II 286.

2) Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel, Cod. Guelf. 334 Gud. Lat., fol. 110v-111r.

3) British Museum London, Hs. Arundel 339, fol. 110.

4) S. de Coussemaker, Histoire de l'harmonie au Moyen Age, Paris 1852, 6; C. Engel, Researches into the Early History of the Violin Family, 128.

5) H. Husmann, Das Organum vor und außerhalb der Notre-Dame-Schule, in: Bericht über den 9. Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongreß Salzburg 1964, Volume 1, Kassel 1964, 30.

6) J. Smits van Waesberghe, Das gegenwärtige Geschictsbild der mittelalterlichen Musik IV (1966), in: Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch 51 (1967) 25.


1) J. Smits van Waesberghe, De kerkelijke Draailier, 110.

2) J. Smits van Waesberghe, Was uns die musiktheoretischen Traktate vom 9. - 11.Jahrhundert über Monochord, Orgel und Cymbala lehren, in: Bericht über den 9. Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongreß Salzburg 1964, Volume 2, Kassel 1966, 186.

3) J. Smits van Waesberghe, Was uns die musiktheoretischen Traktate ... lehren, 186.


1) H. Reimann, Präludien und Studien, II 224.

2) L. Diefenbach, Novum Glossarium Latino-Germanicum, 273 s.v. Organum.

3) M. Schneider, Wurzein und Anfänge, 167.


1) "symphonia seu organistrum" (GS III 199), "symphonia, quae dicitur organistrum" (GS III 216), "psalteria, organistrum, monochordum, et similia" (GS III 214).



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Olympic Musical Instruments

© Original text in German copyright 1977, Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft GmbH
© Translation copyright 2005, Olympic Musical Instruments and the Bröcker Tranlation Group