Image: Wikimedia Commons
What is the Hurdy Gurdy?
The hurdy-gurdy is an instrument with a very long history, and it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity in both America and Europe. Find out what it is, what makes it special, and how it works.
A Medieval Instrument
The hurdy-gurdy has been around at least since the 15th century. In France, it’s called the vielle a roue. It didn’t get the name hurdy gurdy until the 1800’s, and that occurred in England.
It’s a stringed instrument, and it makes music when you turn a crank. The crank turns a wheel inside that rubs against the strings like a bow does on a violin.
Here’s a diagram of one:
In the 13th century, it was commonly used to play folk and dance music. It was known as a peasant’s instrument. It was very popular all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Under Louis XIV’s reign (1660-1715), though, it made its way into the upper class and even appeared in the royal court. Composers such as Vivaldi and Mozart wrote music for the hurdy-gurdy.
During the French Revolution, its popularity declined, and it was once again just a street instrument.
The Hurdy Gurdy’s Music
The hurdy-gurdy makes a unique timbre that kind of sounds like a cross between a violin, a kazoo, and a set of bagpipes.
Here’s a video talking about how the hurdy-gurdy makes its unique-sounding music:
The Hurdy Gurdy Today
The popularity of the hurdy-gurdy has increased not only in America but in many countries in Europe as well as the Slavic countries.
A person who plays the hurdy-gurdy is called a hurdy-gurdyist, or a viellist.
There’s an annual hurdy-gurdy festival in Washington state every September.
There are several styles and shapes of hurdy-gurdies, and there are even electronic ones now.
If you want to learn to play the hurdy-gurdy, Olympic Musical Instruments in Washington makes them, but it’ll cost around $2800 for one. Hurdy Gurdy Crafters make them, too, and prices start at around $1500. Alterwind in Oregon also makes them, and prices range from $1000 to over $4000.