Given the interest aroused by the medieval and Renaissance music in a recent Sunday Morning Music article, I thought I’d continue the theme by paying attention to the hurdy-gurdy. This is often regarded as a cheesy sort of street and fairground musical instrument, with no real merit; but it’s actually a very historic instrument indeed. It was widely popular in medieval music.
To begin, here are two dances for hurdy-gurdy, cittern (nowadays frequently substituted with an Irish bouzouki) and darbuka. The first is “Nonsuch”, composer unknown, dating from about the mid-1600’s, and the second is “Schiarazula Marazula”, composed by Giorgio Mainerio of Italy. This arrangement is by Short Tailed Snails. (You’ll find more of their music on their YouTube channel. They’re very interesting, and a lot of fun.)
In a slower tempo, here’s Duo Piccolo e Grande with a baroque piece for hurdy-gurdy that’s been attributed to various composers, in a number of variations. It’s titled “La Furstemberg”, and first appeared around 1690.
The hurdy-gurdy is still popular among folk musicians in England. Here’s “Le petit chien” (“The small dog”), a modern composition for hurdy-gurdy and accordion by Andy Cutting.
Here’s The III Project with “Kopanitsa”, another modern composition with a distinctly Middle Eastern flavor.
Finally, to show you how versatile the hurdy-gurdy can be, here’s an electric hurdy-gurdy in the hands of Guilhelm Desq. He plays “Break Your Crank”.
It’s an old and much-mocked instrument, but the hurdy-gurdy is still going strong.