Instruments | Hurdy-Gurdy, Organistrum, Sinfonye & Geigenwerk | Medieval Era | Classical

Because the name ‘hurdy-gurdy’ was abducted by the nineteenth-century barrel organ, this instrument is rarely taken as seriously as it deserves. Known as the ‘organistrum’ from the tenth to twelfth centuries, it was a stringed instrument played by a cranked resined wheel, not a bow. It required two operators, one of whom would crank and one play, and it was associated at first with the clergy in choir schools. In the thirteenth century it developed into the ‘sinfonye’, a secular instrument, and could be worked by an individual. There are likely to have been strings besides the controlled ones which sounded throughout as a running accompaniment. The sinfonye has survived best in France.

A Renaissance version of the sinfonye is to be found in the Brussels Collection. This uses not the single 5- or 7.6-cm (2- or 3-in) wheel of the medieval period, but four wheels, each 17.8 cm (7 in) in diameter, their rims covered in parchment. The wheels are intended for different strings and turn at different speeds, the bass slower than the treble, allowing for greater refinement of performance. Made in Germany, it is called by its German name of ‘Geigenwerk’, or mechanical violin.

Styles & Forms | Medieval Era | Classical
Instruments | Bells | Medieval Era | Classical


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