Hurdy Gurdy: Contemporary Destinations (II)
Short excerpt from "Nomenclature" section clarifying some issues regarding etymology of the instrument' s name"
It is believed that the name ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is onomatopoeic in its origin and in Old English its meaning is often equivalent to loud commotion, disorder and havoc1.
The English term ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is shared with a musical device known as the barrel organ. These are often confused by their superficial similarities, such as crank action or continuous sound.
For the purpose of this work, the name of the instrument – hurdy-gurdy – has been used exclusively to describe the lute- or guitar-shaped mechanical fiddle, equipped with buttons stopping melodic strings and a rosined wheel touching strings to produce friction and vibrations just like a bow moved across the strings.
This serves the purpose of differentiating the hurdy-gurdy from a barrel organ, even though the latter is commonly called ‘hurdy-gurdy’ in English.
The English name of the instrument is the only thing shared between two different, mechanically unrelated and musically distant entities.2
National versions of the instrument have names associated with a specific region or a country of Europe where it is played. For example, the Polish hurdy-gurdy is known as Lira Korbowa (lit. lyre with a crank), Ukrainian – Lira (which is often used with variations across Eastern Europe), Hungarian – tekerőlant and German Drehleier. Zanfona is an Italian instrument, while one the most appropriate replacement for English word ‘hurdy-gurdy’ is French la vielle à roue or simply a vielle3.
Since most of those regional names are idiomatically related to specific variants of the hurdy-gurdy, I will be using them interchangeably to outline the notion of the international presence of this instrument.
1. Oxford English Dictionary - entry for hurdy-gurdy
2. Robert Green; Hurdy Gurdy in XVIII Century France. Publications of the Early Music Institute,
Indiana University Press, 1995
3. Margaret J. Kartomi: ‘On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments’. In:
Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press, 1990