Articles Europe Medieval Music

Article: What could ‘hurdy gurdy’ and medieval era have in common?

Well, even though hurdy-gurdy sounds more like a high-school nickname 🙂 is actually a medieval musical instrument. Below some things worth being mentioned:

The hurdy-gurdy first appeared in the late Medieval era and gained popularity during the Renaissance, a time period from 1450 – 1600 A.D. It was during this era that the instrument evolved into a standard form. Many of the hurdy-gurdy’s features have Middle Eastern roots, including the drone strings and the buzzing sound, both of which were probably brought back from the Middle East during the Crusades and through east-west trade routes.


As the Renaissance gave way to the Baroque era, popular musical tastes started to change, and the hurdy-gurdy was unable to keep up with the new preferred styles. It became associated with lower classes and peasants, but enjoyed a more wide-spread comeback of sorts during the 18th century, which helped to spread the instrument throughout Central and Eastern Europe.


In the western world today, the hurdy-gurdy is mostly viewed as a Renaissance artifact, but it still occasionally appears on the pop scene. Bands like Arcade Fire, Led Zeppelin, and Weezer have used the hurdy-gurdy, and the instrument also had a brief cameo in the popular 2004 children’s film The Polar Express. Much more information you can find on Study’s article.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the mid 18th century origin of the term hurdy-gurdy is onomatopoeic in origin, after the repetitive warble in pitch that characterizes instruments with solid wooden wheels that have warped due to changes in humidity or after the sound of the buzzing-bridge. Alternately, the term is thought to come from the Scottish and northern English term for uproar or disorder, hirdy-girdyor from hurly-burly, an old English term for noise or commotion. The instrument is sometimes more descriptively called a wheel fiddle in English, but this term is rarely used among players of the instrument. Another possible derivation is from the Hungarian “hegedűs” (Slovenian variant “hrgadus”) meaning a fiddle. (Wikipedia)

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