vielle à roue plate

Sum up the story of hurdy-gurdy in a few lines is almost impossible, so much in its evolution, , in the field of the stringed-instrument trade as in its social aspects. Nevertheless, you will find here some significant landmarks in the life of this instrument.

If the principle of rubbed ropes comes to us from the East, the hurdy-gurdy (first stringed instrument to which a keyboard is applied) is very credibly of European origin, even if certain see it arriving on our old continent with the Moresque invasions. One finds the first tracks of it (under the ancestral shape) towards 1100 in a text drafted in one abbey Benedictine in Bavaria, and on the pediments of Spanish cathedrals (St Jacques de Compostelle).


Organistrum, ancestor of the hurdy-gurdy, was an instrument played by two people : one turned the wheel, the other pushed or drew the keys. Used primarily for the interpretation of sacred musics (in accompaniment of liturgical songs), representations of this instrument dating from the 12th century were found in Spain and in the North of Euope. If the principle of operation has roughly remaindes the same one since tis origin, the hurdy-gurdy went trought some modifications trought the centuries.

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Fêtes des Apôtres - IXème siècle. (RealAudio - 122 Ko ; 0'46'')

From the 13th century onwards, the evolution of this instrument was guided by the search for the confort of the players. It became shorter, and its handling required only one person. From now on, one pushed the keys towards oneself. At the beginning of this century, under the name of symphonia, this instrument was used especially for the interpretation of a music described as erudite. But unthrone by the organ which accompanied the hymns more and more often the symphonia quickly became profane because of the extension of its repertory, often danced. Bandits and brigands will use it by the end of the 13th century.


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Pièces des XIVème et XVème siècle. (RealAudio - 182 Ko ; 1'08'')

In the 14 th century, the tiny piece of wood known as the dog made its appearance, and was used only for the dances in the countries. This century was a crucial period for the chiffonie. It could be found int the churches, at the court of the Kings, among the gangsters. Until the 19th century, it will go from one place to the other. As for its form, it went from rectangular to oval trefoil (end of 15th), form which is used in the picture of the french De La Tour.

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Musette de Sainte Colombe, pièce fin XVIIème siècle à l'origine pour violle de gambe et popularisée par le film "Tous les matins du Monde". (RealAudio - 459 Ko ; 2'53'')

Chiffonie - vielle Laurent Tixier. Cliché X. AIME

T he tunes will be codified only in the 18th century. Actually it is from this time onwards that one can truly speak about hurdy-gurdy. The first methods appeared, at the same time as concept of "wrist-strokes". The instrument - in the body of guitar - among everywhere, it becomes fashionable and with time the baroque appears a whole refinement as for its decoration: magnificent sculptured heads (inspired by the sleeves of viols), etc. Numerous sonatas for hurdy-gurdies, violins and basses consist by Chedeville, Corette. One quotes even the names of Mozart and Vivaldi. The nobility - which the quality of the set mattered less than the effect of fashion - appropriates really the hurdy-gurdy, which had been maintained to there by a social class widely disdained by these last ones.

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- Ouverture de la symphonie des Noëls de Delalande (début XVIIIème siècle), la vielle y est encore cantonnée au rôle d'instrument typé des bergers (sous entendu de la crèche). (RealAudio - 199 Ko ; 1'15'')

- Les folies d'Espagne (XVIIème et XVIIIème siècle) ; air à la mode ayant donné lieu à de multiples versions. Il existe des variations pour vielle sur le thème. (RealAudio - 310 Ko ; 1'57'')

Vielle Guitare Xavier Aimé - luthier: Pascal Cranga. Cliché X. AIME

If we owe to a stringed-instrument maker of Versailles, called Bâton the ancient, hurdy-gurdies with body of guitar (towards 1716), we also owe him hurdy-gurdies to body of lute ( 1720 ). But the prowills made in lutherie for the violin will reduce this success. French Revolution will finish this work by the destruction of numerous hurdy-gurdies considered as noble instruments. There also numerous heads will fall !

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- Adaptation pour vielle ou musette soliste de l'allegro du printemps de Vivaldi par Nicolas Chedeville (âge d'or baroque). (RealAudio - 293 Ko ; 1'50'')

- Du ballet de village de Boismortier (âge d'or, la vielle est soliste mais encore très typée instrument paysan). (RealAudio - 271 Ko ; 1'42'')

- Les voyages du berger fortuné de Michel Corrette ; la vielle y est ici un véritable instrument soliste. (RealAudio - 465 Ko ; 2'55'')

Extrait du catalogue Pajot jeune

The 19-th century see its progressive rebirth in the countryside. Numerous Parisian stringed-instrument makers have avoids the capital during the Terror to take refuge with Berry and with Bourbonnais ; it will be even the golden age of hurdy-gurdy in France, and this until the beginning of the 20th century. Then, the hurdy-gurdy is unthroned, this time by the accordion diatonic which seems to be more adapted for the airs in vogue.

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Suite de la valse N°2 de Chostakowitch et de la valse reine de musette. (RealAudio - 282 Ko ; 1'46'')

From the seventies onwards, the hurdy-gurdy is reapparing, especially among young people. Musicians as French-Swiss René Zosso, but also stringed-instrument makers, are going to make relive the instrument by bringing him a new glance. The cultural aspects it implies are obviously linked to its rebirth.

Today, the hurdy-gurdy is present in many folk bands playing both old and traditional music, but also in contemporary formations. A renewed interest for this instrument can be noticed among the young people. Moreover, the stringed-instrument trade - while keeping the traditional aspect of the instrument - starts to integrate new techniques more and more often. About this evolution, one of the best known makers as regards hurdy-gurdy, Jean-Luc Bleton, says that :

"We can make an electric instrument and go throught amplifiers or a sound system, to put all the possible and conceivable boxes, to make a keyboard MIDI, to start on a synthetisor, a sampler, whatever you want. Technically all is possible, and it works. The instrument can enter the third millenium without any problem !"

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Extrait 2 de Tapage - Composition et arrengements : Stéphane DURAND. (Mp3 - 608 Ko ; 1'17'')

Vielle J.-L. SIORAT

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Copyright juillet 2001 - Xavier AIME - Fichiers sons : Christian CITEL, François TILLEROT, Stéphane DURAND (dernier morceau) - Reproduction interdite