This week's treasure: the hurdy-gurdy.
The hurdy-gurdy is about a thousand years old. Also called a wheel fiddle, the player produces sound by turning a crank which rubs a wheel against the strings. A hurdy-gurdy has several strings, a couple of which are drones, making this instrument sound a lot like bagpipes. It's amazing how many old instruments in many traditions have drones.
Caroline Phillips gives a great introduction to this lesser-known instrument in this six-minute TED talk, which is also embedded below (the last few minutes are a commercial):
Watch the talk! As an added bonus, she sings a song in Basque. Here's another playing demonstration with a different hurdy-gurdy; there's no standard way to construct them (for more detailed info on the hurdy-gurdy, see wikipedia). I love how the comments below the video are in three different languages.
Classical music has its own famous hurdy-gurdy song, Franz Schubert's "Der Leiermann" (the Hurdy-Gurdy Man) from his song cycle Winterreise. Although the accompaniment for this song was written for piano, the whole song could be played with a drone. Sting did a strange English version of Schubert's song on his album If On a Winter's Night, but accompanied by an accordion instead of a hurdy-gurdy. Which is weird, because knows how to play one—he played a hurdy-gurdy for the 2004 academy awards:
|Photo credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images
So for those of you who watched the academy awards that year and wondered "what the heck is that unusual-but-awesome instrument?", which I'm sure is what most people were thinking, now you know—the hurdy-gurdy.
Next week, I'm going to tackle the music of Les Mis.