Much of the music available on the Internet is stored in “abc notation”. This format dates from the early 1990’s and is a way of representing complex musical scores using normal text characters - which can then easily be emailed or shown on a web page. ABC notation is not designed to be human readable, and so having downloaded the music you use software to convert the text into a conventional musical score. Fortunately there are many free applications available for Windows, MacOS and Linux. A good starting point is the abc notation home page (maintained by Chris Walshaw, original inventor of the notation) or the official ABC Music project pages on Sourceforge (for the more technical minded).
Some good starter music pages include:
- ABC Tune Search - an index of 67000 tunes across the web
- TunePal.org - play part of a tune into your computer and it will search for the complete ABC tune (focused on traditional Irish music).
- ABC tune finder - search engine for tunes by title
- FolkTuneFinder - search either by title or a few notes from the tune
- The Session - huge online database of session tunes
- Concertina.net - around 1300 tunes, including online abc rendered
After a few months of waiting, my new Chris Allen Symphonie arrived this week. It’s a beautiful instrument and so I thought I’d post some photographs and provide some initial impressions. The Symphonie is modeled on the earliest form of hurdy-gurdy, the mediaeval symphonie, which was in use from the 12th Century onwards. Little is known about exactly how they were configured, but this model is based on a modern stringing - with two chanterelles (tuned together in g), and with a drone in G and trompette in C, all strung with oiled gut. The drone and trompette are fitted with capos to allow them to be changed to C and D respectively - allowing the instrument to be played in the keys of Gmaj/Gmin and Cmaj/Cmin.
The instrument is very quiet - a characteristic of Symphonies - with a delicate, sweet tone. It is well suited to practicing in a household shared with others, for accompanying singing or for use in mediaeval reenactments. The trompette reacts very easily and the chien produces a pleasant rasping buzz when it sounds. A tirant allows the sensitivity to be quickly adjusted - a must, particularly when engaging or disengaging the capo.
One of the most delightful aspects of the instrument is the keyboard, which is is beautifully smooth and has a fantastically light and fast response. Although full-sized, it feels small and compact and makes playing around the two-octave range a joy. I found no difficulty playing the full range of notes, with even the highest notes having a clean sound.
The tangents are made from wood and screwed into the key, which should prevent issues of loose tangents and buzzes with humidity changes. The key travel is damped with a green felt strip, and the resulting action is very quiet.
You can play the instrument with or without the lid attached. Playing with the lid on provides a slightly quieter, softer tone, with the chanterelles sounding relatively quieter (compared to the drone and trompette) than with the lid off. With the lid off, you get brighter sounding chanterelles, with less noticeable difference on the trompette and drone. I haven’t yet decided which I prefer.
The strings are tuned with four standard mechanical tuning pegs. There’s no fancy geared tuning pegs on this instrument (in keeping with its mediaeval design) and so I’ve cheated and fitted some violin fine tuners which clip onto the chanterelles and trompette and allow me to easily make fine tuning adjustments. At only €1.60 each, I thoroughly recommend them for any hurdy-gurdy - although you may need to find a good luthier to get hold of them, as most violins use fine-tuners that mount in the tail-piece.
Overall, this is a delightful instrument. If you are after a loud instrument for dance music or playing in sessions, then this is not for you. However, if you want an instrument to accompany singing, to practice without disturbing the family or to carry about whilst dressed as a wandering minstrel, this is the instrument for you.
More details on Chris Allen’s website.
RootsWorld have a nice review of the album, le maîtres de la vielle baroque(French Music for hurdy-gurdy) online. They say:
Both tackling the hurdy-gurdy repertoire with extensive backgrounds in a variety of musical forms, Loibner and Delfino shed light on some of the gems of the baroque hurdy-gurdy on this album. The composers are hardly commonplace, but on listening to the selections recorded here, the listener must wonder why not. With all the drama and complexity expected of the baroque era, these pieces are sophisticated, subtle, expressive, and utterly charming. Loibner and Delfino match the quality of the compositions with their blend of solid musical-historical knowledge, exceptional technique and innate musicality. From the melancholy yearning expressed in Dupuits’s Oeuvre 3, 1ère, Ariette “Gracieusement” to the vigorously regal Oeuvre 2, 4eme, Allegro “La Bully” by Buterne, Loibner and Delfino demonstrate their mastery of the instrument as well as their strong connection to the music.
More online here.
RootsWorld have a nice review of Loibner’s album, vielle à roué online. They say:
In Vielle à roué Matthias Loibner’s versatile musicianship is highlighted in thirteen recordings of solo hurdy-gurdy. Ranging from traditional klezmer music to his own compositions, along with arrangements and improvisations, Loibner’s music is at times melancholic, sometimes ecstatic, often stark (for instance the opening track, “Zhe Krevari de Fã” an arrangement of a Savoyard song), and sometimes wistful, as it is on “Förer Frühling”, his impressions of the North Sea island of Föhr. Loibner takes full advantage of the idioms available to the instrument, including lively counter-rhythms played on the “dog” strings, long melodic notes, and haunting drones. At times, as in his own “Katzensilber”, he evokes a Philip Glass-like sound of delicate arpeggiated runs, mesmerizing in the same way that a good performance of Bach’s Prelude in C Major can be. His take on medieval music, as heard on “Salzarello”, an arrangement of a 14th century Italian dance, uses repeated motifs over the constant drones to balance the needs of straightforward dance music with the demands of modern art music listeners.
More online here.
Introduction to the full RootsWorld review series on Loibner’s work here.
Matthias Loibner and Natasa Mirkovic-De Ro have released a wonderful recording of Schubert’s Winterreise for voice and hurdy-gurdy. It’s one of my favourite hurdy-gurdy recordings - but don’t take my word for it. Classics Today have written a glowing review of it:
Okay. A new recording of Schubert’s Winterreise. Fine. And a rare venture by a soprano—a Bosnian singer I’ve never heard of—into this song cycle’s near-exclusive male-voice domain. Terrific. And now, who’s the pianist? Wait a minute…there is no pianist. The accompanist is—a hurdy-gurdy-ist? On one hand this is brilliant: taking a cue from the cycle’s last song, the performers re-cast all of the songs to the plaintive, rustic, poignant sound of a real hurdy-gurdy, whose unique voice lends an eerie, earthy character that haunts the singer’s every mood and step and emotion. The droning, the crude yet spot-on articulation of melody, the rudimentary suggestion of Schubert’s harmony—all of this combined with soprano Nataša Mirkovic-De Ro’s extraordinary expressive versatility—adds up to a performance that successfully rethinks, reconstructs, and returns these songs to roots that even Schubert might not have known they had.
Flamenco - with the hurdy-gurdy or zanfona (played by Abel Garcia)
Christa Muths sent me this review of Spanish hurdy-gurdy player, Abel Garcia - probably the first hurdy-gurdy player to use it for playing flamenco!
The instrument and the music: the hurdy and flamenco have much in common, says Abel, who is the first hurdy gurdy player to play flamenco. Both, he says, the instrument and the music are of unknown origin and they share another characteristic: nomadism. Just like flamenco, the hurdy is linked to gypsy music and its “migrating personality” is fused with pagan, religion, folk and traditional music of many countries.
Abel’s ethnographic studies led him to investigate gypsy music which started in India and he followed its footprints across the Middle East, eastern and central Europe to the Iberian Peninsula and northern Maghreb. He studied the baglama in Istanbul under Devrim Aydin and Ergan Ogum and Efren Lopez in Spain and continued his musical range by studying Ottoman, Mevlevi, Turkish and also Greek music under Hristos Barbas and Stelios Petrakis.
Abel’s band Krama fuses Flamenco with sounds from Greece, Bulgaria and India. Spyros Kaniaris is the composer of some of the music the band plays and he plays different instruments such as the Flamenco guitar, pontros lira and the Camance. Playing the melody of these songs based on the fusion of Flamenco, Balcanic and Greek sounds forces the hurdy-gurdy player to find new ways to understand and play his instrument.
Abel Garcia also plays the hurdy in the “Compañia de Baile Flamenco Manuel Serena”, where the instrument mingles with the “cante” (vocals), the “toque” (guitar), the cajón flamenco and the dance developed by the company’s director, Manuel Serena.
Abel plays in other bands like ALM, a project with hurdy-gurdies, dolçainas and other string instruments like the lauto, the tar, the santur and the baglama.
Abel is a member of the group Afluencies which was rewarded with the Mediterranean Music Price at the Manresa Festival, and the Ovidi Montlor Price for the best folk album 2010.
Abel music ability covers a very wide range of styles, he collaborates with other Early Music projects like Ensemble Pelegrí (Early music of the three cultures), Longa Organa (oriental medieval music with electronic sound) and Short tale (rock band.)
Abel is also the musical producer of the soundtrack of some theatrical productions. In 2010 he produced the music for the play Miss Julie, by August Strindberg. The hurdy-gurdy is the starting point of the musical composition. Every single sound, melody, atmosphere and special effects come from the wheel and the keys of the hurdy-gurdy, thanks to the sound effects and the creative possibilities of the Loop Station.
Christa Muths 2010
Reader Christa Muths sent me a review of possibly the best hurdy-gurdy player in Spain, Marc Egea. All the text that follows is from Christa:
Marc Egea (Barcelona 1973) is the leading Catalan musician and composer playing the hurdy-gurdy.
Marc started playing the hurdy-gurdy when he was 22 and soon recognised its enormous possibilities and followed in the foot steps of the great French hurdy-gurdy master Valentin Clastrier. The hurdy-gurdy, a medieval instrument is widely played across Europe and the US as folk, dance and street music instrument.
Marc writes mainly in Catalan, but also in Spanish and uses in his compositions many of the traditional Catalan and Spanish instruments.
He plays a variety of traditions, types and styles of music and expands his range to Jazz, modern dance tunes, accompaniments to poetry and experimental music.
Before becoming a full time musician Marc studied philosophy at the University of Barcelona and with his band Kalakau he also plays “philosophical” music: these tunes are like meditation and they take you into a world of melody and rhythm as well as thought and reflection. You do not want the music to stop as the melody relaxes while the rhythm carries you to another level of awareness at the same time and the sequence of the music takes you into a world of calm and yet alert reflection.
When combining just the hurdy with his voice his songs create an electrifying field.
He has produced 8 CD’s, the newest one will be released shortly:
- 2001 - D’aquí, d’allà i de més enllà (hurdy-gurdy solo).
- 2003 - Les ratlles del món
- 2005 - Melanocetus (with Enric Canada, Ana Losantos, Franco Molinari, Enrique Tellería y Jordi Vallverdú)
- 2005 - Karagöz & Hacivat (zanfona, loops, flabiol, taragot y percusiones).
- 2005 - Helionora (hurdy-gurdy solo)
- 2006 - Kaulakau (with Kaulakau).
- 2007 - Chuveirinho (with Enric Canada, Franco Molinari y Pilar Subirà).
- 2009 - Glimpse (hurdy-gurdy solo, see www.archive.org/details/Lf-22Glimpse)
His teaching book how to play the hurdy (Introducció a la viola de roda) was published in 2008 in Catalan, the sequence of the exercises are very helpful to learn to understand the instrument and its range.
Marc is not only an excellent technical musician, but he has a deep feeling for the instrument and for the effects of music and sound.
You also find him on YouTube and Facebook.
Christa Muths 2010
A video review by WaterpigMaster of the Symphonie hurdy-gurdy by Chris Allen in the UK. This is a box-shaped mediaeval hurdy-gurdy in G/C tuning. The standard model has two chanterelles, trompette and one drone. It is fully chromatic over two octaves and available with capos to allow playing in different keys.
Anna Murphy, hurdy-gurdy player for the Swiss folk/pagan metal band Eluveitie, talks about her instrument and demonstrates it backstage at their 4/25/10 show in NYC.
There’s a great video interview with hurdy-gurdy virtuoso, Matthias Loibner over at interMuse - see here. Interesting description of the instrument and some fantastic playing. Well worth a watch!
Christiane Boesiger’s daughter sings too - but not (not yet?) opera! Here is Anna Murphy, with the great folk-metal-band Eluveitie, singing “Omnos” from Eluveitie’s new accoustic album “Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion”. More info about Eluveitie: www.eluveitie.ch.
From the Eluveitie album “Evocation 1-The Arcane Dominion”