Documenting the curious world of the hurdy-gurdy.

Over the Water - 2010 Dance Tunes

Over the Water Hurdy-gurdy festival is an annual week-long gathering of hurdy-gurdy players in September of each year in Washington state.  As well as offering a fantastic event, they also publish the music for a standard set of bourrees, schottisches, valses and other tunes used as the basis for their jam sessions.  You can download PDF or ABC versions of the tunes here.


A collection of traditional and modern tunes selected for the hurdy-gurdy as part of Ina Lemm’s resource site for her hurdy-gurdy tuition DVD.

See here.

Richard Robinson’s Tunebook

A great collection of folk and traditional tunes from the UK and Europe.  His collections include:

  • Traditional tunes from Ireland, England, Scotland, Scandanavia, France and further afield
  • S.E. European tunes
  • N.W. England tunes
  • Collections from old books and manuscripts, including:
  •   Aird’s Airs
  •   The Winder manuscripts
  •   Goulding and d’Almaine’s 24 Country Dances for 1826
  •   William Marshall’s Scottish melodies
  •   John of the Greeny Cheshire Way
  •   Fiddler of Helperby
  • Ukrainian tunes
  • Medieval tunes

Check out the site here.

Tunes suitable for hurdy-gurdy

UK hurdy-gurdy luthier, Chris Allen, hosts a couple of collections of tunes for the hurdy-gurdy on his website here.  These include 50 tunes collected by Graham Whyte (aka Jamie Hammond) and a collection of Ukraine and Lemko tunes for hurdy-gurdy from the Werner Icking Music archive.

18th Century hurdy-gurdy music

Richard Haynes Music Services are offering a series of 18th Century pieces for hurdy-gurdy that Richard has transcribed from original scores written on the French violin clef.  He makes a nominal charge for the music, which is available for download from his website here.  Pieces include:

  • Baton op.3, Duet Sonata #5
  • Baton op.3, Duet Sonata #6
  • N.Chedeville, 6 Selected Pieces in C from Op.10

WaterPig hurdy-gurdy sheet music project

Barnaby Walters is hosting a sheet music database dedicated to the hurdy-gurdy.  To find a tune, use the Search function (and if you don’t enter any particular search string it will return all the tunes in the database).  Tunes are returned in abc notation (described in my previous posting) so you’ll need to use an application to render them as a score.

Dansons la Morvandelle (2nd ed)

British hurdy-gurdy maker, Mike Gilpin, has compiled a collection of 152 traditional French dance tunes from the Morvan region of France.  This is available from his website here for £8.95 plus package and posting (worldwide shipping).  Payment by UK cheque or PayPal.

Online bibliographies

Rather than duplicate existing bibliographies, I recommend readers take a look at some of the existing hurdy-gurdy bibliographies available online.  In particular:

  • Olympic Musical Instruments has an extensive list here
  • Jon Hall describes some books here

ABC music resources

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
  • - 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
  • - around 1300 tunes, including online abc rendered

Chris Allen Symphonie

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.

Le maitres de la vielle baroque (RootsWorld)

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.

Vielle a roue - Matthias Loibner (RootsWorld)

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.

Winterreise - Matthias Loibner (Classics Today)

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.

More here.

Flamenco - with the hurdy-gurdy or zanfona (played by Abel Garcia)