Station: [12] Hurdy-Gurdies – Rarities

The “Stradivari” of court hurdy-gurdies are the instruments made by the firm of Louvet. Pierre Louvet and Jean Louvet were two 18th century instrument makers from Normandy who worked for the French court. We’re very proud to be the only museum able to display all three sizes made by the House of Louvet. Like all the hurdy-gurdies in this showcase, they’re 18th century originals: a large hurdy-gurdy, a medium-sized junior edition and a children's hurdy-gurdy. Have you noticed the size of the keys? Truly an instrument only small children would have been able to play.

Next to it, you can see a court hurdy-gurdy built by Nicolas Jomier. Only two of these exist – one here in Lissberg, and the other at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. The hurdy-gurdy with the pretty female head once belonged to the French queen Marie-Antoinette and is from the workshop of the court lute maker Caron, who was allowed to style himself “luthier de la Reine”, maker of stringed instruments to the queen. This example provides a particularly good illustration of how the history of hurdy-gurdy building developed. This court hurdy-gurdy was later converted into a Bohemian hurdy-gurdy in Prague. It was given extra drone strings that resonate at certain pitches – a feature typical of this type of construction.

On the left of the corner showcase with the court hurdy-gurdies, you can see two more exhibits that are noteworthy at a global level: the two organ lyres. These replicas are hurdy-gurdies combined with organ pipes and a bellows. Take a look at the drawing on the back wall of the display case to see how they’re laid out. Turning the crank operates the bellows. The player then has a choice of playing the organ, the hurdy-gurdy, or both instruments at the same time. 

The organ lyres inspired Kurt Reichmann to develop an accordion hurdy-gurdy that has accordion reeds instead of organ pipes. These instruments need less air, allowing players to make polyphonic music with the same amount of air. This example shows how the concept of the drone, or bourdon, is constantly being revived and refined.

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch