Station: [13] Hurdy-Gurdies: Bowed Clavier & Geigenwerk

Not everything that looks like a piano actually is what we generally think of as a piano – as witness the two instruments we have on display at this stop. They’re what’s known as a “bowed clavier”. One is the world-famous Nuremberg Geigenwerk, the other is a replica based on drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Now, you’re probably wondering what a bowed clavier is.

The bowed clavier is actually a member of the large hurdy-gurdy family. A bowed clavier differs from a pianoforte in that the strings of are bowed rather than struck. This particularly beautiful instrument, with five wheels and more than 40 strings, is a playable replica of a Nuremberg Geigenwerk, built in 1575 by instrument maker Hans Haiden. It’s an instrument similar to a harpsichord that incorporates five hurdy-gurdies operated by a piano keyboard. Listen to the beginning of the hymn "Ich lag in tiefer Todesnacht" by Johannes Eccard:

Praetorius produced a picture of the Geigenwerk in 1619. After five years of research, Kurt Reichmann rebuilt the instrument for the film "The Name of the Rose”, for which he also recorded some music tracks. However, he refused to have his name included in the credits, because the sound designers had sampled and modified the original sound on the computer. The soundtrack played on the Geigenwerk has a mystical air to it and is mostly heard when one of the monks is found dead.

The original was actually pedal-operated, but Kurt Reichmann added a crank, because it made the instrument easier to play.

On the left of the Geigenwerk, we have another bowed clavier on display. Kurt Reichmann built this one based on drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. In 1975, after more than five centuries, Reichmann was the first to discover that da Vinci's drawing features the basic design of a hurdy-gurdy.

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch