Station: [17] String Instruments – Bowed Instruments

Our western string instruments like the violin, the viola and the cello go back in a direct line to instruments from Mongolia. The Silk Road opposite allows you to follow the route and development of these instruments.

We do have quite a few violins in our collection. Although the violin is a great instrument, in terms of our museum’s motto, it’s of lesser interest – because it displays virtually no development. A violin from 200 years ago looks exactly like the ones we have today.

But do take a closer look at the unusual instrument standing in front of the display case. It’s called a tromba marina and is about two meters or seven feet tall with only one string. This medieval string instrument is almost forgotten today and can really only be seen in museums of musical instruments. The instrument is also known as ... but more on that in a moment. For now, listen to its sound. The upper part of the tromba marina is played with a bow and produces a buzzing sound like a hurdy-gurdy.

In case you were wondering – the tromba marina is also called the marine trumpet or the nun's fiddle. That’s because from the 12th to the 14th century, noble ladies and nuns were not permitted to play wind instruments. It was considered an obscenity. But during the performance of a Passion Play, heavenly trumpets were occasionally called for. The tromba marina was invented to imitate the sound of a trumpet without the need for a mouthpiece entering anyone’s mouth. Sufficiently discreet for women, was probably the thinking at the time. Almost half of the 200 or so surviving historical instruments were discovered in monasteries.

All depictions: © Dagmar Trüpschuch