Making Musical Instruments
Opus 14 - Hurdy-Gurdy

Making Musical Instruments
Back  Next

  • Opus 9
  • Opus 10
  • Opus 11
  • Opus 12
  • Opus 13
  • Opus 14
  • Opus 15
    Instruments and
    Their Iconography
      Renaissance Instruments
      Substitute Materials
      The Jazz Ensemble
      The Publication
      The Author
      Making Musical Instruments
      Instrument Makers
      Video Excerpts
      Audio Excerpts
      Other Web Sites

    Minstrels, pilgrims and beggars played the hurdy-gurdy, which figured prominently in the secular music of the Middle Ages. Around the fourteenth century, following the Black Plague, the hurdy-gurdy was mainly associated with beggars and blind musicians, and usually held in low esteem.

      Hurdy-Gurdy - CMC 91-25/S93-2627/CD95-729 Hurdy-Gurdy
    By Daniel Thonon
    Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
    Mahogany, amaranth, maple, spruce, recycled ivory, gut, steel, leather, brass
    Overall length (excluding crank)
    by width: 70 x 39 cm;
    sides: 9.3 cm

    In the eighteenth century, it became the preeminent musical symbol of pastoral life, a reflection of high society's fancy for nature. Writers of that era attempted to ennoble the instrument's origins, just as its appearance was dignified by the addition of mother-of-pearl, ebony and ivory inlays, and sculpted heads. Today, the hurdy-gurdy is used in early-music ensembles or to play traditional music. The instrument is found throughout Europe, including France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Scandinavia.

    Daniel Thonon based this hurdy-gurdy on an eighteenth-century French instrument. The tortoise-shaped body and, in particular, the head evoke the Arab style much favoured at the court, where the fashion was to dress up as a sultan or Persian princess for celebrations.

    Following tradition, the luthier glued an inscription inside the keyboard cover: "This hurdy-gurdy, the thirteenth to come out of my workshop, was ordered by the Canadian Museum of Civilization. By sorry coincidence, it was begun and completed at the same time, to the day, as the so-called 'Gulf War,' which is not, however, a tribute to our civilization. One hundred days, twenty-three keys, one friction wheel, forty-six jacks, and thousands of deaths. Daniel Thonon, Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, February 1991" [translation from French].


    Daniel Thonon

    Daniel Thonon Video Excerpt
    Daniel Thonon
    Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, Quebec

    Although Daniel Thonon specializes in hurdy-gurdies, he makes other early instruments, such as the rebec, vithele, psaltery, crwth and lute, and also restores all types of stringed instruments, including the harpsichord, pianoforte and clavichord.

    As a musician and composer-arranger, he is eager to promote awareness of the hurdy-gurdy and its repertoire. In addition to conducting workshops, he is president of the traditional music ensemble "Ad vielle que pourra", and one of the organizers of the "Vielles et cornemuses" festival, an annual event for fans of Quebec, French, Irish and Breton music.

    Born in Brussels, Thonon was surrounded by music from an early age as his father was a jazz pianist. He studied the harpsichord at the Geneva Conservatory and the making of harpsichords and early instruments at the Conservatoire de Paris. His interest in medieval music led him to study its origins in Arab-Andalusian music at the Conservatoire de Tlemcen in Algeria. After settling in Quebec in 1977, he continued to be very musically active and, for some time, was a member of the Claude Gervaise ensemble. To date, Daniel Thonon has made over twenty hurdy-gurdies for a broad range of musicians, including the band Pink Floyd, which owns three of his instruments.

    Opus 15 - Hurdy-Gurdy

      Hurdy-Gurdy - CMC 74-1279/S95-09336/CD95-485 Hurdy-Gurdy
    By Edward R. Turner
    Vancouver, British Columbia
    Cherry, redwood, holly, ebony, Eastern maple, boxwood, brass, steel, gut
    Overall length (excluding crank)
    by width: 63 x 25 cm; sides 18 cm
    Label glued inside the keyboard cover: "Edward R. Turner, 420 W. Hastings St. Vancouver, BC, 1974"; "E.R Turner, Vancouver" is engraved on the back of the keyboard.

    This hurdy-gurdy is a reproduction of an anonymous eighteenth-century instrument owned by Paul Reichlin of Samstagern, Switzerland. It also resembles an instrument in the collection of the Conservatoire national de Paris made by Pierre Louvet (1711-84), a renowned hurdy-gurdy maker. The guitar-shaped body is made of cherrywood. With its carved head and ebony and holly inlays on the purfling of the body, this instrument is a model of craftsmanship. The strap was woven by Edward Turner.