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Music and Theatricality

Nigout hurdy-gurdy
Made by
Gilbert Nigout
Lent by the Musée des musiques populaires, Montluçon

  Vielle à roue « Nigout » - MMPM no 983.5.1 / Photo: Musée des musiques populaires de Montluçon


The hurdy-gurdy is a very popular instrument in central France. Historically, it was made in Jenzat, where a luthier named Jean Pajot founded a veritable dynasty whose skills have been transmitted through the generations. Gilbert Nigout, who studied with the Pajot, also settled in Jenzat in the late nineteenth century. A rich iconography indicates that the hurdy-gurdy has been associated with the bagpipes for many years in central France. The hurdy-gurdy's drone is produced by a wheel that is cranked by hand and rubs against one of the strings. The melody is played on the keys using the left hand, while the right hand turns the handle.

This hurdy-gurdy is typical of those from the Jenzat area, in the region of Auvergne. It is made of fir, maple and walnut, and has a rounded back. It features three drones, a trumpet string, four sympathetic strings, two chanters in the keyboard, and 23 bone and ebony keys. The brand on it reads: Maison fondée en 1863. A la grande renommée de Nigout. A Jenzat. (allier.) Facteur d'Instruments Admis à l'Exposition Univ-elle (Nigout, a house of great renown founded in 1863. In Jenzat. (allier.) Instrument maker admitted to the world exposition).

This instrument comes with a tuning peg called tourne à gauche (turn left). A leather strap holds the hurdy-gurdy in place on the musician's knees.