CHAPTER 3: History to 1800 > Later Renaissance - 16th century
Literature: - General indications of the dulcimer's currency: 2 of 3
Welsh and Scottish poetry refer to dwsmer (51) and dulsacordis (1543)(52), the only occasion either word is used, while passing references indicate its use in Switzerland (1518-19, 1529)(53), Italy (54), Augsburg (1512) (55), and Hungary (early 1500s) (56), 1525, 1533 (57), 1567 and 1578 (58). Farmer (1945) mentioned Ibn Iyas' reference to sintir in Egypt in 1520, but it appears that at this era the word was used for what is now generally known as qanun (59).
A little detail may be gleaned from several slightly fuller references. Felix Platter wrote of the Swiss that 'they celebrate the feast of Sennus, called Kilbi, when they all come together with drums, pipes and Hackbrett':
In Italy, Alessandro Citolini listed among instruments with wire strings, "dolcemele, con le verghette sui", .. 'with its little sticks' (1561) (54).
In Breslau in 1586, a blind player was recorded among the free musicians (54), while in Stuttgart, 1589, it was recorded as an instrument of the satirical carnival tradition - something similar to the Twelfth Night revels of former times in England, when the social order was inverted for a day.
In Hungary, Szabolcsi (1964) relates how
"the Dominican writer of the Sandor Codex from the beginning of the 16th century also described the paradisical rejoicing of the saints in a conspicuously secular spirit, envisaging that it was accompanied by the music of fiddle, lute, drum and cimbalom players, by dance and by 'The tenor, discant and contratenor' singers - that means it was a piece in the style of the Western motet".
Even if expressed as a piece of fantasy, the group of instruments closely resembles groups photographed in recent years in Romania - the lute, kobza, does not seem to appear so often in Hungarian music nowadays - and if we ignore the additional drum, it also recalls one of the 15thC. illustrations from Lorraine (Fig.27).
An early characteristic description of gipsy cimbalom music comes from the Viennese court of Queen Isabella in 1543:
'The finest gipsy fiddlers (hegedös), descendants of the Pharoahs
[i.e. 'Egyptians' whence 'gypsies']
played here. They did not pluck their strings with their fingers, but beat them with wooden rods, and accompanied this by singing at the tops of their voices.' (60).
It seems clear that both striking and plucking the strings were established techniques, for in 1596, György Zrinyi wrote of two gipsy fiddlers captured from the Bey of Pecs,
'one of them has a cimbalom shaped like the one with which clerics sing Mass, but does not strike it with sticks, only plucks it with his fingers, like a harp. ' (61).
The reference to ecclesiastical use is interesting, and not unique. Is it conceivable that 'cimbalom' is used here in a generic sense of any struck instrument? Bells in church would seem much more normal.