CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.2 Introduction

The history of musical style in the 17th and 18th centuries is, of course, particularly complex, encompassing as it does the madrigals of Oriana and Beethoven's first symphony. The original intention in the present study was to follow the customary overlapping divisions of style and period, of Early, Middle and High Baroque, Rococo (Pre-classical) and Classical but the search for significant general patterns within this framework proved fruitless. In fact, dulcimers and their use seem to have changed very little during these two centuries, which are therefore considered here as a single era.

The strongest demarcation to show itself in Europe was that between the two extremes of the class structure: there was certainly influence between the two, and in both directions, but they remain quite distinct, and provide the basis for the primary division of this section. There seem to be two main reasons why this contrast should be more sharply noticeable than in earlier periods: the first is simply that there is much more source material, and in greater detail, so that whatever differences there were are clearer to see; the second point is that, at least so far as dulcimers are concerned, the distinction between the two does actually seem to have been much greater compare, for instance, Stimmer's 1575 engraving where the finely dressed lady is playing a fairly simple instrument which could as well have been played by a countryman with the elaborately ornamented Baroque instruments preserved in museums. It is also in the Baroque era that the condescending attitude of writers from the upper classes becomes pervasive, having only been noted twice in the 16th century (Virdung and Luscinius). Although this class division obtains generally throughout the period, reactions to the dulcimer remained personal to a degree, and there are examples of educated writers praising the instruments of the lower classes.

The next important point is that having made a class division of the source material, one notices that there is a geographical correlation: nearly all the examples from the Romance-language area are from the upper classes, while those in Germania are concerned with a popular or folk instrument.

There are exceptions of course: from the Netherlands, in many ways combining elements of both French and Germanic culture, there are elaborate surviving instruments alongside descriptions of common instruments and players, while the important Danish tablature MS is clearly the work of an educated hand. Another special case is the Pantaleon, developed by a German and played in the courts of Europe, far removed from the everyday dulcimer.

English evidence does not fit this geographical and social pattern, perhaps predictably enough; the evidence suggests that the dulcimer was more of an instrument of the bourgeoisie while also enjoyed by nobility and 'working' folk alike.