CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.1. Popular cultures in the 17th & 18th centuries:

2. Germania

Detailed evidence: 4 of 6: Bonanni


fig. 69: salterio tedesco,
a German
Gabinetto armonico,
Rome, 1722 etc.
Bonanni's engraving, fig 69, so often cited out of context, is interesting for its character study of a German street-busker in Rome, but tells us little about the instrument, nor about its use among the Italian upper classes. There are two major inaccuracies (the number of strings shown varies between 21 and 23 in different parts of the instrument, and there is nothing shown to support the weight) - and so the indications of three bridges (not otherwise known since before 1500), and of hammers at least as long as the damsel's fore-arm may perhaps be considered impressionistic rather than representational. Any such features would in any event be perhaps more likely to relate to German instruments than Italian.

Bonanni's commentary seems not to have been considered before, for it puts the engraving in a context quite different from that assumed by other writers of the present era, starting with Kastner (1852); this misapprehension is discussed in Chapter 7.16:

"Psalterjo diverso

Un' altro modo si usa nel suonare il Salterio, il suono di cui riesce non memo suave, percotendosi le corde con due bacchette, lunghe circa un palma, esottila, nel modo indicato nella figura posta sotto questo numero, che rapresenta una povera fanciulla Tedesca, la quale nel tempo in cui scrivo si vede per le contrade di Roma; onde molti sono alletrati ad apprendere l'arte di sonarlo, mentre è ugualmente facile, e dilettevole. Frequente è l'uso di tal'istromento nella Germania, e fù usato dagl'Antichi ...

'A Dulcimer of another Type

There is another way of playing the Salterio which produces just as sweet a sound, in which the strings are hit with two thin sticks about one palm long, as shown in the picture following this section. This shows one poor German girl who can be seen, at the time of writing, around the streets of Rome, and by whom many people are attracted to learn the art of playing the instrument which is both easy and enjoyable. This instrument is widely used in Germany. It was also known in ancient times ...

Imortale rimarrà (senza dubbio) la Perizia con cui suona il Salterio il degno Sacerdote, e Cittadino di Cittá di Castello D. Florido Ubaldi, il quale essendosi dilettato per qualche tempo di suonare varii Stromenti, poscia applicatosi al suono del Salterio, in cui aggiunse molte corde gino al numero di 29, e sonandolo in forma d'Arpa, fece udire tutte le consonanze, che si odono nel Cimbalo, dôsi arpeggi con le dita, dòsi percuotino le corde con le bacchette. Tal' Istromento non ha grandezza determinata variandosi econdo il costume del paese, ò il gusto di chi lo suona. L'ordinario usata in Italia, è lungo circa trè palmi, largo poco meno di due" (157). The skill displayed by the worthy priest Don Florido Ubaldi, from Città di Castello, will undoubtedly last for ever. After taking delight in playing various instruments for some time, he concentrated on the sound of the Salterio to which he added several strings, up to twenty-nine of them. He drew from it all the consonanze to be heard on the harpsichord by playing it like a harp, now plucking it with his fingers in a harplike manner, now striking the strings with the hammers. The instrument has no standard size and it varies according to the customs of the country and the player's taste. That commonly used in Italy is about three palms long and a little less than two palms wide' (158).

Apart from the point about a German girl playing in the streets of Rome, which is interesting sociologically, there are a number of other interesting points brought out here: Bonanni commends the ease and attraction of playing the salterio and the sweetness of the struck tone; he suggests that the German girl's street playing has influenced Roman dilettantes to take up the instrument; Ubaldi was a multi-instrumentalist - normal with dulcimer-players to a remarkable extent - and that the size was non determinata. In fact three palms sounds rather small, even for the surviving salterii piccoli and the ratio, 1:3, of hammer to instrument length is singular.