CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.2. Higher cultures in the 17th & 18th centuries: Romance language-area

Documentary evidence: 4 of 14


Towards the end of the century, in his Dictionnaire universel of 1690, Antoine Furetière made an interesting distinction between the two names used in French for the dulcimer, psaltérion and tympanon: they were clearly different names for the same instrument, but the former was the name used when it was played in France, while the latter was the French name for the instrument when used in Germany. The other important point is that he described the (German) tympanon as plucked with a quill, the (French) psaltérion struck with a rod, in opposition to the theoretical view expressed today by adherents of the Sachs/Hornbostel classification system.

"Tympanon C'est un instrument de Musique qui est en usage en Allemagne, monté de cordes d'airain, & qu'on touche avec une plume, qu'on appelle icy psalterion.

"Psalterion ... Celui dont on use maintenant est un instrument plat, qui a la figure d'un trapèze ou triangle tronqué par en haut. Il est monté de treize rangs de cordes de fil de fer, ou de léton accordés à l'unisson, ou à l'octave, montées sur deux chevalets qui sont sur les deux costez. On le touche avec une petite verge de fer, ou un baton recourbé: ce fait que quelques-uns le mettent au rang des instrumens de percussion. Son coffre est comme ce-luy de l'espinette. Il est ainsi nommé à psallendo. On l'a aussi appellé nablium, ou nablum ..... "

Tympanon It is an instrument in use in Germany, mounted with brass strings, and played with a quill, known here as psalterion.

'Psalterion ... That in use now is a flat instrument with the shape of a trapeze or a triangle cut off at the top. It is mounted with thirteen sets of strings of iron wire, or of steel tuned to the unison, or to octaves, set on two bridges which are on the two sides. It is played with a little iron rod, or a curved stick: this causes some to classify it with the percussion instruments. Its body is like that of the espinette. Thus it takes its name from psallendo. It has also been known as nablium or nablum ...

Several points are distinctly reminiscent of Mersenne's phraseology ("treize rangs de cordes", "baton (re)courbé") and illustration ("chevalets ... sur les deux costez"), and since Furetière's was a general dictionary, not specially a musical one, he may well have drawn on Mersenne for details. The notion of Germans plucking their dulcimers with quills is not mentioned elsewhere.

The same etymology for psalterium was given in the 1300s by John de Trevisa (155):

"The Sawtry highte Psalterium and hath that name of Psallendo. syngynge For the consonant ansueryth to the note therof in syngyng ..."

He seems to be seeking to explain the connection between the two Greek words psallo to pluck, and to sing a psalm, yet his passage is scarcely more illuminating than Furetière's. The associations with nablum, nebel are discussed in Chapter 7.