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: 8 of 14

[p.121, 142]

It was about this time that innovations were again being introduced in dulcimer-making, this time positively documented in Italy: after giving a description in his Gabinetto armonico, 1722, of a German beggar-girl, a well-known street busker in Rome at the time, Bonanni wrote of

"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).

[Note that the picture he gives is of a specifically German source, not of an Italian salterio, nor the context in which the salterio was played among Italians; this common misapprehension is discussed in Chapter 7.16, and the picture is discussed earlier under the German instruments]

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.

"...l'abbate Franciosi di Firenze .. invento alquanti scranelli flessibili facili ad alzarsi ed abbassarsi, onde con essi montare i bemolli prima di cominciare una suonata in tono che per sua natura si portasse alla chiave. Ma tale montatura di bemolli restaudo stabile nel corso intero delle suonate rendeva impossibile il montare: e non v'essendo al mondo buone suonate che non modulino molto o poco, la medicina riusciva più nocente del male medsimo; perciò il Franciosi non ebbe seguaci"

L.F.Valdrighi, Musurgiana I, Modena 1879 (8).

'...Abbot Franciosi of Florence invented some adjustable bridges, easy to raise and lower, with which it was possible to set the flats, before beginning a sonata, to a pitch such that it would encompass the key naturally. However, as this setting of flats remained unchanged throughout the sonatas, it became impossible to raise the pitch; but, as there is no good sonata in the world in which there is no modulation, whether great or small, the cure proved more harmful than the illness itself. For this reason Abbot Franciosi had no followers'.

One such instrument is apparently preserved at Leipzig (7), but it has not been possible to inspect it.

More elaborate were the newer bridging arrangements introduced by some of the salterio makers to cope with the increasing chromaticism of music. Kinsky mentions the kromatik of the virtuoso Florido Jannesi (9) and an instrument belonging to Hans-Peter Rast of Zurich is interesting here: it has a label pasted on the back, part of which is torn off, but which reads:

"Il fabbricatore de Salterj d'ogni qualita Antonia Battaglia abitante nella ... Milano 1779"

'The Maker of salterios of every quality Anthony Battle, living at Milan 1779'.

It continues with a detailed tuning diagram for an instrument with five long bridges, as shown here:


fig.79: bridging and tuning diagram
from Battaglia salterio, 1779,
property of Hans-Peter Rast, Zürich

The bridges from the instrument itself are missing, but the position they occupied is clearly marked, and there were only four of them; this in itself is complex enough of course, and is considered below, but

[1976:] the diagram was apparently an advertisement for a superior model, or perhaps was intended to guide the tuner of a different instrument, and it became glued on this one by mistake.

[2008:] I seem to have missed the point that, actually, it must have been drawn wrong! Those treble bridges on the left divide the strings into two playing parts, but there are note names only on one side: ou can aget al the notes that are listed there with four bridges, the middle one of the five is not needed, and presumably wasn't ever there in reality ... Well, I suppose it might even have been me who drew it wrong, I don't believe I got a photo of it, for some reason...

It is also conceivable that the bridging systems might have been interchangeable, and that the owner could restring and rebridge his salterio with the more elaborate system if he wished: but this would be a very laborious business - there were 117 wrest-pins on this instrument and presumably as many strings - and in any case the wrest-pin arrangement on the instrument would not accomodate the strings of the alternative system.

There are some puzzles in the tuning as given: the note 'C', treble bridge, left hand side, fourth course (numbering from nearest the player) comes in the middle of a diatonic scale, between F and A, and that note is already available at the same position on the other side of the bridge, so we can safely conclude that it is a misread 'G' understandable if one considers an engraver presumably working from handwriting and coping with the complexities of an obscure upper-class musical instrument.

The note 'C' at the top right-hand side of the treble bridge seems to be in a similar, although less clear-cut case, partly because of the 'natural' sign (there is no reason apparent why a 'G' - if that were the intended note - should need one, but there is a C# nearby), and also because the only gaps in the chromatic scale occur at this point: for the scale to be consistent this note would need to be either a D# - hardly a feasible misreading of 'C♮'?; or F♮; if this were the case it would explain the natural sign, for there is an F# nearby. However, one would need to study relevant calligraphy before being able to say whether an F were likely to be misread for a C.

The note F♭ occurs twice, in each case in a position where there is already both an E♮ and an F♮ but no F# ; since the flat sign is otherwise not used in the diagram (D# and A# are used, for instance), it seems impossible that an F♭ tuned distinctly from E♮ can have been intended, nor does the normal usage, of F♭ = modern F♮ seem appropriate, since there are already Fs. Unlikely as it may seem, perhaps we must take them as meaning F#. The diagram itself does not show in which octave the various pitches lie, but these an be deduced; using the 'corrections' just discussed, the scheme has been reconstriced in Helmholtz' notation at fig. 81 and the overall range is also given in staff notation.


fig.81a - the notes available from the Battalia tuning

Several enigmas remain. The D, by the longer of the two right-hand bass bridges, near the top, is out of an otherwise consistent order, and there is no gap in the chromatic scale at this point; since the note is also duplicated at the shorter right-hand bass bridge, it seems to be something of a redundance. Of course, the missing chromatic note at the top of this scheme is also a 4, but for this high note to be supplied by the string in question it would have to be individually bridged at about a third of its length, and of this there is no evidence. Even if this were done, it would be in a remarkably illogical position.

The bridging also poses problems, for solid strips are drawn: these are used rarely if at all, on actual instruments, and clear illustrations of them are rare: see those of Mersenne, Praetorius, and Tobias Stimmer, a century or two previously.

The highest strings - those to the left of the left-hand treble bridge could sound with such solid bridges, but all the others require the whole width of the soundboard, from their bridges to the saddle, in order to give their pitch, so that the bridges must have had the normal cut-out portions in them. Battaglia's idea of a second bass bridge behind the first, filling in the missing 'black notes' in adjacent semitones, is clear enough to follow; but the treble strings are divided by the treble bridge, of course, so the situation is more complex.

He still added a second bridge, but instead of tuning its strings in semitones with the corresponding strings over the existing bridge, he was apparently influenced by the traditional 2:3 relationship, even though he was not now bound by it, and indeed had set out to overcome its limitations.

Thus his new bridge started off by repeating the first half of the diatonic scale already provided on the right-hand side of the existing bridge; but he introduced 'black notes' when it reached the fifth degree provided on the left-hand side of the existing treble bridge.

The point of this bridging system is that each treble course only sounds in one portion; it is conceivable that the redundant portion was suppressed, although the only method for doing this which was discovered in this study dates from the late 19th century and involves clamping down the entire unwanted portion to the soundboard: this approach seems at variance with the otherwise rather delicate spirit of Italian salterii.

The alternative is that the parts of the strings against which no notes are shown in the diagram were left to sound, either tuned or untuned: it seems unlikely that they would have been left untuned, since discordant sympathetic vibrations would almost certainly result, so it seems they must have been tuned, and 20 notes, one for each treble course, must therefore have been duplicated. If the diagram had indicated the positions of the two bridges relative to the saddles, it would have been possible to deduce which notes these were, but such was not the case.

One wonders how many alternatives Battaglia considered and rejected in evolving his complex system, and of how many refinements it was the final result - his notebooks must have been fascinating - for elsewhere the much simpler expedient of dividing the long bridges into several parts to produce different ratios was found to be quite adequate.

What is particularly interesting is that his is quite clearly an ad hoc arrangement, produced by extension from what was already in use, for the visual basis of the whole thing is still a simple four-course diatonic system with a 2:3 ratio; even though he does not use the principle of dividing strings, his system is apparently devised so as to be readily playable by anyone used to that principle. A similar simple bass arrangement was used a century later in the even more complex system which the Schunda family evolved for the concert cimbalom and it was apparently not until the later 19th century that the question of producing a chromatic dulcimer was first rethought from basic principles and the bridging redesigned (see Low's 1860 patent, P.293a; the Chromatic dulcimer of Roylance's tutor, p. 209a, and later, Chapter 5, the Salzburg Hackbrett).