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: 10 of 14



fig. 82a: from Benjamin de laBorde,
Essai sur la musique (Paris 1780)

Ten years later, in 1780, was published Benjamin de LaBorde's monumental Essai sur le Musique, a magnum opus discussing everything imaginable to do with music, not only from the mainstream of European art forms, but from the Far East to Icelandic folk songs. His dulcimer entry is to be found in book II, "Des Instrumens", Chapter XVI, "Instrumens à chordes, modernes", and reads:

"Le Psalterion ou Salterion moderne, est un instrument plat qui a la figure d'un trapeze ou triangle tronqué par en haut. Il est monté de treize rangs de cordes de fil de fer ou de laiton accordées de quatre en quatre à l'unison ou à l'octave et montée sur deux chevalets. Il y a des joueurs de Psalterium qui ne servent que de leurs doigts qu'ils appuient legèrement sur les cordes pour en tirer le son. D'autres arment leurs doigts de dix petits anneaux, auxquels sont attachés une plume à chacun, et par ce moyen ils tirent du Psalterium des sons bien plus forts et plus argentins.

"Cet instrument est fort agreable quand il et bien joué.

"Il est ancient en France; le Roman du Brut en Parle".

'The modern Psalterion or Salterion is a flat instrument with the shape of a trapezium or a triangle cut off at the top. It is mounted with thirteen sets of strings of iron wire or of steel tuned four by four to the unison or to octaves, and set on two bridges. There are players of the Psalterium who use only their fingers which they press lightly on the strings to draw the sound from them. Others reinforce their fingers with ten little rings, to each of which is attached a quill, and in this way they bring forth from the Psalterium sounds which are much louder and more silvery.

'The instrument is most pleasant when well played.

'It has been in France a long time: the Romance du Brut speaks of it.'

The phraseology is immediately recognisable as that of Furetière (1690), of course, and traceable through him to Mersenne; but LaBorde adds some new points: his is the first written mention of strings in fours - although they were well established on actual instruments, of course - and the rings-and-quills, although mentioned by Kürinzger in 1763, were not previously described on all ten fingers.

It is interesting that although he constrasts palterion and timpanon in illustration - the former plucking whilst seated, the latter hammering whilst standing - he does not actually mention the timpanon in the text: also the point that to LaBorde at least, if not to others, there is a continuum between the mediaeval psaltery and the 18th century dulcimer; both have the name psaltérion and he refers to the Roman du Brut in much the same way as do for instance, some Americans, who, when writing about the mountain dulcimer, say that it was mentioned in the Bible.