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: 11 of 14



fig. 81b: from Diderot & d'Alembert,
Encyclopédie, "Lutherie",
seconde suite (Paris 1785)

A little later still the 1785 edition of Diderot & d'Alembert's Encyclopedie included a number of references to both psalterion and tympanon from which it is clear that, to the author(s) at any rate, psaltérion could be struck or plucked, while tympanon was another name for the same instrument, but only used when struck.

In the dictionary section, the entry under "Psaltérium, Psaltérion ou Saltérion", as well as using the Greek and Latin forms interchangeably as did LaBorde, also borrows the first two sentences of his description, word for word. The author then continues

"On en joue avec les doigts ou avec un bout de plume à chaque doigt, ou en frappant dessus les cordes avec des baguettes."

'It is played with the fingers or with a bit of quill on each finger, or by hitting on the strings with hammers'

- again a paraphrase of LaBorde.

"Tympanon moderne; epèce de psaltérion dont on bat les cordes avec les petites baguettes recourbées par le bout".

'Tympanon - modern; a species of psaltérion hit with little sticks curved at the end'.

Earlier, in the detailed section on the various instruments, there is first a discussion of the psalterium of ancient times, "appelé nebel chez les Hebreuz", followed by four paragraphs borrowed from LaBorde; then, presumably because the author knew the psaltérion to be struck and because LaBorde mentioned only plucking, he turned to Furetière for a paragraph about the striking technique and people classifying it as a percussion instrument. The entry concludes with a little material that appears to be original:

"La table superieure du psalterion est faite de sapin ou de cèdre, comme celle des clavecins; elle est collée comme celle de ces instrumens, & percé pour placer une roe.

"Les cordes, qui sont de fer ou de laiton, sont retenues par une de leurs extremités, par des pointes ou crochets, fichées dans un des sommiers, & par l'autre extremité elles sont lies autour de chevilles de fer, au moyen desquelles on les tend pour les accorder."

'The upper table (soundboard) of the psaltérion is made of fir or cedar, like that of harpsichords; it is glued like those instruments, and drilled to take a rose.

'The strings, which are of iron or of brass, are fastened by one of the ends at one end on to nails or hooks, driven into one of the blocks, and at the other end they are tied round iron pins by means of which they are tightened for tuning.'

The last paragraph is again borrowed, perhaps from Grassineau (1740, discussed below)

"Papias appelle psalterion une epèce d'orgue ou de flute, dont on se sert à l'eglise pour accompagner le chant. En latin sambucus".

'Papias calls psaltérion a kind of organ or flute used in church to accompany singing [or 'the chant' (plainsong)]. Sambucus in Latin'.

The little notes about construction are interesting, and for the first time specific woods are mentioned for the dulcimer - although Mersenne had already described the materials and manufacture as no different from that of the the Épinette; the cutting of a hole in the table "pour placer une rose" is particularly interesting.


fig. 81c: from Diderot & d'Alembert,
Encyclopédie, "Lutherie",
seconde suite (Paris 1785)

The volume includes two engravings showing dulcimers: one is the rather well-known vignette of the luthier's atelier, in which a dulcimer is tucked away upon a high shelf behind some organ pipes (fig. 81c):


fig. 81b, enlargement: from Diderot & d'Alembert,
Encyclopédie, "Lutherie",
seconde suite (Paris 1785)

The other is the plate showing keyboard instruments and a psaltérion in rather more detail (fig. 81b) - one can see that there are ten treble and six bass courses, but the tuning-pins are in the side, and the treble bridge is placed at the ratio of 1:2 (both features much more typical of the Near East than Europe at this time) so that one would be loth to place too much credence on the illustration. It was used later in Sweden in the collected songs of Carl Bellman (1861).