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

Instruments: Characteristics of 17th & 18thC. salterii and psaltérions

How much information is there?
Makers and places
Changes within the period
Shape and size
Box construction


Shape and size

Turning to the bodies of the instruments, we find that all are trapezoid, and of fairly standard size, about 30" long, the exceptions are two 18th-century salterii piccoli (Leipzig 691, 692), both Italian, simply bridged with one treble and one bass (although these are split in two on one instrument), and having three strings to every course; and a similar instrument, apparently from 17th-century Flanders (Bingham).

There were two main streams of variation, both aimed at producing longer bass strings by extending the body.


fig. 99: 18thC dulcimer, Paris conservatoire

One method was to make the whole corpus a little bigger on the left hand side (since the bass strings only sound to the left of their bridge); to keep the treble strings the same length, their hitch pins were mounted on the soundboard itself presumably with a support block underneath - rather than in the hitch-block as normal. There were five examples of this from between 1692 and 1766 (Luzern, Sotheby's, Berlin 2148, V&A 264, Leipzig 690) and the feature is shown clearly in fig. 99.

The other method, apparently a modification of this idea, was to keep the treble hitch-pin in the usual place, but to add an extra length of board outside the hitch-block; this extra length might be simply on the base-board, with an extra wall built up on it, or might actually be an extended soundboard. There were two examples of each kind, and each example was from a different country (V&A 4-1869, Brunswick 16, York, Claudius); in fact, the York example is a simple English instrument, not from the higher culture.


fig. 85: from Verschuere Reynvaan
(photo: Hubert Boone)

A similar system was shown by Verschuere Reynvaan in his Muzijkaal Kunstwoordenboek, 'Dictionary of musical art', of 1795, except that the extension is on the right, and is used by single bass strings, rather than multiple courses: these single basses are an octave below the bass multiple courses, and Hubert Boone considered that they were intended to be playable together with the latter, but since they have their own bridge it is hard to see how they could be in the same plane (fig. 85); in fact the labelling of the courses shows these strings as providing the bottom octave, C-c#. The notation of pitch uses an adaptation - similar to that of Kircher - of a system in use since the middle ages. Fig. 86 shows the vertical cross-section suggested by the plan:


fig. 86: stringing of fig. 85 (section)
dotted lines show parts of strings not played

Note that the strings run in as many as six different planes, a culmination of all the complexities of instruments such as those of Battaglia, anticipating Schunda's concert cimbalom of the l870s.