CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.3. The Middle Class in the 17th & 18th centuries: England and the Colonies - 1 of 7

passing references
Glasgow tuning-diagrams
Pepys' Diary
Mr. Pearson at Sadler's Wells
Grassineau's Musical Dictionary London 1740
dulcimers played & sold 1760s-1770s
instrument in York museum
four different spellings


The picture of the dulcimer in England in the 17th and 18th centuries is not very clear in detail, but undoubtedly plentiful in quantity: it is composed of a dozen references, a rather strange drawing, and two sources of valuable detail, viz: an instrument and a page of handwritten tunings.

The earliest evidence from this period comes, in fact, from what were then the Colonies: John McCutcheon reports that Sam Rizzetta has come across a reference to a dulcimer and a fiddle in the log of a ship which arrive with a party of settlers in Jamestown, Virginia in 1609. This is the earliest mention so far discovered in this study of a dulcimer in America, but details are not currently to hand.

From a commonplace book of Sir Philip Leycester, dated 1656, comes an isolated reference which, despite its intention of informing Posterity, really tells us nothing at all:

"To these (instruments with wire strings) may be added the Apoprey, brought into England about 1644, which is played on with two little sticks, in either hand one, and wyre stringes, onely 4 courses.

"These I thought good to mention here, that Posterity may know the difference of them and likewise what new inventions shall be found out afterwards". (133)

There have been suggestions of four-course dulcimers before this, certainly, but none of them very convincing, apart from Rembrantz van Nierop's Hackebord It is possible that the Apoprey was not a dulcimer at all, but the most likely sort of four-course instrument, a member of the guitar or lute family, seems ruled out because with a stick in either hand, the player would be hard pressed to stop a fingerboard. It might have been a tambourin à cordes although two-handed examples are rare. Another possibility presents itself, that one stick was used to strike or strum the strings, while the other fretted a melody string: the instrument would then be a dulcimer in the Appalachian sense, the characteristics of which were already described in 1618 by Praetorius, for his Scheithholt (see Supplement 2).