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- 4 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


Some 20 years later, in c.1683, a time when the activities at Sadler's Wells were being diversified to attract custom:

"Mr. Sadler sold the water from the well on the strength of its medicinal properties; he provided entertainment - music room, dancers, tumblers, ropewalkers, etc., and musicians, and each evening Mr. Pearson played the dulcimer from five till eight" (154).

Mr. Pearson is the first English dulcimer-player to have been mentioned by name ('Ackli' was mentioned in Zurich as early as 1447), and he seems to have had considerable stamina, playing presumably solo - for three hours every night, though no doubt periodically refreshed from the well ...


fig.106: from Harley ms 2027, f.272:
English 17thC
(by courtesy, British Library Board)

The little sketch in B.L. Harley MS 2027, f.272, fig. 106, is interesting, particularly because of the old type of construction shown, using simply a plank on two battens. As an instrument it is an example of type 0.1., apparently played in the 15th century (five convincing illustrations) and remembered in the 16th (two illustrations, much less convincing); but its place in the 17th century seems to be solely that of a curio. It appears tucked away in a corner of a page of descriptions of instruments, including "a paire of organs ... Harpsicalls,... treble viole ... Gitterne... Lute .... Bandore"; however it has no such description itself, a treatment shared by the hurdy-gurdy, labelled "a simball sans string(s) ".Anthony Baines points out (l37) that James Talbot's MS is important as the only detailed discussion of instruments from the Middle or High Baroque in England: it lists both dulcimer and psaltery side by side, which unusual enough, since most sources suggest that in all languages that the two names were used for the same instrument: but it is not very helpful here as there are no descriptions of these instruments (138). It is interesting to note in passing that Talbot's name for the hurdy-gurdy is the same as that used in the Harley MS, 'cymbal', a point not mentioned by Marcuse (1964).

A second reference to a dulcimer in the Colonies comes from 1717, from the diary of Judge Samuel Sewall (1652-1730), a New England meeting-house precentor:

"23 May: To Salem, Meadford, Lodge at Cousin Porter's. See and hear the Dulcimer" (139).

Devotees of the Mountain dulcimer claim this as evidence for that instrument, but without further context it cannot be positively linked with one any more than the other; however, it is worth pointing out that the trapezoid instrument was apparently the only dulcimer known at that time to English folk, such as settled in New England, while the original homes of the fretted dulcimer are far away in the Appalchians and in Ohio.

Nancy Groce also considers the reference to one Thomas Richardson, who in the mid-1750s appeared as "dulcimerist" at the light-hearted Annapolis Tuesday Club of Baltimore, Maryland (167), to relate to the hammered instrument.