CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods 1600-1800

3.5.1 The west

1.4. Allegory


There are a few examples of allegorical use of dulcimers either in name or in form - in the 17th and 18th centuries, which are mentioned separately because they concern the dulcimer not as a practical instrument, but as an image or symbol.

Probably the most widely-quoted are the dulcimers of the Bible, so far traced back no earlier than 1599; their credence was established primarily by the Authorised Version generated by James I in 1611, and their musical significance is discussed in Chapter 7.

In 1677, Milton painted a poetical angel-choir with the vibrance of Boccati and el Bosco when he told how, after the Creation:

"... The Filial Power arrived, and sat him down
With his great Father ... and from work
Now resting, blessed and hallowed the sev'nth day,
As resting on that day from all his work;
But not in silence holy kept: the harp
Had work and rested not, the solemn pipe,
And dulcimer, all organs of sweet stop,
All sounds on fret by string or golden wire
Tempered soft tunings, intermixed with voice
Choral or unison; of incense clouds
Fuming from golden censers hid the mount.
Creation and the six days' acts they sung:
'Great are thy works, Jehovah, infinite
Thy power.' "



fig. 108a: anon 17thC. engraving,
Haags Hemmentemuseum
Reproduced from the microfiche edition
issued by IDC. Switzerland (ref. 23(3.1))
Virdung's engraving of 1511 was once again borrowed to adorn Erato, muse of lyric poetry (fig. 108a).

'By handling the plectra bring praises on yourself from the gods; go on to tread out a measure right across the floor. With steadfast mind refer all things to the eternal godhead; in this way, believe me, you will gain a sure path to salvation.' (tr. A.D.)

GPC quotes some half-dozen examples of dwsmel in Welsh poetry from this period, but it was not possible to trace them in the present study.

Finally, the verse which is almost guaranteed to crop up in any casual conversation in which the dulcimer is mentioned:

"A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played
Singing of Mount Alboa"

S.T. Coleridge (1772-1834) Kubla Khan