CHAPTER 3: History to 1800

3.5 - The Baroque, Rococo and Classical Periods, 1600-1800

2 The Near East

Attempts on the part of Westerners to trace the history of the dulcimer in the Islamic area seem always to have been beset with problems; quite apart from fundamental differences in philosophy which affect the documenting and interpretation of both artifacts and events, sources have been misunderstood, names have been changed in translation, and ethnocentric travellers have used names from their own languages without recording those used locally.

The work of Henry Farmer seems not to have been superceded, although it is by no means always taken account of, and formed the starting-point for this short section.

The name santur has already occured, but was considered to have been used for the qanun as is still sometimes the case in Syria; however, from the context, Farmer did consider the mention of the santur by Ewliya or Evliya Chelebi, in his 17th century treatise on instruments, to relate to the dulcimer. Nevertheless, it can scarcely have been widely spread, for in a work which, for most instruments, gives even as much detail as the numbers of players and makers, there is no more than a passing mention of the santur, and certainly no description. Meninski, on the other hand, did positively equate it with "cymbalum, Hackbrett" in his Thesaurus of 1680-87.

Travelling in Persia in the 1670s, le Chevallier Jean Chardin recorded in his diary:

"Leurs Instrumens de Musigue sont en grand nombre la Timbale & le Tambourin ... le Tambour de basque ... des Cornets droits ... Cors & de Trompettes ... la Hautbois la Flute le Fifre le Flageolet ... Ensuite ils ont les Instrumens corde Rebec Harpe Epinette Guitarre Tetracorde Violon & une matière de Poche ... "


All these names have such specific meanings in Western music that it is hard to see how they and many more - can have been very meaningful as generic terms for the very different instruments of the Persians; particularly, for instance, flute and fife: and violin, rebec and poche the difference between which is rather small compared to the difference between all of them and the Persian equivalents. Both Farmer (145) and Harrison (146) have conjectured that by Épinette a santur was intended, although qanun seems just as likely a candidate. A similar case is that of the clavessins recorded by Cornelle le Bruin, in his Voyages of 1718 (145).

Neither the Amoenitatum exoticae of Engelbert Kaempfer (1712) (147) which described aspects of Persian music, nor Bonanni's Gabinetto Armonico (1716 etc.), which included a few oriental instruments, has any mention or illustration of a santur. Bonanni's salterio turchesco (148) appears to have had a qanun as its model, and his salterio persiano (149) - shown being played with stopped strings like a lute - is taken from Kaempfer, who called it tsjeng (150); Walther's entries (1732) under these names referred to Bonanni's engravings and were presumably generated by them: certainly he tells us nothing about santurs.

Nevertheless, Farmer asserted that the santir was to be found in most Turk-dominated lands, played however, not by Turks, but by Greeks and Jews (145); he quotes no source, nor do his other writings offer one. In 1768, Thomas Shaw (Travels) wrote that the Turks in the Maghrib (the part of North Africa opposite Spain and France) played on an instrument like "our dulcimer", while according to Toderini (1787) the instrument was flourishing in Turkey itself (145). However, it was not one of the six instruments which LaBorde considered essential for a Persian or Turkish concert to be regulier, viz: "L'aoud Les nay Le nefir L'aklac Le Kanon Le kemantché."

The Horniman Museum in London has an instrument catalogued as being from 18th century Persia, identical in its essentials to today's instruments.