CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > 'British' dulcimers 1800-1945

The Worshipful Company of Musicians

A little later, in 1904, T. Lea Southgate spoke at some length about the dulcimer, in a lecture on the evolution of the pianoforte, to the Worshipful Company of Musicians (5):

"Let us speak first of the dulcimer. Probably you all know what this is like. Old as it is one may still hear it occasionally played in the street ... In this country it was common in private houses, and was often heard at fairs, dancing on the village green, and in our quiet streets. I am glad that it is not quite driven out of existence by the advent of the terrible mechanical piano ground out by foreigners, for the dulcimer demands more skill to play than merely tuning a handle: the power to hit a note either loud or softly, and to play with expression, makes the dulcimer an artistic instrument".

Then, according to the transcript published in 1911, three tunes were played by Mr. John C. Ward: "Drink to me only ... and then an old dulcimer tune in two parts, well suited to the genius of the instrument: and then a Dance".

The 'old dulcimer tune' turns out to have been one of two dances published in Bern in 1826 at the end of a collection of Ranzes de Vaches (cow-herding melodies); it also appeared in Stainer & Barrett's dictionary of 1898, which was presumably Southgate's source. The transcript of the lecture included a notation of the tune, which is somewhat altered from the original; all three are presented below, and a comparison shows that Southgate's version took the melody - which in the original was played by the violin - and added to it as much of the running accompaniment figures from the Hackbrett line as could reasonably be fitted in with it, transposing the latter down an octave where necessary to keep it below the melody. The character is considerably changed as a result.

Note the choice of repertoire, from outside of Britain: the lecturer's emphasis was the dulcimer as a type of instrument leading to the development of the piano, rather than a documentation of a British musical tradition.

Wyss, 1826

Stainer & Barrett, 1896

Southgate, 1904/1911