CHAPTER 7: Controversies and Misunderstandings

15 of 17 - 'Salterio tedesco'

Many writers have stated that 'the dulcimer is called salterio tedesco in Italy' and 'therefore it came from North of the Alps'.

It certainly seems that dulcimers came to Italy from the Hackbrett lands, but only from the evidence of the earliest recorded examples; note, however, that these are reliable in this context only if complete.

[2004:] Curt Sachs wrote his dulcimer 'history' from three sources; the 150 sources I found told a completely different tale; and maybe the next researcher will find 500 sources which give a different pattern again from mine.

The only original source for the expression salterio tedesco is Bonanni; all other writers, from Walther (1732, chap 3.) and Kastner (1852) to Sachs and Dräger & Wünsch, quote from another source; Walther acknowledged Bonanni as his source, and since the later authors were less generous in crediting their sources, we must presume them to have used the same ones.


fig. 69

As mentioned in Chapter 3, Bonanni portrays a German girl playing in the streets of Rome; it seems that most later editors, including that of the modern Dover facsimile, have considered that Bonanni's text was not worth including, and have usually interpreted the girl as an Italian, playing an instrument for which the normal name was salterio tedesco.

From this, modern writers continue to deduce that the 'psaltery' was known in Italy, and by definition (albeit one which was by no means generally adopted in the 18th century) plucked: thus when the hammering technique was introduced, the instrument took the name of the place whence those hammers came, i.e. Germany. Such was, apparently, the reasoning of Sachs and others after him.

Actually, even without reading the caption, this can be deduced not to have been the intention, for the previous plate is entitled salterio turchesco, universally accepted as being an illustration of something that was similar to the native salterio but the version known in Turkey (much as a new small Fiat car might be termed in England 'the Italian Mini', until its own name was generally known): and by analogy one could deduce the same about the salterio tedesco particularly when one reflects that a barefoot girl in peasant clothes does not fit in with the otherwise-consistent picture, o the duclimer as an instrument of the Italian higher culture, but does fit as part of the German popular culture.

In fact, of course, it is perfectly clear from Bonanni's text (chap.3.5) - as well as from other evidence - that salterio was the normal term, and he was not saying 'this is the instrument we call salterio tedesco', but quite simply 'here is the salterio which the Germans play, the German salterio': it's an Italian describing a Hackbrett.