CHAPTER 7: Controversies and Misunderstandings

16 of 17 - That there was a mediæval dulcimer

1. Antiquity

1.1. The Icon

1.2. Literature

2. The Middle Ages

2.1. Islam

2.2. Europe

2.2.1. Icons

2.2.2. Literature

Much depends of course, on the definitions of both 'mediaeval' and 'dulcimer'. Norlind was one who wrote in such a way (1930) and in Scandinavia (where influences from the volatile South seem always to have been slow to make an impact: remember that Arrebo's work is considered to mark the breakthrough of Renaissance poetry in Denmark, dating from the early 1600s when Italy, whence it originated, was already busy with the Baroque); in Scandinavia the Middle Ages are considered to have lasted until the Reformation, 1526-27 (16), and in England chivalric ideals were still being expressed by Hawes in 1509. Nevertheless, the mediaeval period in music is generally considered to end at about 1400, just before the Burgundians, Dufay and Dunstable, or sometimes half-a-century later, as those composers gave place to Netherlanders like Ockeghem and Obrecht .

Apart from the isolated Byzantine example mentioned in Chapter 3.2. - neither date nor provenance of which is certain - and possibly the Calmar carving, positive evidence of dulcimers dates from the 1440s, by which time the Renaissance was certainly under way, so that they may scarcely be considered characteristically mediæval; and it may be said that no form of dulcimer was established or current during the mediaeval period defined by music historians.

Such a statement, of course, begs the question of what a dulcimer is, and we need to look now at those icons and literary references - since only these, and no surviving instruments, have been quoted in support of an ancient history for the dulcimer.