1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Geige

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GEIGE (O. Fr. gigue, gige; O. Ital. and Span. giga; Prov. gigua; O. Dutch gighe), in modern German the violin; in medieval German the name applied to the first stringed instruments played with a bow, in contradistinction to those whose strings were plucked by fingers or plectrum such as the cithara, rotta and fidula, the first of these terms having been very generally used to designate various instruments whose strings were plucked. The name gîge in Germany, of which the origin is uncertain,[1] and its derivatives in other languages, were in the middle ages applied to rebecs having fingerboards. As the first bowed instruments in Europe were, as far as we know, those of the rebab type, both boat-shaped and pear-shaped, it seems probable that the name clung to them long after the bow had been applied to other stringed instruments derived from the cithara, such as the fiddle (videl) or vielle. In the romances of the 12th and 13th centuries the gige is frequently mentioned, and generally associated with the rotta. Early in the 16th century we find definite information concerning the Geige in the works of Sebastian Virdung (1511), Hans Judenkünig (1523), Martin Agricola (1532), Hans Gerle (1533); and from the instruments depicted, of two distinct types and many varieties, it would appear that, the principal idea attached to the name was still that of the bow used to vibrate the strings. Virdung qualifies the word Geige with Klein (small) and Gross (large), which do not represent two sizes of the same instrument but widely different types, also recognized by Agricola, who names three or four sizes of each, discant, alto, tenor and bass. Virdung's Klein Geige is none other than the rebec with two C-shaped soundholes and a raised fingerboard cut in one piece with the vaulted back and having a separate flat soundboard glued over it, a change rendered necessary by the arched bridge. Agricola's Klein Geige with three strings was of a totally different construction, having ribs and wide incurvations but no bridge; there was a rose soundhole near the tailpiece and two C-shaped holes in the shoulders. Agricola (Musica instrumentalis) distinctly mentions three kinds of Geigen with three, four and five strings. From him we learn that only one position was as yet used on these instruments, one or two higher notes being occasionally obtained by sliding the little finger along. A century later Agricola's Geige was regarded as antiquated by Praetorius, who reproduces one of the bridgeless ones with five strings, a rose and two C-shaped soundholes, and calls it an old fiddle; under Geige he gives the violins. (K. S.)


  1. The words gîge, gîgen, geic appear suddenly in the M. H. German of the 12th century, and thence passed apparently into the Romance languages, though some would reverse the process (e.g. Weigand, Deutsches Wörterbuch). An elaborate argument in the Deutsches Wörterbuch of J. and W. Grimm (Leipzig, 1897) connects the word with an ancient common Teut. root gag — meaning to sway to and fro, as preserved in numerous forms: e.g. M.H.G. gagen, gugen, “to sway to and fro” (gugen, gagen, the rocking of a cradle), the Swabian gigen, gagen, in the same sense, the Tirolese gaiggern, to sway, doubt, or the old Norse geiga, to go astray or crooked. The reference is to the swaying motion of the violin bow. The English “jig” is derived from gîge through the O. Fr. gigue (in the sense of a stringed instrument); the modern French gigue (a dance) is the English “jig” re-imported (Hatzfeld and Darmesteter, Dictionnaire). This opens up another possibility, of the origin of the name of the instrument in the dance which it accompanied. (W. A. P.)