1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guitar Fiddle

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[ 704 ]

GUITAR FIDDLE (Troubadour Fiddle), a modern name bestowed retrospectively upon certain precursors of the violin possessing characteristics of both guitar and fiddle. The name “guitar fiddle” is intended to emphasize the fact that the instrument in the shape of the guitar, which during the middle ages represented the most perfect principle of construction for stringed instruments with necks, adopted at a certain period the use of the bow from instruments of a less perfect type, the rebab and its hybrids. The use of the bow with the guitar entailed certain constructive changes in the instrument: the large central rose sound-hole was replaced by lateral holes of various shapes; the flat bridge, suitable for instruments whose strings were plucked, gave place to the arched bridge required in order to enable the bow to vibrate each string separately; the arched bridge, by raising the strings higher above the soundboard, made the stopping of strings on the neck extremely difficult if not impossible; this matter was adjusted by the addition of a finger-board of suitable shape and dimensions (fig. 1). At this stage the guitar fiddle possesses the essential features of [ 705 ] the violin, and may justly claim to be its immediate predecessor[1] not so much through the viols which were the outcome of the Minnesinger fiddle with sloping shoulders, as through the intermediary of the Italian lyra, a guitar-shaped bowed instrument with from 7 to 12 strings.

   From Ruhlmann's Geschichte der Bogeninstrumente.
   Fig. 1. — Typical Alto Guitar Fiddle, 15th century (Pinakothek, Munich).

From such evidence as we now possess, it would seem that the evolution of the early guitar with a neck from the Greek cithara took place under Greek influence in the Christian East. The various stages of this transition have been definitely established by the remarkable miniatures of the Utrecht Psalter.[2] Two kinds of citharas are shown: the antique rectangular,[3] and the later design with rounded body having at the point where the arms are added indications of the waist or incurvations characteristic of the outline of the Spanish guitar.[4] The first stage in the transition is shown by a cithara or rotta[5] in which arms and transverse bar are replaced by a kind of frame repeating the outline of the body and thus completing the second lobe of the Spanish guitar. The next stages in the transition are concerned with the addition of a neck[6] and of frets.[7] All these instruments are twanged by the fingers. One may conclude that the use of the bow was either unknown at this time (c. 6th century A.D.), or that it was still confined to instruments of the rebab type. The earliest known representation of a guitar fiddle complete with bow[8] (fig. 2) occurs in a Greek Psalter written and illuminated in Caesarea by the archpriest Theodoras in 1066 (British Museum, Add. MS. 19352). Instances of perfect guitar fiddles abound in the 13th century MSS. and monuments, as for instance in a picture by Cimabue (1240-1302), in the Pitti Gallery in Florence.[9]

   From a Byzantine MS. in the British Museum.
   Fig. 2. — Earliest example of the Guitar Fiddle. A.D. 1066.

An evolution on parallel lines appears also to have taken place from the antique rectangular cithara[10] of the citharoedes, which was a favourite in Romano-Christian art.[11] In this case examples illustrative of the transitions are found represented in great variety in Europe. The old German rotta[12] of the 6th century preserved in the Völker Museum, Berlin, and the instruments played by King David in two early Anglo-Saxon illuminated MSS., one a Psalter (Cotton MS. Vesp. A. i. British Museum) finished in A.D. 700, the other “A Commentary on the Psalms by Cassiodorus manu Bedae” of the 8th century preserved in the Cathedral Library at Durham[13] form examples of the first stage of transition. From such types as these the rectangular crwth or crowd was evolved by the addition of a finger-board and the reduction in the number of strings, which follows as a natural consequence as soon as an extended compass can be obtained by stopping the strings. By the addition of a neck we obtain the clue to the origin of rectangular citterns with rounded corners and of certain instruments played with the bow whose bodies or sound-chests have an outline based upon the rectangle with various modifications. We may not look upon this type of guitar fiddle as due entirely to western or southern European initiative; its origin like that of the type approximating to the violin is evidently Byzantine. It is found among the frescoes which cover walls and barrel vaults in the palace of Kosseir 'Amra,[14] believed to be that of Caliph Walid II. (A.D. 744) of the Omayyad dynasty, or of Prince Ahmad, the Abbasid (862-866). The instrument, a cittern with four strings, is being played by a bear. Other examples occur in the Stuttgart Carolingian Psalter[15] (10th century); in MS. 1260 (Bibl. Imp. Paris) Tristan and Yseult; as guitar fiddle in the Liber Regalis preserved in Westminster Abbey (14th century); in the Sforza Book[16] (1444-1476), the Book of Hours executed for Bona of Savoy, wife of Gaieazzo Maria Sforza; on one of the carvings of the 13th century in the Cathedral of Amiens. It has also been painted by Italian artists of the 15th and 16th centuries.

(K. S.)

  1. See “The Precursors of the Violin Family,” by Kathleen Schlesinger, part ii. of An Illustrated Handbook on the Instruments of the Orchestra (London, 1908), chs. ii. and x.
  2. See Kathleen Schlesinger, op. cit. part ii., the “Utrecht Psalter,” pp. 127-135, and the “Question of the Origin of the Utrecht Psalter,” pp. 136-166, where the subject is discussed and illustrated.
  3. Idem, see pl. vi. (2) to the right centre.
  4. Idem, see pl. iii. centre and figs. 118 and 119.
  5. Idem, see fig. 117, p. 341, and figs. 172 and 116.
  6. Idem, see fig. 121, p. 246, figs. 122, 123, 125 and 126 pi. iii. vi. (1) and (2).
  7. Idem, see fig. 126, p. 350, and pl. iii. right centre.
  8. Idem, see fig. 173, p. 448.
  9. Idem, see fig. 205, p. 480.
  10. See Museo Pio Clementino, by Visconti (Milan, 1818).
  11. See for example Georgics, iv. 471-475 in the Vatican Virgil (Cod. 3225), in facsimile (Rome, 1899) (British Museum press-mark 8, tab. f. vol. ii.).
  12. This rotta was found in an Alamannic tomb of the 4th to the 7th centuries at Oberflacht in the Black Forest. A facsimile is preserved in the collection of the Kgl. Hochschule, Berlin, illustrations in “Grabfunde am Berge Lupfen bei Oberflacht, 1846,” Jahresberichte d. Württemb. Altertums-Vereins, iii. (Stuttgart, 1846), tab. viii. also Kathleen Schlesinger, op. cit. part ii. fig. 168 (drawing from the facsimile).
  13. Reproductions of both miniatures are to be found in Professor J. O. Westwood's Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS. (London, 1868).
  14. An illustration occurs in the fine publication of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Kusejr 'Amra (Vienna, 1907, pi. xxxiv.).
  15. See reproduction of some of the miniatures in Jacob and H. von Hefner-Alteneck, Trachten des christlichen Mittelalters (Darmstadt, 1840-1854, 3 vols.), and in Trachten, Kunstwerke und Gerätschaften vom frühen Mittelalter (Frankfort-on-Main, 1879-1890).
  16. Add. MS. 34294, British Museum, vol. ii. fol. 83, 161, vol. iii. fol. 402, vol. iv. fols. 534 and 667.