Biblioteca de la Guitarra y Cuerda Pulsada

Biblioteca de la Guitarra y Cuerda Pulsada

Alfonso X: Instruments of Cantigas. Fiddles

Around the year 1000 an invention arrived in the Mediterranean world which was to change music forever: the bow. Just as the hunter's bow had revolutionized weaponry millennia before, so the musical bow transformed musical instruments. We are so accustomed to thinking of the bow as merely part of an instrument it is difficult to imagine it a powerful thing in itself. When it arrived, or as likely, the idea of it arrived, musicians saw its potential and raced to find a use for it. The latest in technique, it was applied to every already-existing stringed instrument: harps, psalteries, lyres, and lutes. Some of the experiments were more successful than others: bowed lyres and harps had a modest run and died out. Bowed psalteries were invented (or revived?) in the 20th century with limited success. The one family of instruments which flourished under the bow, so to speak, was the lutes. Because of the difference in musical purpose and playing style (discussed under Guitarras), in Europe the long lutes were not used with the bow. The big winners in the Bow Competition were the short lutes. It is important to realize that the bow did not create fiddles: it only created fiddling. "Fiddles" existed even before the bow arrived in Europe, only they were known as "guitars," because they were plucked. It is therefore not surprising that often we cannot tell from looking at a picture of an early instrument whether it is a "fiddle" or "guitar." The shapes of the successful short lutes varied greatly but they had one clear advantage: a limited number of strings running along a neck and an elongated body which allowed the bow access to the...

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