hurdy-gurdy, musical instrument with three strings that are caused to vibrate by a wooden wheel turned by a crank. Stopping is accomplished by keys that usually affect only the string that plays the melody, the others acting as drones. In its earliest variants, two players usually were required to play the instrument. First described in the 10th cent., it was widely used in the Middle Ages as an aid to choral instruction in monasteries and later as an accompaniment to rustic folk dances. The instrument also occurs in the works of Vivaldi, Haydn, and Mozart. By the 19th cent. it was often used by beggars. The instrument has undergone a revival in recent times, and has been used in jazz and folk music. Contemporary versions of the hurdy-gurdy sometimes are electronically enhanced.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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