Known as: Mindre Enångerslira
Inventory number: N3097
Origin: Hälsingland, Sweden.
Length: 715 mm.
Characteristics:1 melody string, 2 drone strings, 15 keys in one row, rectangular corpus
Year: ca. 1700
Status: Currently preserved at Musikmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden (consignation from Nordiska museet)
This smaller Enångerslira is the best known Swedish hurdy-gurdy. Both in Swedish and foreign works it has often been included as an example of a ”folk variant of the French vielle”. Quite probably because it differs so markedly from all other European models. Its form is described as box-like, but the workmanship is more refined. The lid has a marked curvature around the center line. The rims are not straight, but slightly curved inwardly. With a length of about 72 cm, this instrument is among the longest extant hurdy-gurdies, but inspite of this with proportions still balanced.The main color is beautiful greenish blue richly decorated with flowers and leaves in red, dark green and yellow. The design has an air of folk decorative painting from the first half of the eighteenth century (similar to what is known as dalmåleri).
The smaller Enånger hurdy-gurdy in detail 1
Several repairs have been made during the same time. A forged nail was hammered in the left rim, for example. In addition, a simpler form of pivot has been replaced with heavier forged hinges and then painted the same colour as the rest of the hurdy-gurdy. On the remaining portion of the pegbox, we find what seems to be a group of numbers in black, where with some difficulty one can see the numerical sequence ’0.3.’ So far it was not possible to determine whether it is part of a year designation.
Only four of the keys seem to be original. The rest certainly have transversal grooves similarly cut on the top, but they are made of lighter-coloured wood and do not have in the edges the distinctive “arrows” of the older ones. How old this instrument was already when all these modifications were done –if they now were done simultaneously– is naturally impossible to know. If this hurdy-gurdy was used on a regular basis, the abrasion of the holes we can see in the keybox could have occurred in a relatively short period of time.
Several details are missing. The three tuning pegs, half the pegbox, nine of the originally thirteen keys, several tangents, all the strings and most of the strap. Between the wheel and the crank there are several holes on the sounding board. Seemingly, two separate bridges appear to have been fixed to them. Regarding the form and shape of the bridges there are no traces left.
Felix Wolff has made a proposed model of a chanter that goes well with the rest of the artistic idiom of this hurdy-gurdy. This proposed bridge has feet, which the last used one supposedly also had, otherwise the flower decoration that follows the instrument´s center line would have been damaged. It is probable that the left foot of the bridge was fixed to the hole that lies within a few inches below the wheel, to the left of the sounding board´s median line. The hole is nowadays plugged. The right foot of the bridge was either glued to the sounding board or just rested loose.
The original hurdy-gurdy has four holes in the sounding board, grouped in pairs on both sides of the median line. Three of them, two in the left side and one in the right side, are located right in the middle of the lower crosspiece. The fourth one is located a bit apart, near the wheel. The holes in the left pair are closer between each other than those on the right but both have their right holes located somewhat higher and plugged. It is not clear whether this should be interpreted to mean that the builder was trying the best position for the bridges. On modern reconstructions these holes were read – following a proposal by Wolff- as the site for four pegs some inches high. Between these the drone strings were placed in a sort of roundabout. This theory has its weak points. The location of the holes according to the original would cause the strings, even if they were placed on the outer side of the outermost pins, to get a disruption in its course near the wheel, something that should not happen if the sound of the strings is to be kept pure.
In the reconstructions, the pair of holes were switched with each other and repositioned laterally to follow the idea. In 1984, Wolff revised the shape of the drone bridge on his drawing. Boman has replaced the outer pegs with violin tuning pegs fitted with a slit where the strings can rest. When the peg is turned, the string lifts from the wheel. This is not a generally accepted idea. It is more logic to think that bridge would not differ too much from that in other extant hurdy-gurdies.
The smaller Enånger hurdy-gurdy in detail 2
With regard to the saddle, there are three string pegs in the body´s end. The one in the middle is located directly above the crank-axis and has probably kept together the tendon with the melody string holder. The latter one seems to have been loose, like in a violin, and not fixed like in many foreign hurdy-gurdies. This is inferred from the fact that the flower decoration all through the median line of the lid reaches almost intact the lid edge.
The quantity of keys on this instrument is smaller than in the other, bigger Enånger hurdy-gurdy (known as större Enångerslira), but bigger than in the majority of the other one-row Swedish and foreign hurdy-gurdies. Wolff believes that originally there had been thirteen keys counted from the lowest tone, the current number three and eight have come later. It is unclear if this is a consequence of a mistake on the part of the builder and which later was fixed, or if this was the original idea because other scales than those originally intended were now pursued.
The key-head has a fluted top and no curling. The keys are not made from the same template, but apart from some exceptions they decrease in width successively closer to the wheel. There are striking similarities between the shape of these and that of the keys we can observe in older nyckelharpor without sympathetic strings. These old nyckelharpor were all built before 1700 and in one case as early as 1526, the so called Moraharpan. However, it would be premature to draw any direct conclusion about the age of the Enångerslira solely from these similarities.
The tangents are faithful copies of the större Enångersliran, i.e. bow-shaped and 2 cm long. They are of a too light-coloured wood to be old. It is conceivable that they were put there on delivery to the museum. It was common before to complete the artifacts to be delivered so that they looked “more complete” and possibly get better pay.
It seems this hurdy-gurdy never had any chien/trompette devise. Several well-worn parts on the lid could with some imagination be interpreted as evidence of the existence of a buzzing mechanism, but this is somewhat implausible. The small wheel would make the trompette difficult to execute, if not impossible. The crank does not have an S-form but rather a vaguely bowed form. The handle does not have a strongly flared form but is rather vaguely conical, on the verge of cylindrical. None of these details would favour a well-working buzzing system.
Some further details can be emphasized. The keybox has lid, unlike the större Enångerslira. There is neither wheel cover nor traces of mounting ribs for such. Something remarkable is the sound-hole and the hole at the end of the keybox intended for the melody string. Both are square and equal in size. They disrupt strongly with the general design of the instrument, otherwise soft and colourful and can simply be regarded as peculiar. A speculative theory about the dual function of the sound hole is given further below. There are sockets, or rather holes, on the bottom edge of the rim that is facing the musician and in the bottom itself. They are intended for the securing strap. Both an inclined position and one where the instrument is hanging with all its bottom surface against the musician´s body are possible. The latter is probably the only one possible when playing standing up.
Marianne Bröcker describes this hurdy-gurdy as “particularly interesting” and has quite an imaginative theory about the so-called “sound-hole” described above: “The shape, but above all, the placement, could mean that at first it was not meant as a sound-hole, but rather as a coin-hole. This would imply that the instrument was maybe played by or was even built by a wandering beggar-musician. The assumption that this hurdy-gurdy would have belonged to such a person would also clarify its origin, since it comes from Hälsingland in Northern Sweden, an area from where otherwise there does not exist any information about hurdy-gurdies at all”.
Some time before, Norlind showed she was of the same opinion. By coin-hole Bröcker means a hole where passersby could put in money while the beggar musician acted. Since the hurdy-gurdy was probably his only source of income the instrument was surely the last thing he would part with, so the money was safe in the body of the instrument. But, if such is the case, the money would so safe inside that it would actually be difficult to get the coins to pass through such a small hole again to retrieve them. There are German hurdy-gurdies provided with coin-holes next to the rim of the instrument, and then there are better changes of retrieving the coins. The problem is that the coins of lower denominations are the biggest in size, often bigger than this supposed little “coin-hole”.
Wolff makes a proposal as to tonal system of this hurdy-gurdy, where the melody string playing loose (without pressing the keys) would give an A. With tangents on a right angle -i.e. with the edge of the tangents pointing to the melody string – Wolff gets a pure minor scale in two octaves except for a tone, A -g1. If the root tone were to begin on the fourth key -i.e. D for him – he would get a folk minor scale with high initial tone.
If expanded the system to the two keys he considers to have been added later, C# and G# are produced and therefore the possibility of getting both minor scales with low initial tone as major scales. In the later cases, the tangents in the seventh and fourteenth keys, all included, must be adjusted by turning them in the direction of the wheel so that F# and F#1 become F and F1.
Wolff´s reasoning looks impeccable in theory but also in practice when it is tried on a reconstruction where the measures of the original where followed. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to just state the above, for it is known that the musicians of the days of old had a completely different reference frames for building intervals. This reasoning also fails to clarify why the fifth key, counted from the peg to the wheel, is bigger and broader than the rest. It looks as if the builder wanted to remark an especially meaningful tone in the scale, such as the root tone.
However, it is important to note that the keys do not need to have sat like they do today. While the tangent-heads vary significantly in size, the key itself is more convergent. It is why it is completely possible that this key that we refer to as the fifth key sat in a different position in the keybox before. In theory, it needs only that we move it one step in any direction to make our musical-theory house of cards collapse. This just to emphasize that the interested reader is also free to make their own interpretations. The conclusion here is that the position of the keys and the great possibilities to change pitch with the long tangents leaves an open field for a wide range of wild guesses.
The hurdy-gurdy is not exactly difficult to play even if the many keys with their half-chromatic scale can confuse the musician that is not used to strictly diatonic hurdy-gurdies or at least those where the chromatic semitones have got their own row. Nyckelharpa-players used to whole-tones and semitones generally in the same row, would surely recognize the disposition.
Detailed plan to build a faithful reconstruction of the smaller Enånger hurdy-gurdy, by Felix Wolff. You can buy a high-definition copy here
Most of the information on this article is taken from “Lirans hemligheter – En studie i nordisk instrumenthistoria” by Per-Ulf Allmo and Jan Winter, 1985, ISSN 02828952, published by AllWins förlag HB, Stockholm, Sweden. You can buy the book here. All translations from Swedish into English are mine.