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KWL

Before the dulcimer

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Before the mountain dulcimer there were a group of instruments from Northern Europe that had diatonic fretting, mostly directly on the sound board (top). Because of a mistake made by Henry Mercer these are erroneously called "scheitholts."  A more accurate term for the American version is "zitter." Most often I modify that to "Pennsylvania German zitter." In Germany these instruments are called "Hummels."  Attached is a photo of a reproduction I made of an instrument in the Landis Valley Farm and Museum collection in Lancaster, PA.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

 

IMG_1843.jpg

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7 hours ago, KWL said:

Before the mountain dulcimer there were a group of instruments from Northern Europe that had diatonic fretting, mostly directly on the sound board (top). Because of a mistake made by Henry Mercer these are erroneously called "scheitholts."  A more accurate term for the American version is "zitter." Most often I modify that to "Pennsylvania German zitter." In Germany these instruments are called "Hummels."  Attached is a photo of a reproduction I made of an instrument in the Landis Valley Farm and Museum collection in Lancaster, PA.

I think there may be some conflicting information out there.  From what I've read, Scheitholt is the German name of the instrument that's the ancestor of the Appalachian/Mountain Dulcimer.  Michael Praetorius (a German composer and organologist) recorded the Scheitholt in the second volume of his work Syntagma Musicum, called De Organographia, where he attempted to catalog and classify known instruments at the time (1614-1620).  The name supposedly comes from its resemblance to a split piece of firewood (Low German: sheit - piece, holt - wood).  Scheitholz is the modern German word for firewood.

Hummel is another name used for the same instrument, but also the name of a similar/related Swedish decedent.  So I wouldn't say that Mercer is in error by calling these "Scheitholts."  I think both words were used in German for the instrument.  

I've seen "zitter" as a name for the Scheitholt that was used in America by the Pennsylvania Dutch (German settlers) and possibly other places as the instrument spread.

I've attached scans from De Organographia showing the reference to it being known as "Scheitholt" in 1600s Germany:

PMLP138176-PraetoriusSyntagmaMusicumB2_0084.thumb.jpg.88b942e5a8f43366eab85a6b14fa7455.jpg

PMLP138176-PraetoriusSyntagmaMusicumB2_0296.thumb.jpg.254522608b706889029a24f9f94b83da.jpg

 

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6 hours ago, KWL said:

Attached is a photo of a reproduction I made of an instrument in the Landis Valley Farm and Museum collection in Lancaster, PA.

IMG_1843.jpg

That's a beautiful instrument!  

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The term "scheitholt" and its derivative spellings is only known it a small area of the Tyrolean Alps. Mercer did base his name on what was published by Praetorius. I am very familiar with the work of Praetorius and his 3 volume set. His world was not all that large and he worked with what he knew. I don't know how far afield he traveled from Thuringia but he did study in Frankfort, and conceivably could have visited southern Bavaria. I would he assume he was familiar with the scheitholt. My point is that he used that name and because he did Mercer assumed all instruments that looked like the one drawn for the Syntagma Musicum were called scheitholts. I think that ignores the name of the instrument in other parts Germany and Europe. L. Allen Smith continued to use "scheitholt" in his A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers and dulcimer historian Ralph Lee Smith does as well. I think this gives a somewhat false ancestry for the mountain dulcimer. Ralph and I have discussed this. I believe his point is that this is not worth arguing about. I will continue to refer the pre-dulcimer instruments found here in the United States as PA German zitters or simply zitters.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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14 hours ago, KWL said:

 I would he assume he was familiar with the scheitholt. My point is that he used that name and because he did Mercer assumed all instruments that looked like the one drawn for the Syntagma Musicum were called scheitholts.

When I started looking into dulcimer and antecedent instrument history, it was surprising how little was written about them over the years.  I can see it being the case that many writers just referred to Praetorius' work and assumed the name was correct (even if it's not) as there aren't many other references.

14 hours ago, KWL said:

Ralph Lee Smith does as well. I think this gives a somewhat false ancestry for the mountain dulcimer. Ralph and I have discussed this.

I have the 2nd edition Smith's book "The Story of the Dulcimer" and that's where a lot of my information came from.  Do you know of other books or references? I couldn't find many when I was looking for books last year.  I'm definitely interested to learn more from other sources. 

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Ralph's books are the best available works at the present time with regard to the mountain dulcimer. L. Allen Smith's, A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Applachian Dulcimers, is the other invaluable resource, but it is out of print and when it does come up for sale goes for over $100, sometimes over $200. Henry Mercer did an article on scheitholts back in the early 20th Century. I'll try to find my link to that for you. Charles Seeger (Pete's father) also published an article on the Appalachian dulcimer. I think it was in the Journal of American Folklore, but I'll need to check that. If you can find Wilfried Ulrich's The Story of the Hummel, that gives a good history from the German perspective. Originally published in German, it was translated into English by my friend Christa Farnon. Interesting it is subtitled "German Scheitholt). I think it is still in print. Do a search online for it.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

Edited by KWL

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The books already cited, The Story of the Dulcimer and Appalachian Dulcimer Traditions by Ralph Lee Smith and A Catalogue of Pre-Revival Appalachian Dulcimers by L. Allen Smith, are the core works for any dulcimer historian's personal library.  A fourth book, Wilfried Ulrich's The Story of the Hummel, is essential for understanding the parallel history of the instrument in Europe.  Wilfried goes into detail describing the history of the fretted zithers, including instruments that pre-date the Praetorius scheitholt.  Wilfried argues that the instrument has many names depending upon the country in which it is found.  The book is available in an English language edition for those of us not fluent in German.  I obtained my copy directly from Wilfried through his website.  If still available, it is well-worth the investment.   

Edited by Banjimer
Mis-spelled name

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If anyone is interested in obtaining Wilfried's book, The Story of the Hummel, I found one copy available here: The Story of the Hummel. The price seems reasonable.

Ken

"The dulcimer sings a sweet song."

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