Because it produces its sound not with a bow but with a
rosined wooden wheel that turns to make the strings
vibrate, the hurdy-gurdy (German: drehleier) was widely
used during the Middle Ages. The continuous sound ful-
filled a desire to musically represent divine power in its
infiniteness and as the basis of all life. The hurdy-gurdy
was first mentioned in the 10th century as the organis-
trum, which had melody strings that were stopped by
tangents. If was played by two musicians. The earliest
depiction is found on the portal of the cathedral of
Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Beginning in the 12th century it developed into a smaller
instrument for one player (the symphonia or kastenleier
depicted, for example, in the Cantigas de Santa Maria)
and became very popular among the minnesingers,
troubadours and trouvéres. By the time of the "Garden
of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) at
the latest, it was provided with a drone string for playing
rhythmic music; thus from this time it is known to have
been used as an instrument of the people: for secular
celebrations and dancing.
Beginning in the late Middle Ages, the hurdy-gurdy was
increasingly condemned by the clergy as an instrument
of the devil, with a sound that tempted people to commit
fornication and other forms of sin.