Gittern

Name: Gittern.
Type: Lute > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France & England.
Region: Western Europe.

Description: The gittern was a relatively small gut strung round-backed instrument that first appears in literature and pictorial representation during the 13th century in Western Europe [Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France, England]. It is usually depicted played with a quill plectrum, as we can see clearly beginning in manuscript illuminations from the thirteenth century. It was also called the guitarra in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy and quintern in Germany.

The gittern was a popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels and amateurs, the gittern is considered ancestral to the modern guitar and possibly to other instruments like the mandore and gallichon. Up until 2002, there were only two known surviving medieval gitterns, there is a gittern in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The other in the Wartburg Castle Museum. A third was discovered in a medieval outhouse in Elbląg, Poland.

From the early 16th century, a vihuela shaped [flat-backed] guitarra began to appear in Spain, and later in France, existing alongside the gittern. Although the round-backed instrument appears to have lost ground to the new from which gradually developed into the guitar familiar today, the influence of the earlier style continued. Examples of lutes converted into guitars exist in several museums, while purpose-built instruments like the gallichon utilized the tuning and single string configuration of the modern guitar. A tradition of building round-backed guitars in Germany continued to the 20th century with names like gittar-laute and Wandervogellaute.

Citations: The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments [2nd Edition]. “Quinterne [quintern]”; Retrieved 2015-03-20. James Tyler, The Mandore in the 16th and 17th Centuries; Tyler, James; Sparks, Paul 1992. The Early Mandolin. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 1–7. ISBN 0-19-816302-9.