History of the Jewsharp

The best englishspeaking Source for Jewsharps I found is

http://www.users.bigpond.com/apertout/Jew'sHarp.htm and http://www.jewsharpguild.org/

and http://www.folkworld.de/7/jewsharp.html

so this is just a

Jewsharp was played here in my Region for a long time. The oldest one was found at Castle Tannenberg here in Hessen, wich burned down in year 1399. My feeling is, the Jewsharp came to Europe around 900 - 1100, but I am not sure.

except of Adrian Pertout´s Text...

History and Musical Function

It is supposed that the lamellate variety is older in chronological terms, although due to the nature of the decomposing materials utilized in their construction, it is impossible to confirm this very fact. In Europe, bronze instruments from the Gallo-Roman period represent the oldest recorded discoveries, and because of their resemblance to modern Indian, Nepalese and Afghani designs, Curt Sachs proposed that the Asian type of bow-shaped Jew's harp was the direct descendant of the European. As far as its social standing, there is strong evidence to suggest that during the Middle Ages, the Jew's harp was not merely "an instrument among fools and beggars," as widely believed, with a late medieval painting of the Virgin and Child depicting three angels, one playing a Jew's harp, one a tromba marina, and one a fiddle, strongly suggesting that a certain level of artistic respectability existed at the time. Some time later, in nineteenth-century Austria, silver Jew's harps were a popular serenading instrument among eligible young bachelors. "So popular was the custom and so discreet and persuasive the sound of the guimbarde (maultrommel) that female virtue was endangered and instruments were repeatedly banned by the authorities," write Anthony Baines in Musical Instruments Through the Ages. This phenomenon is not reserved to European culture, because the use of the instrument in courting practices has also been observed in places such as Siberia, China, Cambodian, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand and New Guinea, with several traditions in existence that use the Jew's harp during actual conversation. Apart from its musical representation, the Jew's harp was also employed therapeutically in nineteenth century Europe. This is common practice in the East, where it is used "both to induce trance and to heal the sick".

In cultures such as those belonging to the Siberian and Mongolian peoples, the instrument has associations with shamanism, as its use forms part of the shaman's common practice of incantations. In the Malaysian rainforest, the Temiar possess a gengon (Jew's harp) that is either of metal or palm construction, but this is an art form exclusively reserved for men. "This mouthharp goes back to the origins of we forest people. We play it for entertainment, or if our hearts are lovesick, homesick, melancholy, then we make it better, as it was during peaceful times; we clear our hearts," tells performer Penghulu Senang A/L Long prior to his rendition of a song dedicated to the Biray bird (Dream Songs and Healing Sounds in the Rainforests of Malaysia, Smithsonian/Folkways). While nearby, in the Bosavi rainforest of Papua New Guinea, the Kaluli people refer to their Jew's harp as uluna. This is an instrument measuring eighteen centimetres and is constructed out of a single piece of bamboo, with its two long slits forming a tongue. In this solo setting, men improvise alongside forest sounds, such as cicadas and birds to create the characteristic 'lift-up-over-sounding' aspect of Bosavi musical aesthetics.

In striking contrast, on the Indonesian island of Bali, as well as being a solo instrument, the Jew's harp has a place in the Gamelan Genggong. For example, the Genggong Ensemble of Ubud featured on the composition Tabuh tely (Bali: Folk Music / Musique populaire, Auvidis-Unesco) employs nine genggong (bamboo Jew's harps), a suling (end-blown bamboo ring flute), two guntang (bamboo percussion vessels), a kendang (double-headed drum) and cengceng (cymbals). In this large musical setting for collective entertainment, the Jew's harps are essentially treated in the same manner as regular Gamelan instruments, with two groups of players performing in alternation, supporting the melodic line of the suling, and a third performing an interlocking pattern.

For further information on the Jew's harp see Leonard Fox, The Jew's Harp: A Comprehensive Anthology (London: Bucknell U Press, 1988); or take a cyber tour on The Jew's Harp Guild Home Page, and The Dutch Jew's Harp Page.


12.01.2003 2:14 PM