Musician Adrian Woodward of The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (previously) offers a fascinating history behind the Hurdy Gurdy, a multifaceted instrument with a distinctive handle at the bottom that drives a wheel against a string. Woodward explains how the instrument was very popular in the 16th century, but soon after became the music of peasants. Hundreds of years later, the instrument was resurrected in France with an improved sound.
If I’d been a musician in the sixteenth century, I probably would have picked the Hurdy Gurdy because I imagine it would have made me very popular. Wherever I would have gone, I would have started a party. …Later on, musical tastes changed and the hurdy-gurdy was relegated to the lowest social classes of peasants and beggars. A couple of centuries later during the reign of King Louis XIV of France, the hurdy-gurdy had a rebirth and the harsh rasping sound was improved making it more suitable for chamber music.