‘Cremona Japanica’: origins, development and construction of the Japanese (née Chinese) One-String Fiddle, c.1850–1950

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

Abstract

Today the Japanese one-string fiddle is likely to be regarded as little more than a curio to be bought for a few pounds at auction. A chordophone of simple construction, they amount to little more than a small, usually wooden, soundbox pierced by a long neck, a wire string, and are played upright like a cello. Despite its name, the Japanese one-string fiddle did not originate in Japan, and it first appeared as the Chinese fiddle in 1853 as a solo turn in a blackface act in New York. Popularised on the British music hall stage in the late nineteenth century by ‘The White-eyed Kaffir’, George Chirgwin, the instrument faded from view in the 1950s. Few nineteenth-century examples of the Japanese one-string fiddle survive and the instrument’s history must be constructed from newspaper reports, lithographic images and from the twentieth-century amateur enthusiasm for the instrument. It was supplied with factory-made instruments and by the home hobby and handicrafts industries that began in the late 1800s and which distributed a range of Japanese one-string fiddles as free, detailed paper plans, or kits of bundled wood and a string.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-152 & 202-203
Number of pages23
JournalGalpin Society Journal
VolumeLXXIII
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

12,524 words

Keywords

  • Organology
  • Musicology
  • Popular music
  • Music Hall
  • Japan

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