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A Fiddle for Women?

In the early 20th century, this instrument acquired the name “nun’s fiddle,” since the first examples had been discovered in convents. The instrument’s sound is as singular as its appearance: loud and buzzy, like a trumpet. In the late Middle Ages, public performances on trumpets were restricted to select musicians. Contemporary scholars concluded that clever nuns must have circumvented the trumpet privilege by performing on an instrument that sounded like a trumpet, but wasn’t one. As appealing as this hypothesis may sound, however, there is not a shred of evidence for it. The tromba marina – to use its correct name – isn’t going to be claimed as an early symbol of feminism any time soon. All the same, in musical terms, it inhabits a world of its own.


Tromba marina

18th century (?)


Monastery of St. Katharinental, Canton of Thurgau, Switzerland (place of discovery)