Today, please welcome my guest blogger, Regan Walker, as she discusses medieval music and musical instruments. Since I love music and I play the harp, I was especially interested in hearing about her take on the medieval predecessors to my favorite instrument. Take it away, Regan!
In my new medieval romance, The Red Wolf’s Prize, evenings at the manor at Talisand often featured music. Music was the chief form of entertainment of the people who lived during this time.
The oldest instrument, of course, was the human voice, and the oldest form of that was the plainchant, singing without instruments. It would be something like what we call A cappella today.
In my story, the Welsh bard, Rhodri, plays his small harp and the heroine, Lady Serena joins him in song, whether she is garbed as a servant in disguise or, later, as herself.
What kind of musical instruments did they enjoy?
Well, if you happened to have a traveling minstrel on hand, it might be crwth, the ancient Celtic lyre, predecessor to both the harp and violin. The Oxford Companion to Music defines a crwth as:
“An ancient plucked and bowed stringed instrument which had a more or less rectangular frame, the lower half of which was filled in as a sound-box, with flat (or occasionally vaulted) back, the upper half being left open on each side of the strings.”
This is the instrument David played while tending sheep, as recorded in the Bible. It was used by bards beginning in the 8th century BC, then later in Rome where it was the lyra, the first European bowed string instrument. The number of strings varied, the original Celtic version having seven strings.
Harps became common closer to the 10th century when we find evidence of a triangular-shaped harp. It is the small, hand-held harp that the Welsh bard Rhodri plays in The Red Wolf’s Prize.
Medieval harps in general were small and portable. Travelling musicians often had to carry their instruments on foot or horseback, and the materials required to build a quality instrument were expensive. The shape and string material of harps during this time largely depended on what part of the world they were from. Welsh harps were often strung with hair; Irish harps with wire; Scottish harps with gut.
Medieval music used many string instruments such as the lute, mandore and gittern (small lute like instruments), psaltery (a cross between a harp and a lyre with twelve strings), pipes and bells. They also might have a dulcimer, similar in structure to the psaltery and zither and predecessor to the pianoforte. It was originally a plucked instrument.
The lute remained almost unchanged from appearance, around the year 1000, up to the middle of 1500.
Lest I forget, there were percussion instruments, too—drums of all kinds, as well as the pipe and tabor (pictured below). The pipe was something like the recorder today, wooden and flute like. And there were cymbals and tambourines.
Reading about medieval music is one thing. While we cannot know the precise sounds the medieval music conjured for the listener, we have their instruments so we can get close. It is a haunting sound that will definitely make you think of knights and their ladies.
To hear what medieval music might have sounded like, see this:
The Red Wolf’s Prize
HE WOULD NOT BE DENIED HIS PRIZE
Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed Lady Serena, the heiress that goes with them.
SHE WOULD LOVE HIM AGAINST HER WILL
Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord.
Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans.
As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?
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Disclaimer: Although I know Regan to be a careful researcher and talented author, I have not read this book.