Medieval Music (guest post by Regan Walker)
by Regan Walker
July 20, 2016In my Medieval Warriors series, including the newest, Rebel Warrior, evenings in the hall often feature 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.
Traveling minstrels often carried a 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, but the original Celtic version having seven strings.
Closer to the 10th century we find evidence of a triangular-shaped harp. It is the small, hand-held harp that the Welsh bard Rhodri plays in Rebel Warrior, set in 11th century Scotland. 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.
To get a feel for the sound of medieval harp music check out this on YouTube:
And when you read Rebel Warrior, imagine that as background to the warriors in conversation over a dinner of roast duck or venison.
Regan Walker is an award-winning, #1 bestselling author of Regency, Georgian and Medieval romances. She has five times been featured in USA TODAY’s HEA column and four times nominated for the prestigious RONE award (her novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize won Best Historical Novel for 2015 in the medieval category).
Regan writes historically authentic novels with real history and real historic figures where her readers can experience history, adventure and love. She lives in San Diego with her Golden Retriever who she says helps her to smell the roses every day.
The Norman Conqueror robbed Steinar of Talisand of his noble father and his lands, forcing him to flee to Scotland while still recovering from a devastating wound. At the royal court, Steinar becomes scribe to the unlettered King of Scots while secretly regaining his skill with a sword.
The first time Steinar glimpses the flame-haired maiden, Catrìona of the Vale of Leven, he is drawn to her spirited beauty. She does not fit among the ladies who serve the devout queen. Not pious, not obedient and not given to stitchery, the firebrand flies a falcon! Though Catrìona captures Steinar’s attention, he is only a scribe and she is promised to another.
Catrìona has come to Malcolm’s court wounded in spirit from the vicious attack on her home by Northmen who slayed her parents and her people. But that is not all she will suffer. The man she thought to wed will soon betray her.
When all is lost, what hope is there for love? Can a broken heart be mended? Can a damaged soul be healed?
As they approached the last ridge where they would begin their descent to the River Clyde, instead of the quiet she expected, men’s shouts, cries of terror and women’s screams rent the air.
Urging her pony forward, she reached the crest and slid her feet to the ground. Wide-eyed, she stared into chaos fifty feet below where two longships with dragonheads carved into their stems were belching forth silver-helmed warriors wielding axes, swords and spears.
The longhaired raiders shouted what sounded like battle cries as they ran across the sand toward her father’s hillfort, ruthlessly cutting down her father’s men as if butchering cattle.
Men moaned as they fell, pierced through with spears and swords, grunting their last as blood spurted from their bellies.
Unarmed servants shrieked as axes sank into their backs.
Panicked women ran in all directions, shouting for their children.
Catrìona’s heart raced and her mouth gaped as she watched the unfolding terror. She gripped the seax at her waist. “A Dhia m’anam!” God preserve us! “I must go to them!”
Angus pulled her back from the crest. “Keep away from the edge lest they see ye. The bushes provide scant cover.” Grabbing up the reins of the horses, he led them away from the ridge.
“But—” She looked toward the crest, unable to see but desperate to know if her father’s men prevailed. “I want to help…”
“Ye can do nothing fer them, milady,” Angus said in a low voice as he returned to her. “Stay down. We can only await the end of it.”
Fear of the brutal Northmen warred with the desire to help those she loved. Rising panic nearly overtook her as she remembered what she had heard of Norse raids. But what help could she offer? In the face of so many bloodthirsty warriors, she would only become another victim. Angus, sworn to protect her, might die trying to prevent her death.
With the sounds of the mayhem ringing loud in her ears, Catrìona dropped to the ground and crawled on her belly to the edge of the rise, pulling her hood over her flame-colored hair to blend with the shrubs.
Angus came to join her, lying on his stomach in the grass. “Are ye certain ye want to see this?”