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Author Topic: Anglo Saxon musical instruments  (Read 47016 times)

Jayson

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Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« on: August 04, 2011, 06:29:17 PM »
Hello Everyone!   I've been out of action for a couple of months, but now I'm able to get back on the forum, thank goodness.   Recently I went to a conference in Glastonbury where one of the speakers was an accomplished musician who had a range of old musical instruments which he could play, ranging from a bull roarer dating from some 20,000 years ago through Egyptian instruments up to much more recent Swiss horns.

I was therefore rather surprised when I asked him if he knew of and could play any Anglo-Saxon instruments to find that he knew of nothinng particular from that era.

So  --  could you let me have details of what was being played in A-S England?   I know there were articles about it in Withowinde some time ago bu I can't track them down.
« Last Edit: December 22, 2013, 12:57:29 PM by peter horn »
Wessex Woman

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2011, 07:26:07 PM »
Well obviously there was the harp/ lyre/ the gleewood, pipes, drums and probably rattles.  Fittings from the former were found in the Sutton Hoo burial.  Signalling horns may have been used to musical effect, but I'm not musically literate enough to say how.

One thing I do recall is that nobody heard true harmonies in music until, at least, the first hurdy-gurdies came along in Late Medieval times.  Some churchmen called the hurdy-gurdy "the voice of the Devil" because it was the first time anyone heard a harmony.  Hitherto, because the tuning was too closely bound up with how this or that particular harp or pipe was carven, it was too difficult to get any two to play in harmony with each other. 

Also, if surviving pre-Renaissance pipes are anything to go by, medieval folk were quite happy to play on the gaps between the notes.  The big deal about the Renaissance is that musical instrument making became sufficiently precise for true harmonies to be played, which is how Vivaldi made a much bigger hit in his own day than we easily realise.  The access of creativity this gave promoted the development of the baroque orchestra, the forerunner of the classical orchestra of today. 

Pipes, if memory serves, could be carven from bone as well as wood, and I think elder sticks are more easily cored than most for this purpose.


Hope this helps.


Graegwulf

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2011, 08:08:25 PM »
We did a "Cutha's Chronicles" in Withowinde on making a bone flute - one of the last ones Karl ever wrote actually.

peter horn

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2011, 11:04:57 AM »
Hello Everyone!   I've been out of action for a couple of months, but now I'm able to get back on the forum, thank goodness.   Recently I went to a conference in Glastonbury where one of the speakers was an accomplished musician who had a range of old musical instruments which he could play, ranging from a bull roarer dating from some 20,000 years ago through Egyptian instruments up to much more recent Swiss horns.

I was therefore rather surprised when I asked him if he knew of and could play any Anglo-Saxon instruments to find that he knew of nothinng particular from that era.

So  --  could you let me have details of what was being played in A-S England?   I know there were articles about it in Withowinde some time ago bu I can't track them down.


An article on the AS Harp can be seen under 'Articles' on the main Website (Click on the crown top of this page).
There is an article in past WW by Frank Stanford gesith on AS musical instruments in general. List of all past articles in WW can be seen on main website.
Cutha's Chronicles can be seen under board entitled "Links" (I must admit I cant find the bone flute episode mentioned by Paul)
Peter
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Linden

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2011, 11:05:58 AM »
..............One thing I do recall is that nobody heard true harmonies in music until, at least, the first hurdy-gurdies came along in Late Medieval times.  Some churchmen called the hurdy-gurdy "the voice of the Devil" because it was the first time anyone heard a harmony  ..............

Is that definitely so?
I ask because there are several OE words that gloss to either '(h)armonia' or 'concentus'; also one or two musical instruments that, on their own, might produce more than one note simultaneously.

Plus -  what does this more extensive gloss mean if not referring to what we would understand by 'harmony'?

'Efenhleoþrung vel dream' in its gloss of  'concentus, i. adunationes multarem vocum' - I thought that the Latin meant (more or less) 'harmony or the fusing together of many voices'.

Similarly, why have words like 'un-gedrime' &  'un-geþwære' meaning 'inharmonious' if harmony was not something achievable? 
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peter horn

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2011, 11:14:56 AM »
Hello Everyone!   I've been out of action for a couple of months, but now I'm able to get back on the forum, thank goodness.   Recently I went to a conference in Glastonbury where one of the speakers was an accomplished musician who had a range of old musical instruments which he could play, ranging from a bull roarer dating from some 20,000 years ago through Egyptian instruments up to much more recent Swiss horns.

I was therefore rather surprised when I asked him if he knew of and could play any Anglo-Saxon instruments to find that he knew of nothinng particular from that era.

So  --  could you let me have details of what was being played in A-S England?   I know there were articles about it in Withowinde some time ago bu I can't track them down.


There is nothing surprising about musicians knowing nothing about AS music. This is just part of the general ignorance of the AS period.
Peter
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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2011, 12:33:44 PM »
____________________________________________________________
[ T]here are several OE words that gloss to either '(h)armonia' or 'concentus';
____________________________________________________________


Yes as you say, these refer to vocal harmonies of the sort Benedictine monks and nuns might sing.  My information ( a Radio 4 documentary I'm inclined to trust, and some idea about Classical music) concerned only intrumental music.

As for two or more notes played together by an occasional pre-Renaissance instrument, I wouldn't call that much of a harmony and I doubt if Vivaldi would, either.  Which instruments, and how well could they sustain the note? 

Trumpets sounding a fanfare might, but that wasn't done for pleasure.



Jayson

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2011, 03:27:59 PM »
---many thanks for all  your replies.

Sonya
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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2011, 08:36:07 PM »
..............One thing I do recall is that nobody heard true harmonies in music until, at least, the first hurdy-gurdies came along in Late Medieval times.  Some churchmen called the hurdy-gurdy "the voice of the Devil" because it was the first time anyone heard a harmony  ..............

I have heard this too, from a few sources, including my grandmother who was a jazz musician.

Is that definitely so?
I ask because there are several OE words that gloss to either '(h)armonia' or 'concentus'; also one or two musical instruments that, on their own, might produce more than one note simultaneously.

...

Similarly, why have words like 'un-gedrime' &  'un-geþwære' meaning 'inharmonious' if harmony was not something achievable?

If it is true that harmony wasn't as developed a technique/concept as it was in the renaissance then I'm wondering if early mediaeval words that translate as harmony might just mean being 'in-tune'. Is there a separate word or phrase for in-tune?

Linden

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2011, 10:01:04 PM »
..........If it is true that harmony wasn't as developed a technique/concept as it was in the renaissance then I'm wondering if early mediaeval words that translate as harmony might just mean being 'in-tune'. Is there a separate word or phrase for in-tune?
What is meant by 'in tune'?  It can just mean 'in harmony'.  Otherwise, presumably, it means 'playing the same note(s)'?  If it does mean 'playing the same note' then that is no less difficult to achieve than achieving a harmony with the original note.
As for 'tuning' techniques - leaving aside the 'hearpe' which is completely tunable by means of the tension in its strings, there are various very easy ways of modifying the notes of wind instruments with wax, pebbles, glue etc. etc. 
Personally I find it difficult to believe that folk with time on their hands in dark evenings and various musical instruments to hand did not experiment with all types of harmonies.
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peter horn

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2011, 07:22:31 AM »
Im not sure whether the proposition is "The AS did not have harmony in their music" Or whether it is "There was no harmony in music in the world until the hurdy-gurdy appeared"
The latter is certainly false since the early Greeks discovered the laws of harmony.
The former would also seem to be false, for a number of reasons. I believe the AS late in the period had an early form of organ which presumably would have 2 or more notes played in harmony.
In addition the AS harp, tuned to a pentatonic scale would surely have involved some chord playing of 2 and 3 notes and with this early scale all chords are in harmony.
Peter
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Horsa

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2011, 05:35:23 AM »
Just because it's an oft-repeated idea, that ancient people didn't do much harmony, it doesn't make it true. I also find it hard to believe that they didn't have harmonies. Linden, as you say, through the winter months where there isn't much work to be done, and there's no x-box, internet, or telly, one could easily imagine people playing and experimenting with voice and harmonies. However, by the same regard, just because it's difficult to imagine that they didn't have harmonies, doesn't mean that they necessarily did have harmonies.

When I said 'in-tune' I meant that harmony could have meant people singing exactly the same note not singing off key. I'm not much of a musician, but I believe that a chord is, technically, harmony, but someone bashing out chords on guitar sounds very different from a barbershop quartet, and it's the latter that we mean when we talk about harmony - the melodic line is followed by a different line generally at an interval of a 3rd. And it's this latter trick and counterpoint that I always believed was an innovation of the renaissance age.

I had a quick shufty at some gregorian chant - no harmonies.

Graegwulf

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2011, 09:04:21 PM »
Was the bagpipe known to the AS? It was obviously well known in later mediaeval times, and is very ancient in Eurasia and Egypt.  If they did have one, and it had a drone plus a melody pipe, I would suggest that counts as "harmony".

Paul

Linden

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #13 on: August 12, 2011, 10:36:57 AM »
Was the bagpipe known to the AS? .........................................................

Almost all experts on the riddles of the Exeter Book agree that riddle 31 (no. 29 in Craig Williamson's edition) is a bagpipe and that the text includes description of the bag and drones.  As the riddle describes the creature singing in the hall (ræced - house, hall, palace), it is likely that bagpipes were known and used at least in kingly/princely contexts.
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peter horn

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Re: Anglo Saxon musical instruments
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2011, 09:32:06 AM »
I should think that the earliest musical instrument that combined notes, and therefore produced harmonies, would be the pipe organ. This was invented by the Greeks & used by the Romans and found its way eventually into the Church.
In Frank Stanford's article, in an early WW, on musical instruments of the AS, he mentions an organ used at the end of the AS period. But I have been unable to find any independent mention of this so far.
Peter
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