Most people know, at least vaguely, what is meant when the words "Lute", "Irish Harp" or "Cittern" are used. These are well-known and very successful instruments of the period.
However, the real cognocenti of the music of the Middle Ages know that the "popular" medieval music is not the whole story by any means. In fact, the bulk of the period music one hears or plays these days can be related to the real, "art" music of the Middle Ages as bubblegum Rock relates to Mozart or P.D.Q. Bach!
Therefore, in order to bring these musical forms to the attention of our populace, we would like to take a look at a few of the "classic" musical instruments of the period and explain a bit about them. Attached also is a bibliography, and a discography, for those courageous enough to inquire further.
We begin with the FINGLE, the predecessor of today's Swinette (the well-known folk instrument of the Southern Appalachians) which operated on a principle somewhat similar to that shown by a vibrating column of lead. The only real difference, other than artistic, between it and the Swinette is the placement of the mouthpiece, which on the Fingle is located slightly to the right of the bridge.
The TREFINGLE used three fingers for the expansion of the resonating chamber, rather then the Fingle's usual one. It was used as a semi-Bass in courtly music, and as a peasant farming implement, to deafen fish.
The unusual characteristics of the Fingle family are the rather short, distinctive and very unusual undertones, and the fact that, when playing 32nd notes, the notes tended to run together, forming a chord. This chord has yet to be analyzed, and may prove to be the origin of the "power chords" used in Heavy Metal Rock of the late Twentieth Century CE. The popular legend of the "Lost Chord" has it's roots in this phenomenon.
Most players of the Trefingle apparently went mad. This may have some relation to the curious effects of the instrument's tonality, much like the Glass Harmonica of the Eighteenth Century.
The SNORG was the predecessor of the Serpent, and was used as a Bass instrument, People would tend to carp at it, but it's scales were very nice. The name is onomotopaeic of the sound it produced. The notes played by the Snorg tended to puddle on the floor. This is known as the Puddle Effect, and is compensated in Kreeble Clef notation by use of the Puddle Tone. Players of the Snorg tended to win Tavern fights, as the instrument was well-nigh unbreakable. Its' only known modern descendant is the "Threeba," a bass horn usually played in obscure corners where it's dark.
The MONOVALVE B'RUGALSEC was used mostly in remote areas of Translyvania. It had an apparent range of a minor second or an augmented unison, depending on the type, and was played in several keys, usually all at once, thereby making it the first polytonatic instrument. It is the only known polydactylic and pterodactylic that was ever developed. This was the instrument that brought the "spit-valve" into brass, as people tended to spit at it. Only three examples survive today, all in private collections. Most were destroyed by the traditional angry mobs of villagers with torches and pitchforks.
The POLYMODAL PALLATIVE ORGAN used the Arabic influenced "Al a mode," the most famous composition therefrom being the "Ode to Santa Anna" by Hieronymous Bouuies, a work that taxes the imagination to the very fullest. In the SCA, this work is usually heard in Ansteorra. Willie Nelson is reputedly very fond of it's music, shouting "Remember the Al a Mode!" at every opportunity.
The ANTI BASS SADER was a stringed, fretted and valved instrument that was rarely seen, save in solo works written for it. Tuned by a combination of strings and slides, it was only tunable with great difficulty, usually taking about three to five weeks to tune properly. Virtuosos tended to be very dedicated. The last remaining example was destroyed during the Great Fire of London, when someone mistook it for a bucket of sand, and threw it on the flames. It didn't help.
The UNCLE BASS SADER was slightly larger, and had a mellower tone. It was popular at the Court of Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I, and was used for entertaining their pet squids. It is traditional in the English Royal family for the second son to learn to play it. This may account for the habitual facial expression noted on the family's younger members.
Perhaps the most well-known, at the time, blunt instrument of the Middle Ages was the DOUBLE Eb HYPOLAXODOCHRIAN SNOOD, popular in the 13th Century. It was, basically, a reversal of the Trefingle (the first, and also the last) and had the famous added Eb key, which kreebled the slides.
The resulting sound was indescribable, really, but an anonymous monk mentioned it in the margin notes of the Codex Digitalis:
O Snude y-soune lyk a goose
Ichot be a rabyd vertyng moose
O sowne that verteth syc a blyster
A rabyd moose y-bitte my syster.
-Anon. Margarinalia Codex Digitalis
The LIMPET is the only Medieval instrument that was quarried. Its first appearance in recorded history would seem to indicate it was the result of a serendipitous occurance at the legendary Santo Bufordi limestone facility, where much of the stone was obtained for works by such famous Renaissance sculptors as Benedictine, Amaretto, and Chivas. The story goes that one of the quarry workers, named Musico Flagrante, had placed the wedges around a particularly oddly shaped piece of stone, and proceeded to drive them with a wooden mallet when he noticed a perfect Dorian mode seemed to obtain from striking the wedges in a particular order. It is alleged that he brought this item to the attention of his supervisor, a man believed to have been named Aurus Tintinnabulus (although the record is unclear on this point) who told him, "Break the thing off and quit malingering!"
Under any circumstances, Flagrante told several of his family members (his brother, Defecto Flagrante, was Court Trefingler to the notorious Mediocre Dukes of Tuscany) who felt the instrument deserved more investigation. Nothing came of this.
Other occurances of the limpet are to be found sparsely interjected in the Musicology of the late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance. A smaller version (the Limpet in the HeideHough Museum at Brittle-Over-the-Legume, Sussex, weighs in at nearly 1400 pounds, and 1/100th of this amount was used in the UK as a standard unit of weight) was unsuccessfully used as a seige engine at the Battle of BarleyCorn (c. 1503-19) to batter down the gates of the Scottish hamlet after the siege of 14 years failed to cause its surrender. This device, mistakenly identified as a "petard", and the unusual method of playing it (raising it to a height of seventeen to twenty feet with a winch, then dropping it on a hard surface, such as a threshing floor or Duke's head), is the origin of the contemporary phrase, "Hoisting one's own petard." The reason for this term is unclear, unless it was the inherent danger associated with operating this instrument, which tended to shatter on impact.
Likewise, the Limpet, and its associated group of instruments, the CLAYMORE, the BOUNCING BETTY, the LAND, and the MAGNETIC (a 19th Century revival), have continued as instruments of warfare rather more often than of music. It is suggested by some 20th Century musicologists that this instrument family and its method of performance is the logical ancestor of modern Rock and Roll.
The great family of KREEBLES used the aforementioned Kreeble Clef notation. The explanation of how this was used as a notational system, a manuscript written by an ancestor of the revered P.D.Q. Bach, was lost in the mid-Twentieth Century CE when it was eaten by a nightwatchman's dog in a museum at Nurnberg, who mistook it for a pickle. Shortly after, the city was subjected to a bombing raid, and all traces were lost. Accounts vary as to the cause of death of the dog. The nightwatchman later emigrated to Cleveland, where he has lived in seclusion since 1947.
The Kreebles consisted of:
DOUBLE BASS KREEBLE
DEMI SOPRANO KREEBLE
SEMI SOQRANINO KREEBLE
QUADRI BARITONE KREEBLE
and the lesser known but no less important
TRIPLE SEMI Eb KREEBLE
These were differenced by the number of 16th notes that each one had, and the size of the embrouchure needed. The Double Bass Kreeble measured 32 feet long, and thus was disassembled when not in use. Assembly took about 6 weeks, and needed several sledges for tuning purposes.
The well-known poem by Walther von der Vogelwhatsis that describes the Kreeble's rather unusual sound (Canto XXXIV part CXII) is lyrical in its' beauty:
Der Kreeble! Was im Himmel ist?
Viele Katze schrei und jammer!
Zwei Schweinerei mit Messer schnitt
und eine Bomb bei Messerschmitt!
Mein Gott! Mein Ohre tot ist,
Schlagt 'es mit ein Hammer!
-Der Fliegende Hollandkreebler
The LIRIPIPE was developed in the Fourteenth Century, by a sadistic Welshman with a tin ear. It somewhat resembled a bagpipe that had attempted to mate with an octopus, as rather than having the normal one or two drones of the medieval bagpipe, it used 37 drones and three chanters. The air-supply was provided both by mouth and with a system of bellows. These bellows were usually made by Welshmen standing in front of a large funnel leading to the airbag, and consisted of insulting references to the English, and descriptions of their wives' feet.
The bag was traditionally tied in with coconut fiber, which, with the decay of cottage Swallow manufacturing in Wales, led to the instrument's eventual dying out.
In addition, it was used with what was called the "cat-chanter," which was the practice of holding a cat between the knees while the liripipe was being played, and setting the cat's tail on fire. The resulting yowlings of the cat, and the screams of the Liripiper, were thought to add a great deal of class to the music. Liripipers were usually single, and left no known offspring.
It is rumoured that the Cat-chanter was the reason for the development of another Welsh instrument, the TESTICLE, but no information can be had on this. There was only one primary source for this instrument, which was lost during the English Civil War during the Siege of Rottingfish Castle. There is some written Ms. music, but no musicologist has managed to decipher it, and live.
One of the rarest medieval instruments was the LEWD, an offshoot of the Lute family of fretted instruments. Not many references exist for this instrument, but we have it on good authority that it was quite popular in pre- Renaissance Italy with a certain class of people. It was tuned to a Flagrante Delicto mode.
The Lewd was the only fretted instrument that, when fingered, seemed to
(Paragraph deleted by Editor)
The Lewd disappeared in the mid-18th Century, during the Bucolic Plague, when the nobility died of ennui.
The KRUMPLEHORN, a pentevalved brass instrument (although the term "Brass" is inappropriate, as it was usually made of tin) was a traditional instrument of the Welsh and Cornish prior to their incorporation into the British Empire. It consisted of a tube of metal which was hand-rolled into lengths of between 200 and 750 cm, then forcibly bent around a human head (the English heads were widely believed to have been superior for this purpose, as they were more perfectly spherical than the usual cubic shape found among the indiginous populations of southwest Britain - hence the term "roundhead") until the desired curvature was achieved.
The five valves were placed in a circular, rather than linear, fashion around the outer curvature of the instrument. While providing a rather unusual (and inconsistent) series of intervals to the scale (described as a Doriomixophrygilochrian mode), this arrangement was felt to be more aesthetic.
Playing the krumplehorn required a team of three musicians; one to blow in the mouthpiece, one to work the valves, and one to alternately crush and open the bell to provide textural shadings.
No instruments of this type survive today, as the few which survived the English occupation were cut up during the Boer Wars to make toothpaste tubes.
Not to neglect the percussion instruments, we must mention the BORING, an Irish drum related to the Bohdran. The skin was kept moist with weasel urine, and not struck, but rather "popped" in a retrograde cupping motion with the hand. This served as a "baritone" drum, and gave a sound rather like walking thru a marshy stretch of ground. To a Boring player, being told "That sucks!" was a complement indeed.
The mention of the Boring in the Scots ballad "MacSweeney's Debauch" (Child 34,032A) is most illuminating:
78) And oot cam MacChluarain
kivvered over wi' hair
unco and bleating
skragged far frae his lair
79) He kibbled the Boring
yon pipey waur madd
and skewed his left quirtle
th' boys waur all glad!
80) Sae gaily and gladly
he dancit tae th' Moor
an' every mon ither
wishit fall tae th' floor
81) Wi' weasle and wastrel
Tam Cobleigh an' all
he kibbled th' Boring
"It suckit!" cried all.
The FAGOOT, derived from the bagpipes, was a woodwind used primarily by the Scots as a test of strength. It consisted of a whole sheepskin, from a ram specifically prepared by removing the carcass from the hide by striking the hapless creature on the rump with a caber, causing the internal parts to be ejected without the need for a belly-slit, (this hide was used for a bellows), four lengths of wood (ranging from 50 to 180 cm) which were NOT hollowed, attached to the leg openings in the hide.
The player of the fagoot was expected to blow into the remaining opening (preferably the neck) while blocking the other end of the hide with a toe, a Roman, or a Sassenach. The purpose was to eject the logs from the leg openings simultaneously. As the logs flew through the air they were expected to emit the tones of the pentatonic scale.
There is a striking bit of parallel development between the fagoot and the BUSHQUEASY of the Afghan and Khyber tribes of central Asia. The primary difference between the two being the Asian version of the instrument is played without the removal of the carcass of the sheep and is done with long-handled sticks similar to polo mallets, rather than lungpower. Many scholars point to this as yet another proof that the Celtic peoples of the British Isles and the Afghan/Khybers of Asia share common ancestry. They certainly share a common grumpiness towards outsiders.
The MOUSE ORGAN should not even be described. It was played with a large hammer, but, due to the difficulty in training the mice for their one, and only, performance, and the need to substitute mice after each composition was played, not to mention the necessity to hose off the organ after the performance, made it popular only at the Court of Gilles de Rais and the Countess Bathory, during the 15th and 16th Centuries. It may have been pictured, the only known illustration, by Heronymous Bosch, but there is arguement over the nature of the instrument apparently represented by the artist. This illustration may be found in his painting "The Last Judgement," next to, and slightly behind, the dead Parrot. Some modern players of this instrument wrap their mice in duct tape, but we believe this interferes with the tone. If you must use tape, substitute gerbils for the mice, and a nice approximation of the true Mouse Organ sound will be had.
The Old Norse, in addition to the usual captured Harpers and native Scalds, used an instrument whose form is now lost, but in the Adolescent Edda is named and described, sort of:
Fordel kommit / langendhaar
squaller loodly / playen baadly
on der MØØSEHARP / horn upsticken
stretch der Kat / und squallen loutly
what a motly / cruuden MØØSEHARP
Snoori Snorrson / snooren softly
sleepen uf / der meadhalle binges
berserk gang / und grabben MØØSEHARP
sticken whaar / sonne no sheinen
"Dot vill learn ya" / sooftly mutters
-The Adolescent Edda: 35th Round,4325th stave
The general description of the instrument given above seems to be that of a domestic cat tied or nailed to the horns of a møøse. How it was played remains obscure.
The medieval Lapps used Reindeer antlers, and imported penguins for the cat portion of their version of the MØØSEHARP. Their name for it was unpronouncable, even for Lapps, so never mind.
The less said about the CYSTERN, the better.
A popular instrument in Sweden was the Eb BLONDE. This is a very rare and valuble instrument, and, when located, should be treasured. Wine and dine it, and Show It A Good Time.
The Rus used variations on the MØØSEHARP, and also a derivative of the Mongolian SPIKED FIDDLE, which doubled as a weapon in time of need, both for the spikes that protruded from every available point, and for the music it played. This music has been known to destroy city walls, make rivers dry up, and abort cows.
Last, and surely least, we must mention the GAZINOPHONE, named for it's two slides: one gazin, and one gazout. This is still used in Remedial Marching Band as a punishment piece.
So there we have it. Not many moderns have heard of these instruments, and some may be inclined to scoff, but we believe that they did, after all, existand should again!
There is an ongoing Project here in the Happydale Home for the Bewildered to reconstruct working examples, and publicly perform on, these ancient implements of destruction. Advice is appreciated from all parties concerned. Send your letters to:
Unusual Musical Instruments
Station #3, Phoenix Subway
Antbreath, AZ USA 00000
Bach, P.D.Q.; THE FINGLE AND HOW TO CATCH HIM, Dover 1934
Child, F.J.; ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH POPULAR BALLADS VOL 374, Dover 1988
Deutschendorfer,Johann Q.; WALTHER VON DER VOGELWHATSIS: HIS LIFE OF CRIME Rocky Mountain Press 1978
Dimfinger, Maj. Gen. (Ret) Anthony; MEDIEVAL SIEGE TECHNIQUES, Dover 1946
Glynfwddchcwmyr, Bruce; TAVERN DIVERSIONS OF OLD CORNWALL, Penguin 1975
Greaves, Bobbie; THE MAUVE GODDESS, AlphaOmega Press 1941
Hirt, Edward; MUSIC IN ANCIENT TRANSYLVANIA, Arkham House 1987
____________; I LIKE TO GO NAKED: THE ADOLESCENT EDDA, Arkham House 1970
Interminus, Fra. Odysseus; MUSICA PETRA, Vatican Press 1931
Kilkenny, Angus; TRADITIONAL WIND INSTRUMENTS OF THE BRITISH ISLES, Dover 1913
Livett, Glen; ANCESTRAL BODYBUILDERS, Dublin Press 1983
Python, Monty; MØØSE CARVER'S GUIDE, Dover 1985
Salad, Caesar; DISGUSTING HABITS NORTH OF THE WALL, (from a text attributed to Pliny the Middle), Bantam 1879
Silber, I.J.B. and Johanessborg, Simon; THE SNORG FOR FUN AND PROPHET Gutenburg 1972
________; THE FINGLE, HOW TO APPLY THE BANDAID, Dover 1964
Thompson, E. Hunter; EARLY HEADBANGER ROCK, "Rolling Stone Magazine," Vol. 24, No. 9, pp. 116-9, Sept. 1985
VanHalen, Edward; A DISSERTATION ON EARLY TRANSYLVANIAN MUSIC, "Notes of the Musica Ficta Society," Vol. 87 No. 12, pp. 486-95, Dec. 1988
Zimmermann, Robert; MEDIEVAL MUSICAL FORMS, Harvard 1843
Felix, Richard, MARCHING BAND AND THE GAZINOPHONE, White Tree, WTP 0003C
Generic, Leslie, FILK SONGS FOR THE MOUSE ORGAN, Unique Corn, UCT 00001
MacChluarain, Wazoo, FAGOOT MUSIC AT THE HIGHLAND GAMES, Folkways, FW13984
The New Haven Glee, Perloo, Chowder and Marching Society Marching Band and Consortium, SONGS FOR THE ANTI BASS SADER, Empire Records, EMS 13256 (Vol 1) and EMS 13257 (Vol 2)
Old King Cole, MY FINGLERS THREE, Public Records, PS 50091
Swann, Donald, THE ROAD GOES EVEN FURTHER OUT, Nonesuch, NST 5641
____________, FIVE FINGLE EXERSIZES, Nonesuch, NST 5642
Williams, Smith, KRUMPLEHORN!, Spotted Cow, SC097
Zorba Graeco, EINE KLEINE WACHTMEISTER UND DAECKEL MIT ZWEI KREEBLN, Berliner Musikgesellschaft, BM 456
Significant Contributions were made
to this Manuscript by:
Ed (the Wonder Horse) Hirt
Robert D. Cook
Permission is REFUSED to reprint in any corporate SCA publications. Unofficial publications and non-profit "fanzines" may reprint at will. Send a copy to the author if you do at: PO Box 35190, Phoenix AZ 85069
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