Musc 752 Lecture 16: Instrumental Music in the Middle Ages I. Instrumental music

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MUSC 752 Lecture 16: Instrumental Music in the Middle Ages

I. Instrumental music

A. Little from Middle Ages survives in written form - though great deal performed

B. Why so little written down?

1. Mostly improvised

  1. Until recently, thought that most instrumentalists probably couldn’t

read or write

i. Performance a skill - not art

ii. Learned in same way would learn another guilded trade

b. Currently being questioned

i. Have encountered more manuscripts for instrumentalists

ii. And more anecdotal evidence that suggests some (though not

all) had decent musical education

iii. Not conclusive

iv. Also depends on type of instrument

3. Types of improvisation

a. Like organum

i. Well-known melody as foundation

ii. Other voices improvised over it

b. Simultaneous performances of same melody, with each musician

playing a slightly different version

c. Starting with known melody, musicians expand scope of melody as they

play until end up with something quite different


C. Types of instrumental music

1. Modeled on vocal music

a. Instrumental arrangements of secular songs

b. Or religious music

2. Dance pieces

D. Dance music

1. What does dance music need?

a. Regular beat

b. Regular structure - so steps fit

2. Norm in Middle Ages - repeated sections with set number of bars

3. Example: Ducta (see p. 436)

a. Three puncta, or sections

b. Each puncta has ouvert and clos ending

i. Incomplete, then complete, cadence

ii. What mode?

aa. Mixolydian

bb. So clos cadences on final

c. Other observations

i. Each puncta comprised of three four-bar phrases = four longa

ii. Ouvert and clos endings same for each

iii. Both begin similarly

4. Example: La Quinte Estampie Real (see p. 437)

a. Estampie or instampitta most popular dance of Middle Ages

b. Don’t know much about,

i. Stomping dance

ii. Complicated enough that didn’t encourage “impure


c. Same structure: four puncta, with ouvert and clos endings

i. Again, endings same for each

ii. Perhaps a formula?

d. What’s different?

i. Puncta of varying lengths

ii. Slightly wider range

iii. Little else

e. Play

E. Popular instruments for dance music

1. Pipe - "Whistle flute"

a. Straight piece of pipe or cane with holes, blow into the top

  1. Flageolet or duct flute - recorder

    1. A few extant examples

    2. Earliest from c. 1300

c. Picture

2. Commonly paired with a tabor

a. Long, cylindrical drum

b. Head attached to top w/ropes that can be tightened or loosened

to alter pitch

c. Slung across chest

d. Played with one stick

e. Common for one person to play pipe and tabor at same time

  1. Bowed instruments

    1. Rebec

i. Earliest European bowed stringed instrument

ii. Instrument of Arabic origin

iii. Smaller, more pear-shaped body than the vielle

iv. 2-3 strings

a. vielle

i. Closest ancestor of modern violin

aa. No surviving examples

bb. Iconographical portrayals differ

cc. Probably no standard shape or size

ii. Played a number of different ways

aa. Held at shoulder (see p. 441)

bb. Or between knees (see p. 440)

iii. Strings normally catgut, but silk strings as well

iv. Usually 4-5 strings

v. Frets after c. 1300

c. Bowed strings often used to provide drone

i. Constantly sounding pitch

ii. Present (we think) in much instrumental and vocal music

iii. particularly important for reciting poetry, acc’d period sources

d. But also independently in consorts, for dance music

4. Sometimes accompanied by nackers

a. Pair of small drums

b. Kind of like pointed bongo drums

c. Play ex.

5. Plucked string instruments

a. Most common kind the lute

a. Stringed instrument

b. Large, pear-shaped body

c. Ornate hole in sounding board

d. Fretted neck

e. Also long-necked varieties

f. Again – number of strings, type of strings varied

i. Though normally played with plectrum

ii. Rather than fingers

g. Play example

h. Other instruments of similar construction, but varying in size, depth of

body, shape of sounding hole, length of neck, geographical origin

i. Citterns or guitterns - metal strings

ii. Can refer to entire category of instruments, or specific type

iii. Dozens of varieties, terms

F. All of these bas instruments (soft)

1. One of two categories of medieval instruments

2. Bas instruments used for indoor performance – sound wouldn’t carry outside

3. Haut instruments used for outdoor performance, or for dancing

a. Whenever is important that the sound of the instruments is projected

over ambient noise

b. Considered bad form to mix haut and bas instruments

G. Haut instruments

1. Shawm

a. Immediate ancestor of the oboe – and just as easy to play in tune

b. Really obnoxious sound

c. The most popular of dance instruments

i. Center of dance ensembles, as far as we can tell

ii. At least three considered minimum

d. Quite well in control on this recording of a shawm ensemble, but are

playing quite softly

2. Trumpets and cornets

a. Trumpets - valveless, LONG bodies

i. See pictures

ii. Many different styles

aa. Longest = busine

iii. Often stated that only used for signaling and fanfares, but don’t

know for sure

b. Cornet

i. Not what you think

ii. Straight or slightly curved, made of wood, horn, or ivory

iii. Cylindrical bore mouthpiece, nearly identical to modern cornet

iv. Different sound

v. Play example

3. Sackbut

a. Immediate ancestor of the trombone

b. Looks almost exactly like

c. But little teeny bell

d. Slightly different timbre

4. Crumhorn

a Curved horn, shaped like J

b. Woodwind instrument

c. Double reed, like a shawm

d. Blown into indirectly –cap over the reed, only very tip sticks out

e. Reed doesn't vibrate as much, so not as obnoxious

f. Doesn’t seem to be direct ancestor of any modern instrument

i. But parts of it look an awful lot like a bassoon..

ii. Or the chanter of

5. Bagpipes

a. Where originated?

b. Wrong - Spanish!

c. Actually - probably originated with Celts: ethnic group

that settled in both places

d. Play example of crumhorn

6. Some other types of bas instruments


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