December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

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mwyalchen
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December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 22:29

Seminar: The harp music of old Wales

1) Introduction

This seminar is about music - so let's start with some music:

[The extension mp3 has been deactivated and can no longer be displayed.]

If you opened that file, what you have just listened to is the opening of a piece called kaniad hun gwenllian - "Gwenllian's dream". It comes from a manuscript copied by a harper called Robert ap Huw, which contains not only the oldest Welsh harp music known, but the oldest music written specifically for harp anywhere in the world. According to other manuscripts, kaniad hun gwenllian was one of the four principal caniadau of harp music, and thus a piece which any accredited harper was expected to know.


What we now think of as the living Welsh tradition of harp music dates largely from the revival, for example the work of Edward Jones, who published large collections of current Welsh folk tunes arranged in a very pretty eighteenth century style. The music of the ap Huw manuscript is from an earlier tradition entirely - one that was already dying when Robert ap Huw was copying it in the early seventeenth century. Most of the pieces in the manuscript seem to date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But they are quite unlike any other music found in Europe, then or before; and they may well cast light on what Welsh harpers and poets were doing at a much earlier period.

In this seminar I shall be looking at what is known about music in old Wales; at the music of the ap Huw manuscript; and at the relationship between music and poetry in mediaeval Wales. I've also included a number of short sound files of my interpretations of parts of the manuscript. They're less than perfect; but will give you an idea of what some of this music may have sounded like.

I'll be dealing with many very different matters; so I've divided the seminar into separate posts, to make it easier to navigate. If your main interest is not harp playing, feel free to skip the more technical discussions! - but I hope there will be something of interest here for both musicians and non-musicians, and that you will feel encouraged to experiment with what you find here and make it your own.

Finally, before going any further, I should make some acknowledgements. I've been investigating and experimenting with this music for about five years now; but there are many people who have been working on it for much longer, and I shall be referring to their work repeatedly. In particular, Sally Harper at the University of Wales in Bangor has made a study of the history of this music, and has published valuable articles and books; Peter Greenhill and Paul Whittaker have studied the music of the ap Huw manuscript in detail; Robert Evans, Bill Taylor, Ann Heymann and Paul Dooley have recorded different realisations of the music. What I present here is my own views, and I expect each of these experts might disagree with me on various points; but without them, I would not have got started, and if you get seriously interested in the music, you will want to look at their work directly. I shall give references as I go, and the last post of the seminar will include a list of further resources.
Last edited by mwyalchen on 07 Dec 2009, 01:15, edited 1 time in total.

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The harp in early Wales

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 22:32

2) The harp in early Wales

The earliest references we have to music among Celtic peoples are from Classical writers. According to Diodorus Siculus (writing about 8 B.C.) "there are among them (the Gauls) composers of verses whom they call Bards; these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some while they vituperate others". So the tradition of bardic praise and satire seems to go way back! - but the instrument used was probably not a harp. In fact, we do have some idea of what it might have been - a statue of a torc-wearing figure with a lyre survives from Paule Cotes d'Armor in Brittany, and is thought to date from just before the Roman conquest. There's a picture here: http://breizh.novopress.info/4232/un-si ... -bretagne/

(Incidentally, there's also an altar from Hexham which equates Maponus to Apollo Cythareodus - Apollo the lyre player. Now, the altar and the statue are separated by several hundred miles, and several hundred years, and there's no necessary connection; but nonetheless, I do sometimes like to think that the statue might be of Maponus.)

Now, there were two-armed harps - without a front pillar - from the earliest times, in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. But music historians believe that in Europe triangular harps with front pillars came in as late as the 8th century. The earliest evidence is from Pictish carvings, which, if they are to scale, show large harps - pictures here: http://www.pictart.org/music.htm

Soon after this, there are depictions of harps in carvings and manuscripts from Ireland and from mainland Europe. The Irish harps are much smaller and heavier built, suggesting that like later Irish harps they may have had metal strings from the start. In Europe, early harps seem to have been gut strung; but the earliest references in Wales are to the telyn rawn, the horsehair harp.

Whatever the date of its introduction, the harp quickly became an important instrument in Wales. The Laws of Hywel Dda speak of the pencerdd or master craftsman, the bardd teulu or household bard, and the cerddor or minstrel. The pencerdd is an independent visitor, who is to sing one song when he sings for a king, three for a lord, but if he sings for a commoner is to sing as many as he knows. The bardd teulu is an officer of the court, and sits next to the chief of the houshold when the court sits in the king's hall. He sings three songs after the pencerrd has finished singing, and also sings for the Queen in private; and when the king's war-band goes out to battle, the bardd teulu goes with them, and sings "The Sovereignty of Britain". The cerddor , meanwhile, is expected to be a competent artist, but is under instruction from the pencerdd and pays a fee to the pencerdd on graduation. The harps of the king and the pencerdd are each worth 120 pence, and their tuning keys 12 pence, while a nobleman's harp has a legal value of 60 pence and its tuning key 6 pence; and according to some versions of the Laws the king gives the pencerdd an instrument, either harp, crwth or pipes, these being the three legal instruments of Wales.

The laws show us a rigidly hierarchical world of professional musicians and court procedure. Alongside this, though, there were also amateur players. According to Gerald of Wales, writing around 1130, "Guests who arrive early in the day are entertained until nightfall by girls who play to them on the harp. In every house there are young women just waiting to play for you, and there is certainly no lack of harps."

In the Laws of Hywel Dda it is clear that even the top professionals are expected to both sing and play. Poets continued to accompany themselves. The great 14th century poet Dafydd ap Gwylym writes of composing a tune and learning to play it on the harp, and of using it to sing poetry; and his poems are full of musical terms found later in the ap Huw manuscript and other descriptions of harp playing. And in Gwerful Mechain's poem, The Ferry Inn, she asks a patron to give her a harp so she can entertain company at her inn.

By the end of the Middle Ages, though, harpers and poets were beginning to specialise. The Statute of Gruffudd ap Cynan, produced for the 1523 Eisteddfod, sets out a strict hierarchy of grades of apprenticeship for both poets and musicians, with lists of what each is expected to be able to do at each stage, and declares that a master poet should not recite his poem, but have it performed by a datgeniad or declaimer. According to the statute noone is to follow two crafts; so a harper may not also be a poet, and a poet may not also be a blacksmith. But this can only have applied to the top performers, since a declaimer could still double his pay if he knew how to play music as well as recite; his other duties including acting as a personal servant to the poet, and tactfully pointing out any errors he spotted in his master's verse!

The Statute may reflect changes that had already happened; but it was also an attempt to shore up the status of the professions of poetry and music. Poets and harpers made their living by travelling on circuit visiting patrons. When Henry Tudor gained the English throne, many of the Welsh nobility went to London with him. The bardic circuits started to fall apart, and traditional poetry and music lost their patrons and fell out of fashion, while Welsh country houses employed musicians to play Englich dance tunes at celebrations. At the same time, Welsh people who valued their culture started to write down what they could in order to preserve it, and much of what we know about the music comes from these writings. But by the beginning of the 17th century, when Robert ap Huw was copying music from older manuscripts, the tradition was coming to an end.

The harp survived as an instrument for dancing, and for singing in taverns. Professional harpers moved to London, and took up the new triple harp, which soon became thought of as the Welsh harp. And harp music was still a vital part of Welsh culture; but the new music was very different from the older tradition.
________________________________________________________________________

References: the best single source for this (and much more) is Sally Harper, Music in Welsh Culture Before 1650, though it's not cheap. I'll give other references (including online articles by Sally Harper) in the last post.

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The ap Huw manuscript

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 22:35

3) The ap Huw manuscript

Robert ap Huw

Robert ap Huw lived from about 1580 to 1665. He seems to have been an interesting character. In his youth, he spent some time visiting a number of landowners, several of him were known for collecting manuscripts. He must have fallen out with some of them; for in 1599, one of them had him prosecuted for running off with his daughter, and taking with him some "writings". The following April, there was another complaint of theft against him, and he was imprisoned in the tower at Ruthin to await trial. But that May, he escaped from prison overnight. Somehow, he must have squared things with his accusers; for although did not vanish, he was never brought to trial, and went on to become a prominent harper and a poet. He is said to have played at the court of King James I. He graduated as a pencerdd, and in one of his poems he declares that he knows the principal pieces required of a master harper, so it would seem that he was one of the last Welsh harpers to be trained in the old tradition. And at some point, possibly around 1613, he spent some time copying out the notation for some of the old pieces in several books. After his death, one of these books was passed down to a series of Welsh antiquaries, and was eventually given to the British Museum.

The ap Huw manuscript

98 pages of Robert ap Huw's work survive, bound together with other material copied by later owneres of the manuscript. 85 of these are music, written in a unique tablature. Here, for example, is the tablature for the music you've already heard, the opening of kaniad hun gwenllian.
kaniad hun gwenllian opening.JPG
kaniad hun gwenllian opening.JPG (103.69 KiB) Viewed 5334 times
In the 85 pages of tablature that survive, we have: 3 pieces entitled gosteg, and the opening of a fourth; a section of exercises based on the measures, called cwlwm cytgerdd; a section of short pieces, many of them labelled profiad; and fifteen pieces entitled kaniad, one incomplete.

These caniadau, and the gosteg pieces are substantial. They are in variation form, each with between 10 and 17 sections. The shortest of these takes about 3 minutes to play; the longer ones could take as much as 25 minutes, and are highly complex.

Some of the pieces have titles which name identifiable people, and looking at when thesepeople were alive, it seems that the music in the manuscript dates from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The remaining pages include a key to some of the symbols in the tablature; a list of the 24 measures of Welsh music; some intriguing diagrams of cyweiriau, or tunings; and several long list of titles of pieces of music, many of which, ap Huw indicates, he has written in another book. That book, unfortunately, does not survive.

The Iolo manuscript

One other fragment survives, in a poor copy by Iolo Morganwg. Despite Iolo's reputation as a forger, the contents seem to be genuine, copied from a tablature similar to the one Robert ap Huw used. The Iolo manuscript contains four pieces. Three are entitled cwlwm, one of which is incomplete. The style is similar to the ap Huw pieces, though Iolo seems to have made many errors in copying, and it's difficult to work out a good text for some sections. The last is a transcription of a well-known Elizabethan keyboard piece, Johnson's Medley.

________________________________________________________________________

References: If you want a copy of the ap Huw manuscript, there's a black-and-white scan in PDF here: http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/ap_huw/facsimile/

For Robert Huw's life: Nia Powell, "A Wanton Minstrel of Anglesey; for the manuscript, Stephen P Rees and Sally Harper, "Aspects of the Paleography and History of the Robert ap Huw Manuscript; for the Iolo manuscript, Paul Whittaker, "The Tablature of the Iolo Morganwg Manuscript", all in Welsh Music History volume 3, 1999. This volume also contains Peter Crossley-Holland, "The Robert ap Huw Composers", which should be read together with Sally Harper, "Issues in Dating the Repertory of Cerdd Dant", Studia Celtica XXXV.

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A look at the tablature

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 22:52

4) A look at the tablature

Before we go any further, lets take a look at how the tablature works. We'll start with one of the shortest and simplest pieces in the manuscript, kaingk dafydd broffwyd, the song of David the prophet. This is what it looks like in the manuscript:
Kainc Dafydd Brofwydd.JPG
Kainc Dafydd Brofwydd.JPG (45.26 KiB) Viewed 5312 times
There are two lines of music here, each with another line running through it which divides the tablature into notes for the upper and lower hands. Above and below the centre line are columns of letters, marked with lines and dots, which indicate pitches, and above some of the columns are slanting lines which give instructions for how to play the notes. The columns are divided into groups by vertical lines; and after the fourth and the last of these lines, we have the word bis, or "repeat". At the end of the piece, we have the title written in the margin.

As you can see, the handwriting takes a bit of getting used to! So, here it is again, written out in modern letters:
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd modern letters.JPG
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd modern letters.JPG (37.69 KiB) Viewed 5311 times
Lets look first at the pitch notation. The lines and marks attached to each letter show which octave to play it in. In this notation, it's likely that g1 is the mediaeval G gamut, the G at the bottom of the bass clef. But many people think that the music is intended to be played on a smaller harp, an octave higher. We'll discuss this later; for now, this diagram shows the pitches at the higher octave:
pitch notation.JPG
pitch notation.JPG (31.59 KiB) Viewed 5310 times
(And now we'll have to continue in another post, since the board will only allow me three attachments in each!)

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A look at the tablature (2)

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 23:04

Before we can transcribe the music, we also need to look at the signs above the columns. There's a key to the signs on page 35 of the manuscript, which writes out how to play the signs in triangular-headed notes. Understanding what these notes mean has been the biggest problem in interpreting the manuscript, and it's only recently that good solutions have been found. Essentially, the direction of the noteheads and stems shows which fingers are to be used; black-headed notes are damped, and white-headed notes are left to ring.
Noteheads.JPG
Noteheads.JPG (17.41 KiB) Viewed 5304 times
For now, we need to be able to play two of the signs. Here they are, as shown in the key, together with an explanation of how they are played. To use this technique fully, you need to be playing with your nails, or at least with your fingertips. If you play with modern technique you may need to find other ways of doing it; but don't let that stop you from trying out the music!
fingerings 1.JPG
fingerings 1.JPG (21.08 KiB) Viewed 5303 times
We're now able to work out how to play kaingk dafydd broffwyd. Here is my transcription (at the higher octave). I've used the triangular notes from the key for the signed notes, but using modern staves for the pitches:
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd transcription.JPG
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd transcription.JPG (45.53 KiB) Viewed 5303 times
(Continued)

mwyalchen
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A look at the tablature (3)

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 23:09

And now the fun starts; because although the manuscript gives us the pitches, it does not give us the rhythms. So now we need to experiment. To start with, is there a steady beat to the music? and if so, what time is the music in? In 3 time, the opening might go something like this:
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd in 3.JPG
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd in 3.JPG (11.51 KiB) Viewed 5296 times
In 2 time, this is one possible solution:
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd in 2.JPG
Kainck Dafydd Broffwydd in 2.JPG (10.84 KiB) Viewed 5295 times
There are others.


In the second part, there are more problems to be solved. Where do the beats fall? Which notes are short and which long? There are repeated patterns in the music, which will need to be respected, and give us clues about how to play it. But there are many solutions, and each performer will have to work out their own. You might also want to experiment with different tunings for the music.

Here are three different ways of playing the piece:

[The extension mp3 has been deactivated and can no longer be displayed.]

But please don't take these as your only model - there are plenty of other possibilities. (Listen to Bill Taylor's version, or Ann Heymann's version - they each interpret it quite differently.) And once you have a version you like, what else will you do with it? The larger pieces in the manuscript are made by progressively varying a short tune. How could you vary and extend this one? Over to you.
Last edited by mwyalchen on 07 Dec 2009, 01:11, edited 1 time in total.

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A longer piece: gosteg yr halen

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 23:23

5) A longer piece - gosteg yr halen

I've chosen to show you this piece for two reasons. First, although it's a substantial piece, it is quite easy and uses only a small number of new techniques.

But it also has a story, which may interest you. Yr halen is salt; and according to the manuscript, gosteg yr halen is the music which was played for Arthur's knights when the salt was brought to the table at dinner. (Bringing in the salt at a banquet was apparently something of a ceremony.) You can believe that or not (as we have it from ap Huw it certainly couldn't be played on a lyre! On the other hand, the melody of the first cainc, without its accompaniment, needs only six strings... ) But for the people who played and listened to this piece, it was a reminder of their legendary Arthurian past.

The piece is made up of twelve variations. Each section, or cainc ("branch") has the same structure, and the same diwedd (ending).

Here are the first three parts as they appear in the manuscript:
Gosteg yr halen cainc 123.JPG
Gosteg yr halen cainc 123.JPG (84.21 KiB) Viewed 5289 times
cainc 1 falls into several parts. The first part is the first half of the first line, with the instruction that follows. The second part takes up the rest of the first line, and the last, the first half of the second including the instructions. cainc 1 is given in full. For the others, only the opening is given, but they follow the same pattern as the first. The rest of the second line is the opening of cainc 2, and the next line is the opening of cainc 3

You'll see that there are some new signs in the second part. Two are ways of playing a descending pair of notes - either using the middle or ring finger for the lower note, and damping the upper note with the thumb. The other two ask you to repeat on the same string, using either the thumb or the index finger. Again, if you are playing with modern technique you may wish to find other ways of doing these.
fingerings 2.JPG
fingerings 2.JPG (34.55 KiB) Viewed 5286 times
(Continued)
Last edited by mwyalchen on 06 Dec 2009, 23:57, edited 1 time in total.

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gosteg yr halen (2)

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 23:30

Here is my transcription of cainc 1:
Gosteg yr halen transcription 1..JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 1..JPG (52.84 KiB) Viewed 5284 times
The tuning for this piece, like most of the manuscript, will certainly require B flat (or equivalently, move it down 3 strings and play in C; or up a string with F sharp in G). You could also try it with E flats as well (or equivalently, up a string in naturals.)

You'll see that this time, as well as learning to play the notes shown in the tablature, we also have to work out what the instructions mean.

In the first part it's clear: play the first four "bars", go back to the beginning and play the first two again (up to the spiral mark) then go to the diwedd. Comparing the lower-hand chords with those in the diwedd and in later sections of the piece, it's also clear that the opening, like the rest of the piece, is in 4 time, with the third chord in each "bar" twice as long as the others.

The spiral mark in the second part (at the end of the first line in the manuscript) has lobes, indicating that this is where the music ends. The instruction is a bit ambiguous (what is the "whole" that is to be repeated? how many times is the second part repeated before ending at the mark? - if anyone with better Welsh than me has suggestions about this, do say!) The simplest way of interpreting this, though is that the second part is played like the first - straight through, then again up to the mark, and stop.

This gives a three-part structure: A1+A2; A1+B1; B2+B1. in which each section has the same chord structure, F,C,F,F.

This is the solution I prefer. It's elegant and compact, and the other gosteg pieces in the manuscript, as well as many of the caniadau also have a three part structure. (The "bardic three", or triad, anyone?)

But it's possible that the diwedd is supposed to be played twice over; or that the whole of the opening (with the repeat and ending) is to be repeated before playing the final diwedd section (though I feel this makes the piece long and unwieldy). However you decide to do it, each of the remaining 11 sections must follow the same pattern.


Here's my version of this first cainc.

[The extension mp3 has been deactivated and can no longer be displayed.]

Again, don't take my version as gospel. The overall rhythm of this piece is more certain than that of kaingk dafydd brofwydd, but there's plenty of scope for different interpretations of the detail, and players do not agree about (for example) the rhythm and timing of the melody groups governed by the fingering signs.

Now for the rest of the piece. Once you've learnt the first cainc of gosteg yr halen, the rest is easy.
Gosteg yr halen transcription 2.JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 2.JPG (48.42 KiB) Viewed 5284 times
cainc 2 is a simple variation on cainc 1.

cainc 3 introduces a new, more active pattern, and the bass hand keeps moving throughout. cainc 4 is just one note different from cainc 3 - yet that one note does make a difference.

(Continued)
Last edited by mwyalchen on 07 Dec 2009, 01:10, edited 1 time in total.

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gosteg yr halen (3)

Postby mwyalchen » 06 Dec 2009, 23:41

Gosteg yr halen transcription 3.JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 3.JPG (69.25 KiB) Viewed 5276 times
At cainc 5, there is a new pattern, using the plethiad y bis bach pattern. cainc 6 takes the same pattern, but replaces the plethiad with a thumb repetition. This sort of ornamental variation is very common in the ap Huw pieces.

cainc 7 and cainc 8 do the same, but two strings higher, and ending on F in each of the last bars. Again, this type of move happens in many of the ap Huw pieces.

Together, cainciau 5 - 8 provide the piece with a middle section.
Gosteg yr halen transcription 4.JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 4.JPG (19 KiB) Viewed 5274 times
cainc 9 returns to a more active pattern following on from cainc 3
Gosteg yr halen transcription 5.JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 5.JPG (31.27 KiB) Viewed 5274 times
cainc 10 is a new variation on the first cainc, with the bass hand pausing again. cainc 11 fills out the pattern and the bass is constant again.

(Continued)

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gosteg yr halen (4)

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 00:02

Gosteg yr halen transcription 6.JPG
Gosteg yr halen transcription 6.JPG (17.74 KiB) Viewed 5260 times
Finally, at cainc 12, we have another new pattern; you'll need to decide what rhythm to play this in. I tend to go into triplets here; it's easier, and many of the ap Huw pieces finish with a last cainc different from the others, so the change is in keeping with the style. But, again, choose for yourself.

And that (after the last diwedd) is the end of the piece.

Here's my version - not note perfect, but it gives an idea. (By the way, I'm transposing it to C to fit my harp better.)

[The extension mp3 has been deactivated and can no longer be displayed.]

And here, if you want a go yourself is my complete transcription as a pdf:
gosteg yr halen.pdf
(279.77 KiB) Downloaded 175 times
If you want instead to play it from the original, you'll find it on pages 18 and 19 of the manuscript.

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Instruments and tuning

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 00:05

6) Instruments and tuning

Now we've tried the music, it's time to look at some of the other issues involved in interpreting it. Let's start with some tricky questions, where the answers you choose could make a big difference to the sound.

What sort of harp?

As far back as the Laws of Hywel Dda, we find references to the telyn rawn, or horsehair harp. From the fourteenth century, we have the "satire on the leather harp" (telyn ledr - possibly a gut strung harp) an entertaining poem attributed to Iolo Goch, in which the poet denounces the new-fangled harp, which, he says, has a false roaring sound, a studded soundboard, needs hooked nails to play, is so heavy the harper needs to hire a boy to carry it, and is fit only for an Englishman. Instead, he advises bardic apprentices to stick to the "bright harp of black horsehair", which was apparently played by King David himself! By the fifteenth century if not before, the telyn rawn had brays, L-shaped string pegs which lightly touch the strings and make them buzz, and there are several poems which describe and praise the telyn rawn. Some people suggest that the studded soundboard of the telyn ledr may indicate that it had brays - in which case, this may have been an innovation at the time, and older Welsh harps may not have had them. But it seems that the traditional Welsh harp, at least according to the poets, was the horsehair-strung harp.

Of course, nothing concerning this music is quite that simple! One generation's unacceptable innovation can be the next generation's emblem of youth, and a commonplace for the generation that follows - think about the introduction of the electric guitar. The ariandlws, the silver trophy awarded at the 1523 Eisteddfod, and other illustrations around the same date, show what looks very much like a Gothic harp of the same type as was being played in Europe; and in the seventeenth century, James Talbot described a gut-strung bray harp as the "proper Welch harp", well after bray harps were out of fashion elsewhere. So it is conceivable that, a generation after Iolo Goch, harpers may have adopted the gut-strung harp, as well as its brays, in time for this to be the harp for the ap Huw music.

There is also a passage in some versions of the Laws of Hywel Dda in which apprentice harpers on qualifying are said to give up the telyn rawn and take up "another". Unfortunately there's nothing to say what this other harp may have been - it could have been simply a bigger and better model of telyn rawn - but Peter Greenhill has pointed to the Irish influence on early wales, and suggested that professional harpers, like their Irish counterparts, may have been playing wire-strung harps, while poets, declaimers and amateurs used the horsehair-strung instrument.

If you want to see what brays look like, there's a picture here:
http://www.marilynrummel.ca/images/brays.jpg

And there are pictures of two Welsh carvings of harpers here:
http://www.cornwallharpcentre.co.uk/images/cotehele.jpg
http://www.clera.org/pics/telyncerflun.jpg

The first, from about 1510, shows a very Gothic-looking harp. (Notice also the crwth which is being played by another musician off to the left - I couldn't find a good online image showing both musicians.)

The second, from the early fifteenth century, shows a much squatter instrument, with 26 strings by my count - just right for the ap Huw repertoire. Is this a wire harp? - the shape is right, but the soundbox looks a bit flimsy. Or is this the size and shape of the telyn rawn?

What tunings?

Here we come to a thorny problem.

Lets start with the one thing which is clear: one of Robert ap Huw's tuning diagrams (on page 109), and also the Medley version in the Iolo manuscript, show that the b of the manuscript is generally a B flat; and this is likely to be true for many, if not all of the pieces in the manuscript.

Beyond this, though, things are more confusing. There are a number of manuscripts that describe different tunings - cyweiriau - and mention five approved tunings and a number of others. But the descriptions are fragmentary and very hard to make sense of. Several of the pieces in ap Huw manuscript have titles or instructions that refer to these tunings, and the manuscript also contains several charts (pages 108 and 109) which look like tuning diagrams. One of these is labelled kras gower - his spelling for one of the approved tunings. It appears to be a pentatonic tunic, achieved by tuning the b strings to a and the f strings to e. But none of the pieces in the manuscript work well with this sort of tuning, not even the cwlwm cytgerdd sections which another manuscript says are played in cras gyweir - and some of the other tunings are bizarre - for example, kower chwich, the "strange tuning",- has the strings tuned a,g,c,b,e,d,g,f, etc. - and I do wonder if these charts represent clever experiments rather than anything to do with normal playing.

There are also some references to tunings in later manuscripts. Robert Evans has looked at these together with the ap Huw diagrams and you'll find his suggestions for tunings here:
http://www.bragod.com/bragod4-3.html

Meanwhile other people, most lately Peter Greenhill, have pointed out that all the music in the manuscript works well if the harp is tuned in F, i.e. with B flats and all other notes natural. It's a nice simple solution; this is what I do, and having tried out other suggestions I find that for most of the music I prefer the sound of the F tuning. But in that case, what do all those elaborate descriptions of the cyweiriau really refer to?

What pitch?

There are two questions here. First of all, the g1 of the manuscript represents G gamut, which in medieval music theory corresponds to our G at the bottom of the bass stave. That puts the range of ap Huw's music from cello C, the C below the bass stave, to G at the top of the treble stave. But were medieval Welsh harps that big? The illustrations I linked to above don't look it; and on gut, nylon or wire, the music can sound very murky at that pitch; some people suggest that (like Renaissance flute parts) the music is actually intended to be played an octave higher. On the other hand Ann Heymann has recently had some low-pitched, horsehair strung bray harps made, and on these, strung very lightly, the music does work well at the low pitch.

Then there's the question of what the general pitch was anyway at the time. Since harps were commonly played with crwth or pipes, it seems to me that there must have been some degree of pitch standardisation. (Both crwth and Welsh pipes go very well with harp, by the way.) But there are no surviving mediaeval sets of Welsh pipes, so we don't know what that pitch might have been. And measurements on early English viols have suggested that there may have been two different pitch standards in use - so a sixteenth century C may have been either a modern D or a modern A. My solution at present is a simple one - to play the music where it seems to fit the harp; but if I were to try playing with a crwth player I'm sure I'd have to modify that to suit them!

So, a lot of uncertainties; and, equally, a lot of scope for experiment.

Just as an illustration, here's a very short extract from profiad y botwm, played first at low pitch on a lightly strung bray harp, then an octave higher on wire harp.

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The 24 Measures

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 00:43

7) The 24 measures - and, how to improvise, mediaeval Welsh style!

In gosteg yr halen, you probably noticed that the whole piece is based on a regular harmonic pattern. If we think of it in terms of modern chord names, each cainc is based on three repetitions of the chord sequence F,F, C,C,F,F,F,F. This pattern is based on one of the 24 measures, mak y mwn byr. Just as for poets there were 24 official verse forms, for musicians there were 24 official measures, each of them set out as a string of 1s and 0s. So mak y mwn byr is given as 11001111, where 1 represents the home chord, the cyweirdant, and 0 a contrasting chord, the tyniad. Here are some more of the measures, as given in the ap Huw manuscript:
Measures list.JPG
Measures list.JPG (45.53 KiB) Viewed 5243 times
Other manuscripts contain the story of how the 24 measures were devised at a great Council in Ireland in the time of Gruffudd ap Cynan (1055 - 1137). This may just be a later story; but the names of the measures are archaic, and do contain Irish and Norse elements; so the idea of basing music on such measures may indeed be very old, and a link between early Welsh and Irish practice.

What the two chords are varies from piece to piece; for example, in many of the pieces in the manuscript, 1 is C,E,G, and 0 is B(flat), D, F. What ever chords are used, though, the principle is the same: the music is based on a pattern of alternating chords. You might want to pick a couple of your own favourite chords and try out some of these patterns yourself. Some are short, some are long; some are very regular, others have unusual lengths and dictate lop-sided rhythms.

As well as being the basis of so many elaborate pieces of music, I suspect that they had a very practical function, very like modern chord sequences. Suppose a harper and a crwth player wanted to play together. Provided they agreed on a measure to play in, they could each elaborate that measure in their own way, and know that they would still sound well together. Or a chosen measure could be the basis for improvisation by a soloist, provided they had enough different ways of playing over the 1 and 0 chords they had chosen.

And, in fact, the ap Huw manuscript does contain a repertoire of ways of playing over the chords - the cwlwm cytgerdd section. There are four cwlwm cytgerdd pieces in the manuscript. The first three take 24 different patterns you can play over the chords C,E,G and B(flat),D,F and set them out on three different measures; the fourth takes one of those patterns and sets it out on each of the 24 measures. Once you know some of these patterns, it is very easy to turn them into an impromptu piece of music; and the idea can easily be adapted to suit your own preferred style.

Here is my transcription of the cwlwm cytgerdd on mak y mwn byr:
cwlwm cytgerdd.pdf
(416.73 KiB) Downloaded 176 times
and a selection of the patterns played in sequence so you can hear what they're about:

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Poetry and music

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 00:48

8) Poetry and Music

I'll finish off by looking at how poetry may have been performed to the harp.

Poetry (cerdd dafod - the craft of the tongue) and music (cerdd dant - the craft of the string) were closely related, to the point that one was incomplete without the other.

A poem by Grufudd Fychan declares "What is a song without a harp to accompany it? ... I sang a cywydd as a solo piece; instead of praise, I earned disgrace." And the connection went both ways: another poem records that Robert Rheinallt, a crwth player, played skilfully, but "would give none of it unless he had a cywydd". Meanwhile there are various references to the datgeiniad pen pastwn, or stick-end declaimer. The datgeiniad pen pastwn would recite poetry while banging a staff on the floor; but if there was a harper in the house, he could not recite without first getting the harper's permission. So clearly, it was preferable to recite poetry accompanied by the harp; but if a harper was not available, banging a stick was better than nothing! (Peter Greenhill has devised a system for reciting Welsh poetry rhythmically, based on his interpretation of the melody patterns in the ap Huw manuscript; and recently he has recruited a group of reciters in Bangor and revived the craft of stick-end declaiming. I've seen them perform, and their versions are very effective, and highly entertaining!)

So, how was poetry recited to the harp? There may be some clues from the penillion tradition. The idea of penillion is old - Dafydd ap Gwilym uses the word, back in the fourteenth century. Modern penillion is a nineteenth-century development, in which a harp player plays a tune steadily, while singers sing the poem to a carefully composed melody, in counterpoint with the tune, and devised so that it starts after the harp, but ends at the same time as the harp reaches the end of the tune. Before this, though, it was a rather livelier craft, often improvised, with poets competing to cap each others' verses. An eighteenth-century penillion singer was described as reciting in a sort of drone. Based on a mediaeval poem which speaks of "the cuckoo's cywydd", Peter Greenhill has suggested that poets may have recited on two notes, changing to fit the measure.

There were also set tunes, used for recitation - one manuscript has a list of titles of thirteen prifgeinciau, or principal tunes, which a reciter could use when performing a cywydd - but only if they knew how to do it properly! And Dafydd ap Gwilym's poem Y Gainc is about him composing his own tune which is excellent for poetry.

Given the length of many poems, I think we can also be fairly sure that the harper would have varied their playing as they went, and here the cwlwm cytgerdd pieces may be a guide to what harpers did - the figures provide variety over a simple structure, but are simple enough for someone to play while reciting. So you might like to choose a poem and try out measured ways of reciting it to the cwlwm cytgerdd soundfile in the previous post.

Or if you'd like to see what other people have tried, you'll find videos of a concert here:
http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/video/index_eng.php

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Re: December Seminar - under construction

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 00:55

9) References and resources

The manuscript:

For completeness, I'll give the link for the PDF of Robert ap Huw's manuscript again here:
http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/ap_huw/facsimile/

Or you can download it free from Lulu.com, who will also print you off a copy cheaply if you want it in book form. If you're planning to do a lot of work on this, I do recommend the book version - I've found it a lot more convenient than working from printouts. http://www.lulu.com/content/2453131

Bill Taylor has published a little pamphlet giving his suggestions for interpreting the ap Huw finger patterns, together with suggestions for Irish harp based on Bunting's records of how the last Irish harp players of the eighteenth century played; it's out of print at the moment, but when it's back you can get it here: http://earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/books/bill.htm

In the meantime, my suggestions are here:
Fingering chart.pdf
(249.59 KiB) Downloaded 173 times
I'm also putting together a file of the Welsh instructions in the ms, with translations. It's work in progress, but I'll happily send you what I've got so far if you give me an email address. And I have transcriptions of other pieces, though they're not as tidy as the ones I've posted here - again, just ask.

You'll find other transcriptions by Alasdair Codona here: http://www.calumcille.com/telyngymreig/cynhwysiad.html
His versions simply transcribe the pitches of the tablature, leaving the signs for you to interpret. So they're less graphic than mine; but they have the distinct merit of not imposing any interpretation on the original information. Definitely worth a look to see if you like them.

Musicians who are playing this music

Bill Taylor's site: http://www.billtaylor.eu/

Video performances by Bill Taylor and others: http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/video/index_eng.php

Ann Heymann, with a soundfile of her version of kaniad san silin: http://www.harpofgold.net/downloads.htm

Paul Dooley, with soundfile extracts from his CD, and articles about the music: http://pauldooley.com/index.html

Robert Evans and Bragod: http://www.bragod.com/

Books and articles

Sally Harper, Music in Welsh Culture Before 1650: A Study of the Principal Sources - not cheap, but an essential reference. There is also a summary of the book here: http://www.music.ucc.ie/jsmi/index.php/ ... oad/40/165

Sally Harper, Instrumental Music in Mediaeval Wales
http://spruce.flint.umich.edu/~ellisjs/Harper.pdf

Sally Harper, Dafydd ap Gwilym, poet and musician http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/docs/sall ... ground.doc. A very thorough article, covering many aspects of the music and poetry.

Sally Harper; So How Many Irishmen Went to Glyn Achlach? - Early Accounts of the Formation of Cerdd Dant; Cambrian Medieval Studies 42 Winter 2001

Sally Harper, Issues in Dating the Repertory of Cerdd Dant STUDIA CELTICA, XXXV (2001)

Peter Greenhill, The Forgotten Silver-voiced Harp of Wales. and articles about the music by Paul Whittaker: http://www.pauldooley.com/aphuw_pages/index.html Paul Whittaker's article here provides a good description of how the fingering can be worked out. I now disagree with some of his transcriptions; but this article is what got me started.

Christopher Page Voices and instruments of the Middle Ages Dent 1987 Not really about Wales; but a very valuable summary of most of the mediaeval references to harps, including the famous passage by Gerald of Wales.

Gerald of Wales "The Description of Wales" That passage; and some other brief references to music.

Some other links

cerdd dant triads:
http://www2.claneire.com/connected/defa ... =12&mnu=12

Reading Middle Welsh:
http://www.mit.edu/people/dfm/canol/contents.html

Introduction to Middle Welsh PDF
http://www.archive.org/details/introduc ... 00strauoft

Harp music in Eighteenth Century Wales:
18thC inc Harp for dancing: http://www.welshfolkdance.org.uk/dawnsiau/roy_saer.htm
Last edited by mwyalchen on 07 Dec 2009, 01:15, edited 1 time in total.

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And finally...

Postby mwyalchen » 07 Dec 2009, 01:07

And finally,

I hope you've found this interesting; and I hope even more that somewhere in this seminar you'll have found something worth trying out for yourself.

Just to finish: one more piece to listen to, kaniad san silin. The other pieces I chose because they illustrate points. this one I've chosen simply because it's one of the best pieces in the manuscript.

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Re: December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

Postby Bracken » 07 Dec 2009, 03:16

Mwyalchen, that was just fan-tas-tic! You're writing style is so user friendly, warm and accessible. You really bring your subject to life, and the music files play just fine.

I really appreciate all you've done for the seminar series. Thank you.
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Corrections; plus more about the technique.

Postby mwyalchen » 08 Dec 2009, 12:51

Thanks.

By the way, a little bit more:

Some corrections

I've just noticed that in my notation transcription of kainc dafydd brofwydd (in "a look at the tablature (2)")I've missed out the C in the first chord and the two similar ones in the next "bars". (The other images of the piece are correct.)

Sorry about that; but now the seminar is all complete I can't go back and edit it to substitute another image. For now, if you've printed the transcription off to play from, just write the Cs in where they are in the other versions.

And the quote from Diodorus Siculus in post 2 should have read "these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others." I'll see if one of the mods can fix this for me.

I also left out some discussion of the finger technique, which I had intended to include:

What sort of technique?

It is clearly supposed to be a nail technique. Some of the signs instruct you to play with the back of the nail; and the tremolos are far more practical with nails. And, for example, there's a poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym which refers to the harper's ten nails. (None of the pieces actually require ten nails; but that's poetry for you. "The harper's eight nails and nine out of ten finger tips" wouldn't really be such a good line!) Mediaeval harps were played with nails throughout Europe - for example, there's the quote in the Kyng Horn, "teach him to harpe with his nayles scharpe". More about this here: http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/nails/

I find that the ap Huw technique works best with nails either quite long (as for wire harp) or quite short (just above the fingertip); in between, it's much harder and you get stuck halfway through some of the movements. I play piano at work, and really long nails interfere, and get broken, so I've ended up keeping mine short but well shaped. The Iolo Goch satire on the leather harp denounces the new harp for needing long nails to play it, implying that the players he knew had shorter nails; and we know from Dafydd ap Gwilym's poetry that the names at least of the techniques were already current by then; so maybe I'm right to prefer short nails!

The technique is also designed to allow neat damping of melody figures. The fingerings I've given allow instant damping, though there also may be a case for playing all the notes of the figure then damping afterwards. (This is certainly easier if you're playing with modern technique.) Welsh players were clearly sensitive to the effect of ringing strings, and chose to select which strings rang on and which didn't. I also find that the more I play this music, the more I end up damping, even where it's not explicitly asked for - for example, there are lower-hand passages which definitely sounder cleaner with some damping, even though there's nothing in the tablature to ask for it. (Though I suppose it's also possible that the telyn rawn did not have enough sustain to require damping of the lower-hand notes.)

I made a deliberate decision to adopt the ap Huw technique, and many harpers will not want to do that, unless they already play with nails. Before deciding to grow my nails, I found that playing with the fingertips did work - the tremolos are not quite as clear, but you can do the movements and the damping.

And I have found it possible to teach some of this music to people who play with modern technique. Concert harpers play with their fingers slanted and well into the string, but many folk harpers don't go as far into the string, playing closer to the fingertips, and compromises are possible. While, if you just want to try the music out, there's nothing to stop you working out for yourself what you will do to achieve the effects.
Last edited by mwyalchen on 08 Dec 2009, 14:57, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

Postby Creirwy » 08 Dec 2009, 13:25

Wow! Mwyalchen, you've blown my mind! Ive got those tunes in my head and makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck... fabulous stuff!

Bracken is right, your style is so warm and accessible, especially to something that might seem so dry to folks that dont play harps (like me!). I've learnt so much and I can look at harps in a totally new way now!

Thank you so much :)

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Re: December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

Postby ~Helen~ » 11 Dec 2009, 19:37

That was fascinating mwyalchen! I have only been a student of the harp for a year and I will be referring to this again and again :tiphat:

Thank you Creirwy for telling me about this! :hug:
:gort: :susa:

And the road goes ever on and on...

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Re: December Seminar: The Harp Music of Old Wales

Postby Eilthireach » 15 Dec 2009, 08:12

Hello Mwyalchen,

thank you very much for your seminar.

I am not a musician myself, but I always asked myself how much work is necessary between the finding of a piece of music in some ancient codex and the moment it is first played on stage. Obviously a lot of work, and a huge amount of knowledge. I enjoy old music and my respect goes out to everybody who contributes to the preservation and re-discovery of our musical heritage.

Well done!

Eilthireach /|\.

I wish to learn the things that are
and understand their nature
and to know God.
(Corpus Hermeticum I,3)

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