Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Bagpipers of the Maastricht Hours

A few months ago a friend of mine and fellow member of the Bagpipe Society, Tom Hughes, posted a picture he'd found on a British Library webpage depicting a bagpiper from the Maastricht Hours, Medieval book of Hours. It didn't take much imagination to come up with the idea that if there was one bagpiper, then there may well be one or two more. In fact there turned out to be 15 of them !

Droneless short-chanter bagpipe, page 16v

The Maastricht Hours was produced in the first quarter of the 14th century in Liege in the Netherlands for an aristocratic woman who it is thought is actually depicted in various places through the manuscript. Such books were apparently often given as wedding gifts to the bride from the groom. Whoever she was she must have had quite an enlightened attitude and have been a bit of a music lover. Many of the illustrations depict scenes from normal life, often in humorous context and often depicting a good many musical instruments as well as the bagpipes.

The pipes fall into 3 basic categories - firstly, droneless bagpipes with short, conical chanters; secondly, similar instruments but with very long chanters, so supposedly much lower in pitch; and thirdly, a bagpipe fitted with a short conical chanter plus a bass drone and a baritone drone all in a common stock. All the pipes are mouthblown.

Bagpipe with drones, page 44v

This latter group of pipes is particularly interesting. Vaguely reminiscent of the Italian Zampogne, though with only a single chanter unlike the Zampogna's two, there is a surprising amount of detail considering that the pictures are quite obviously `illustrations' rather than detailed, realistic depictions. Take the example above - note the stopper in the end of the baritone drone with the chord attaching it to the pipes clearly shown. That this is precisely what it is can be seen from the image below, where the drone is unplugged:

Page 35v

This image is much more of a sketch really, whereas in the page 44v image, the drone lengths relative to the chanter would seem much more realistic. Below are the rest of the illustrations depicting this style of bagpipe.

Page 49r

Page 116r

Page 234r

All of these, except the monkey one, seem to show a realistic arrangement of drones - the longer of the two seems about right to be 2 octaves below the chanter, while the shorter drone seems about right to be a baritone, but whether at a 4th or a 5th above the bass drone it's not possible to say. I would suggest that the presence of the stopper for the baritone would be a useful thing to have as it would make the instrument just that bit more flexible. Let us imagine that the chanter is in C - and at the length depicted that wouldn't be too far out - then if the baritone drone is in F (a 4th), then if stoppered, the pipes would be good for tunes with a six finger tonic (C), whereas if unstoppered, it would be good for tunes with a 3 finger tonic - F. A similar argument could clearly be made for the baritone at a fifth, though it would be the other way round; stoppered for tunes in F, unstoppered for tunes in C.

The two drones must have been a bit of a handful for the lower hand, much more-so than the typical arrangement for French pipes with but a single drone alongside the chanter, but if the drones were quite thin (and they are depicted as such) then the arrangement would not seem impossible.

I've never seen pipes like this from another source, and certainly never seen any `Medieval Bagpipe' recreations in this style. If you know of any, do let me know.

Below are the rest of the bagpipes. A little less interesting perhaps as they have no drones. This is a common arrangement in early medieval depictions of bagpipes in British churches - there is for example a fine example in the form of a carving in Llanelien church on Anglesey, North Wales.

Page 18v

Page 31r

Page 109v

Page 115r

Page 137r

Page 157v

Page 206v

Page 208v

Page 253v

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Into the New Year

So here we are - 2014. January, not exactly as cold as perhaps it should be but pretty miserable and wet. We were supposed to be dancing out (Heb Enw Morris) on New Years Day at Tafarn Sinc in Rosebush, but had to cancel when the weather forecast changed from showery to steady rain. Not much joy Morris dancing on a wet January afternoon anywhere, and definitely not 600 plus feet up a Welsh mountainside. The weather had at least been kinder on Boxing day when we danced at the Bristol Trader in Haverfordwest, down by the riverside.

And it was just as well we'd organised the gigs this way round as the Bristol Trader was flooded out by New Years day...

More Morris dancing on the 18th of January when we once again took the team to Chepstow for their annual Wassail and Mari Lwyd. This time I shared the horse-head carrying duties with Sheila as the Widders Border Morris who organise it had loads more to do with the Maris than they've had in previous years.

Here we are in the Three Tuns during the sing-song. It was good too to see Micky and Danny again even though it was only a couple of weeks since we took them back to Uni.

Danny's piping has been coming on great. We only had one `Estron' rehearsal over Christmas but her playing has stepped up a league since she switched from my old set of pibau cyrn to the set she and I made together.

And having mentioned Estron - we have a new member of the band - Jess Ward, a harpist from Pembroke. Rehearsals have been going well so far - looking forward to doing a few gigs as the year progresses.

Meanwhile on the instrument making front, I spent a couple of days knocking up a new dulcimer. Well not so much an Appalachian Mountain version as its fore-runner - a European Hummel. Roughly styled after the German Scheitholt illustrated by Praetorius in 1620, but fretted with a pattern of frets equivalent to the scale for the Swedish sackpipa.

Here it is in the video below, accompanied by the sackpipa. The pictures are from a touring holiday me and Sheila took in Norway back in 1986 or thereabouts.