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Chapter 2 - Words for Music

Describing Musical Practices in Medieval Welsh Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2022

Trevor Herbert
Affiliation:
Royal College of Music, London
Martin V. Clarke
Affiliation:
The Open University, Milton Keynes
Helen Barlow
Affiliation:
The Open University, Milton Keynes
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Summary

The large body of surviving poetry and prose from medieval Wales contains many references to the performance and practice of music, to musical instruments and to the reception of musical events by both noble and urban audiences. The medieval Welsh word for music, cerdd, also signifies ‘craft’, ‘song’, ‘poetry’ or ‘musical instrument’, indicating the close links between music, poetry and the craft of making instruments. It also indicates that both music and poetry were regarded as a type of professional craft, moderated by their own particular standards and hierarchies. The commonest entertainments offered at the courts of the nobility in medieval Wales were poetry, storytelling and music, and these three arts were closely intertwined. Well-known examples include the poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym (c.1325–60) to his beloved as she plays the harp, while other references can be found in the prose tales of the Mabinogion. However, the private entertainments of the nobility and gentry were not the only occasions for the performance of music; travelling minstrels also performed in the streets of towns and at local fairs. This chapter examines a range of such references to music, performers and instruments in medieval Welsh literature, looking at the different kinds of entertainers, their professional hierarchies, the patronage of nobility and gentry and the popular entertainments characteristic of urban culture.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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