databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Church music

An example of a musical manuscript, the Sherbrooke Missal, NLW MS LlGC 15536E, f.229v.b, c.1310 - c.1320 (Digital Mirror).
A musical manuscript to celebrate Mass, c.1310-c.1320.
Click for a larger image

Since Religion was such a large part of fifteenth-century life, music which was performed during church services would have been a very familiar to poets such as Guto’r Glyn. Church music was largely vocal music in Latin: the choir would sing psalms and canticles (or other religious pieces) in forms of chants. Seemingly, Wales followed the Salisbury liturgical tradition, often called the Use of Salisbury or Sarum Rite,[1] but new chants or new versions of old ones were also composed to provide additional music for celebrating the main Welsh Saints days.[2] At Valle Crucis abbey Guto’r Glyn describes the monks singing in unison, probably a reference to ‘plainsong’ chants, a single unaccompanied melody in one voice:

Lle’r cwfaint, lloriau cyfun, 
A’i lef yn y nef dan un, 
Lliw’r aur cylch ei allor wen, 
Llu’r ffair llawer offeren. 
the monks’ place, of smoothly fitting floors,
with their voice in unison in heaven,
the colour of gold about his white altar,
a crowd at many masses such as at a fair.

(poem 112.53-56)

Sometimes the voices were parted to sing more than one melodic lines: called polyphonic singing (although the Cistercian regulations called for extreme simplicity as regards the use of music in services, see the note on line 23, poem 112). The terms in use during this period for these voice-parts were byrdwn (‘bourdon’), trebl (‘treble’), mên (‘mean’) and chwatrebl (‘quatreble’). There are references in the poetry to these various part,[3] and while depicting the generosity of Hywel ap Llywelyn Fychan of Glyn Aeron as a ball Guto’r Glyn says that the ball is ‘fame without concealment, / louder than any treble voice’, glod ddigeladwy / ...heb drebl mwy (poem 10.29-30).

The sound of the organ was also heard in cathedrals and abbeys. The organ at Valle Crucis abbey has a striking sound according to Guto while he praises the music he heard during a feast at the abbey:

 Yno ar ginio organau – a dyf, 
 Cerdd dafod a thannau; 
 Ac yno mae’r Guto gau 
32O fewn pyrth yn fanw parthau. 
There over lunch the sound of organs rises,
poetry and harp music;
and there the Guto is sheltered
within its doors as a tame piglet.

(poem 113.29-32)

The organ was also visibly striking: very colourful and beautiful and much admired by the worshipers of the period; see the medieval organ commissioned for the project The Experience of Worship at Bangor University. The organ at St Oswald’s church at Oswestry was worth seeing according to Guto:

Gorau eglwys gareglwych 
Ei horgan achlân a’i chlych, 
Gorau côr a gwŷr cywraint 
O gŵyr a gwisg hyd Gaer-gaint, 
Yr eglwys orau a gwych ei chwpan cymun
o ran ei horgan oll a’i chlychau,
y gangell a’r gwŷr celfydd gorau
o ran cwyr a gwisg hyd Caer-gaint,

(poem 102.27-30)

The cantarists or choir singers of a church like St Oswald would have been comfortable singing plainsongs as well as polyphonic songs to provide a variety of sacred music for the various church services.[4] To play the organ and possibly to read written musical notation would also be required, but little is known of musical notation in Wales during this period. There are examples of the music notation of chants in the Bangor Pontifical - a manuscript dated to the first half of the fourteenth century, see The Bangor Pontifical Project. Guto seems to be familiar with the method of ‘pricking’ music, that is ‘music sung from notes written or pricked’.[5] He uses the term pricswn ‘pricksong’ to describe the pattern created on a buckler he received as a gift from Abbot Dafydd ab Ieuan of Valle Crucis abbey:

Pennau ei freichiau o’i fron,  
Pelydr haul, plaid yr hoelion: 
Pob gordd yn pwyaw heb gam 
The ends of its arms stretching out from its breast,
sun-rays, a host of nails:
each hammer striking without fault

(poem 110.33-5)

Seemingly, Guto sees the resemblance between the pattern of the nails on the shield and musical notation (see the discussion on the buckler and the notes on poem 110). Indeed, he was clearly familiar with musical terms, possibly from his visits to the monasteries as he listened to the organ and the choir, or simply in his understanding of the relationship between the poetry and secular music as a professional poet.


[1]: The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. sarum, n.
[2]: B. Miles & D. Evans, ‘Rhai Termau Cerddoriaeth Eglwysig yng Ngwaith y Cywyddwyr’, Y Traethodydd, cxlii (1987), 135-7.
[3]: B. Miles & D. Evans, ‘Rhai Termau Cerddoriaeth Eglwysig yng Ngwaith y Cywyddwyr’, Y Traethodydd, cxlii (1987), 135-7.
[4]: S. Harper, 'Musical imagery in the poetry of Guto’r Glyn (fl.c.1435-90)', in B.J. Lewis, A. Parry Owen & D.F. Evans (goln), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Ysgrifau ar Guto'r Glyn a Chymru'r Bymthegfed Ganrif (Aberystwyth, 2013), 00-00.
[5]: The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. pricksong, n.
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