Gwent alarch a gân telyn
The main musical instrument referred to in the poetry is the harp. Iolo Goch composed a satirical poem to a horsehair-strung harp and there are a handful of request poems for harps by the poets.
A distinguish feature of a Welsh harp of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was that the strings were made of horsehair rather than of leather or gut. The slim, closet string to the player was the cildant and the widest, farthest string was called the llorfdant. While the cildant had a high pitched sound the llofrdant was much deeper.
The sound created by this kind of harp was very different to the soft sound of a harp today: it produced a harder and rougher sound. This could be because of the size, shape and construction of a medieval harp, however, the ‘tin like’ sound was mostly achieved by the way the harp was played. The strings were pulled by the fingers, thumbs and fingernails, a method that was also popular in Ireland.
Second to the harp, the crowd (crwth) is considered as the traditional instrument of medieval Wales. The early crowd was rectangular in shape with six strings but without a bridge.
There are references to the crowd in the Laws of Hywel Dda, especially in ‘Trioedd Cerdd’ (‘musical/poetic triads’): ‘Teir prifgerd tant ysyd, nyt amgen: kerd grwth, kerd delyn, a cherd timpan’ (‘There are three main string music: crowd music, harp music and timpan music’). The crowd is often coupled with the harp in the poetry (although there are suggestions that the crowd did not have the same status as the harp) and it seems that both instruments were played together as well as individually.
The relationship between the crowd player and the poet was very close, as indeed between the harpist and the poet. In a list attributed to Gutun Owain, c.1500, many crowd players are named, identified by the epithet ‘Crythor’ (crowd player) in their name, such as Ieuan Grythor who graduated at the Caerwys eisteddfod in 1523.
As the harpist, the relationship between the crowd player and the poets was very close. In a list attributed to Gutun Owain, c.1500, many crowd players are named; many used the word ‘Crythor’ (crowd player) as a second name, such as Ieuan Grythor who graduated at Caerwys eisteddfod in 1523. Another crowd player, Hywel Grythor, is mocked in a series of englynion attributed to Guto’r Glyn, poem 121 (who is not named in Gutun Owain's list). This poem is one of many poems to crowd players which gives a rather unfavourable portrait of the profession. Another example is a series of englynion composed to the crowd player called Edward Sirc at the end of the sixteenth century. We also know that some of the poets mastered the crowd, for instance Edward Maelor, and Llywelyn ap Gutun who is descirbed as a chwareuydd ar y crwth ‘a player on the crowd’ by Robert Griffith.
Musical talent was highly regarded in the Middle Ages and sometimes poets praise their patrons for their ability to play instruments, as Guto’r Glyn does in his praises poem for Rhisiart Herbert of Coldbrook:
Gwent alarch a gân telyn
Ac a rydd aur am gerdd ynn.
Ni bydd ef, myn bedd Iefan,
Heb rôt a luwt, Herbart lân.
The swan of Gwent who plays the harp
and who gives us gold in exchange for a poem.
He is never, by the grave of St John,
without rote and lute, fair Herbert.
One instrument in particular is described by Guto’r Glyn, namely the the hunting horn he requested from Sieffrai Cyffin on behalf of Siôn Eutun, see poem 99. This horn was used while hunting (see hunting equipment) and in his description of it, Guto says that its sound is like the bwmbart (from the English ‘bombard’): a kind of a wind instrument that sounded similar to the trumpet and which is still popular in Brittany:
Bwmbart i ŵr a’i bumbys,
Brig llef hyd ar barc y llys,
a bombard for a man and his five fingers,
the height of a cry across the court’s park,
Small hand-held drums were used as percussion in this period (such as the tympan ‘timpani’). However, the most distinctive and unique ‘instrument’ was the pastwn: a long staff. The datgeiniad (declaimer) would hold the staff while reciting his poetry, striking the beat of the cynghanedd on the floor. In the history of Gruffudd ap Cynan (c.1055-1137) there is a reference to the declaimer as a datgeinydd pen pastwn. The combination of beating with the staff and reciting poetry has been recreated by the group Datgeiniaeth. For some of their performances see www.projects.beyondtext.ac.uk.
>>>The hunting horn
Bibliography: D.R. Johnston, Iolo Goch: The Poems, Welsh Classics Series (Llandysul, 1993), 130-132; A.O.H. Jarman, ‘Telyn a Chrwth’, (1961), Llên Cymru 6, 154-75.
: N. A Jones & E.H. Rheinallt (goln), Gwaith Sefnyn, Rhisierdyn, Gruffudd Fychan ap Gruffudd ab Ednyfed a Llywarch Bentwrch (Aberystwyth, 1995), poem no. 11; Rh. Ifans (go.), Gwaith Syr Dafydd Trefor (Aberystwyth, 2005), poem no. 12.
: See further S. Harper, Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: a study of the Principal Sources (Aldershot, 2007), 130, and S. Harper 'The Musical Background' in www.dafyddapgwilym.net
[4: A.O.H. Jarman, ‘Telyn a Chrwth’, Llên Cymru, 6 (1961),166.
: G.J. Williams & E.J. Jones (goln), Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid (Caerdydd, 1934), 57.
: D. Huws, ‘Rhestr Gutun Owain o Wŷr wrth Gerdd’, Dwned, 10 (2004), 79-88.
: B. Miles, `“Pwt ar Frys” neu “Ffarwél y Crythor” ', Canu Gwerin, xiii (1990), 36.
: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llywelyn ap Gutun (Aberystwyth, 2007), 4-5.
: The Oxford English Dictionary s.v. rote, n.².
: The Oxford English Dictionary s.v. lute, n.¹.
: D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Rhys Goch Eryri (Aberystwyth, 2007), 12.54.
: ‘Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru’ 1107 d.g. dwmsel.
: S. Harper, Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: a study of the Principal Source (Aldershot, 2007), 15.
Unless otherwise noted, copyright on the content of this website belongs to the University of Wales