databas cerddi guto'r glyn


The harp
The main musical instrument referred to in the poetry is the harp. Iolo Goch composed a satirical poem to a horsehair-strung harp[1] and there are a handful of request poems for harps by the poets.[2]
A harpist who played his harp at the feast at Cochwillan.
A harpist and his harp at Cochwillan
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The fifteenth-century Welsh harp was small enough to be carried from one place to another by the harpist on his back. It had between nine and sixteen strings; the harpist in the animation of Cochwillan plays a harp with twelve strings.

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.[3]

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.[4]

The crowd
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.
The 'Foelas Crwth' , 1742.
The 'Foelas Crwth' , 1742.
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There was also a version with three strings (possibly an earlier version). It was a difficult task to play the crowd with the bow and to obtain a melodious harmony. A melody with a range of an octave was easily obtained with the use of the third position, and an octave and a half could be reached by using the upper most positions on the strings. The crowd had a quieter but rougher sound than the modern violin.

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’).[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Other instruments
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.

(poem 22.55-8)

An angel playing a musical instrument, a detail from a fifteenth-century window at the All Saints' Church, Gresford.
An angel playing a musical instrument
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As well as the harp and the crowd Guto refers here to the rôt and liwt. The term rôt (from the English ‘rote’) was used in this period for any stringed instrument with a soundboard that was played with a bow or by plucking the strings (rather than a specific kind of an instrument).[9] The liwt was also a string instrument, but unlike the crowd, the lute was played by plucking the strings with the right hand and pressing them against the bridge with the left hand.[10] Guto’s contemporaries refer to some other musical instruments typical of this period such as the sawtring (‘saltring’), a kind of a stringed instrument,[11] and a dwsmel (‘dulcimer’), a stringed instrument with a soundboard which was played by hitting the strings with two small hammers.[12]

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,

(poem 99.39-40)

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.[13] The combination of beating with the staff and reciting poetry has been recreated by the group Datgeiniaeth. For some of their performances see


[1]: 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.
[2]: 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.
[3]: 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
[4: A.O.H. Jarman, ‘Telyn a Chrwth’, Llên Cymru, 6 (1961),166.
[5]: G.J. Williams & E.J. Jones (goln), Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid (Caerdydd, 1934), 57.
[6]: D. Huws, ‘Rhestr Gutun Owain o Wŷr wrth Gerdd’, Dwned, 10 (2004), 79-88.
[7]: B. Miles, `“Pwt ar Frys” neu “Ffarwél y Crythor” ', Canu Gwerin, xiii (1990), 36.
[8]: R.I. Daniel (gol.), Gwaith Llywelyn ap Gutun (Aberystwyth, 2007), 4-5.
[9]: The Oxford English Dictionary s.v. rote, n.².
[10]: The Oxford English Dictionary s.v. lute, n.¹.
[11]: D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Rhys Goch Eryri (Aberystwyth, 2007), 12.54.
[12]: ‘Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru’ 1107 d.g. dwmsel.
[13]: S. Harper, Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: a study of the Principal Source (Aldershot, 2007), 15.
>>>The hunting horn
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