Ac a wna maeth i gan mil:
The interest of the Welsh gentry in secular music is often praised in the poetry since playing and tuning the harp was one of the twenty four feat of a nobleman expected to be mastered. Guto’r Glyn praised some of his patrons for their musical skills, such as Sir Richard Herbert for his ability to play string instruments (see Instruments) and Ieuan Fychan ab Ieuan who is praised a pencerdd (‘master’) of two crafts, namely cerdd dant (instrumental or string music) and cerdd dafod (‘poetry’), suggesting that music was as important as poetry for the Welsh uchelwyr:
Ac a wna maeth i gan mil:
Y glod i’w dafod a’i dŷ
A’i delyn, hwn a’i dyly!
and gives sustenance to a hundred thousand:
praise be to his tongue, his home
and also his harp, he deserves it!
Guto sometimes refers to specific musical terms when praising his patrons, suggesting that the uchelwyr were well informed with the technique of playing instruments. In his praise for Hywel ab Owain of Llanybryn-mair Guto’r Glyn notes:
Ni thalai grwth a thelyn,
Adain deg, wedi un dyn,
Pibau organ pob eurgerdd,
Person pedair colon cerdd.
The crowd and the harp did not avail,
fair protector, after the death of one man,
the organ pipes of every golden song,
master of the four principal parts of song.
The skill of tuning the harp is also listed among the twenty four feat of a nobleman. One of the harp strings was called cyweirdant ‘tuning string’ as it was used to tune the other strings. These were adjusted with an object called cyweirgorn ‘tuning horn’ which is depicted on a carved panel of oak on a sixteenth-century cupboard. Guto refers metaphorically to Henry Gruffudd of Newcourt as a cyweirgorn in his elegy for him (poem 36.9-10) and Morgan ap Rhosier of Gwynllŵg is praised for his tuning skills while Guto also praises his learning and knowledge:
Mae pwys hwn ym mhob synnwyr
A phob dilechdyd, Raff ŵyr,
Cyfraith a phedeiriaith deg,
Awgrym, mydr a gramadeg,
Cerddor gyda’r cywirddant,
Doeth yw ’ngherdd dafod a thant
This man’s authority lies in every kind of wisdom
and all branches of dialectic, descendant of Ralph,
law and four fair languages,
arithmetic, metrics and grammar,
a musician with the tuning string,
he is wise in poetry and harp music,
There has been a connection between the two crafts of cerdd dafod (‘poetry’) and cerdd dant (‘string music’ played on the harp or on the crowd) since the early Middle Ages. By Guto’s time, it seems that some standardization of rules came into effect and as a result the skills attracted considerable status. There is a reference to cerdd dant in the Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid (Peniarth 20, c.1330). In a series of triads, there are reference to different kinds of prif gerdd ‘main music’, that is cerdd dant ‘instrumental (string) music’, cerdd fegin ‘wind music’ and cerdd dafod ‘the art of poetry’. Musical instruments which were associated with these three groups of poetic/musical skills are listed: string instruments (the crowd and the harp), the timpan and wind instruments: the organ, pipes and cod (possibly ‘bagpipes’). Lastly, the three skills associated with the art of poetry are listed, namely prydu ‘the composition of poetry’, datganu ‘the declaiming of poetry’, and the playing of the harp. This proves that composing poetry, playing the harp as well as the role of datgeiniad ‘the declaimer’ were as important as each other.
A musician, whether he was a harpist or a crowd player, was therefore as respected as a poet and the relationship between the two was close. Some mastered both skills, such as Llywelyn ap Gutun, one of Guto’s fellow poets. But there are no evidence that Guto’r Glyn himself could play the harp or the crowd. Possibly a musician would accompany him or a datgeiniad ‘declaimer’ would recite his poems on his behalf. A list attributed to Gutun Owain names many poets and musicians from Guto’s time and the poets themselves often named harpists and crowd players in their poems, such as Guto who refers to a man called Brido who seems to have been a renowned harpist (poem 113.58).
There is evidence that Guto’r Glyn worked alongside one harpist during his lifetime, a man called Walter Harper. The poet and the harpist’s names appears in accounts dated 1476-7 and 1477-8 from Shrewsbury, where they are described as minstralles principis ‘minstrels of the prince’. The prince in question would have been Edward V, the son of Edward IV who was a young child in his court at Ludlow during this period (about thirty miles from Shrewsbury). According to Sally Harper, it is quite remarkable that Guto and Walter are personally named in these accounts and clearly demonstrate how well known were they by the 1470s.
Unfortunately, we cannot be certain about how harp (or crowd) was played as accompaniment to fifteenth-century poetry. The oldest surviving harp music are the melodies (ceinciau) in the hand of Robert ap Huw, a manuscript dated to the seventeenth century. But as suggested by Harper, Robert ap Huw probably copied the melodies from earlier texts dating from the second half of the fifteenth century. Modern musicians have experimented with Robert ap Huw’s manuscript and some pieces are performed on the Dafydd ap Gwilym website. It is also possible that the poetry was recited to the rhythmic beat of the pastwn ‘staff’, see Instruments.
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Bibliography: 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.
: Further, see 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
[3: R. Bebb, Welsh Furniture, 1250-1950: A Cultural History of Craftsmanship and Design (Carmarthenshire, 2007), 161-8.
: G.J. Williams & E.J. Jones (goln), Gramadegau’r Penceirddiaid (Caerdydd, 1934), 57.
: S. Harper, Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: a study of the Principal Sources (Aldershot, 2007), 75-106.
: See D. Huws, ‘Rhestr Gutun Owain o wŷr wrth gerdd’, Dwned, 10 (2004), 79-88.
: 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.
: 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 and D. Huws, ‘Rhestr Gutun Owain o wŷr wrth gerdd’, Dwned, 10 (2004), 79-88.
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