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The lyre was one of the great stringed instruments of Antiquity. The Greeks had two main types of lyre: the lyra and the kithara, both of which are mentioned frequently in Greek mythology and later in the works of the great Roman poet Virgil (70 - 19 B.C.). Apollo is said to have invented the lyra and Orpheus the kithara.
Even in the earliest literature, music and musical instruments have always been endowed with magical powers, capable of taming, charming and soothing. Such were the powers of Orpheus, the Musician par excellence who, with his seven - stringed lyre, charmed wild beasts, made trees follow him, arrested the clashing rocks, defeated the sirens and entranced even the deities of Hades. This myth later developed into a real theology, an Orphic movement, based on a body of legend and doctrine, often of an esoteric nature, which was said to have been founded by Orpheus.
Hesperia was "the land of the west". The term was applied by the Greeks to Italy and by the Romans to Spain. In those parts, the Greek philosopher Diodorus also situated the Hesperides. a wondrous garden where the magical Golden Apples (...oranges or lemons?) were to be found.
And it is in Spanish Hesperia that we find the earliest occidental references to bowed instruments. Unknown during Antiquity and the very early Middle Ages, the use of the bow to draw sound from string instruments seems, according to one of the most likely hypotheses, to have been introduced into Europe via Islamic Spain and Byzantium. We must not forget the very high level of culture that had been attained in Islam and the Byzantine Empire by the tenth century, and the importance of the cultural exchanges - often as a result of conflicts-that existed between Orient and Occident. The earliest European representations of bowed instruments are to be found in works dating from the tenth century: in an illumination from a Mozarabic manuscript of Hispanic origin (c. 920 - 930), "S. Beati di liebana explanatio in apokalypsis S Johann is'", and in various Catalonian manuscripts, including the Bible from the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria in Ripoll.
The medieval fiddle (Spanish vihuela de arco; Catalan viola d'arc; French viele; German Fiedel) thus emerged as one of the favourite instruments of the troubadours, jongleurs' and. in particular, of the nobility who enjoyed playing the fiddle when their martial pursuits were over, as may be seen from the many references in literature of the time and from iconographical sources, such as the seal of Bertrand II, Count of Forcalquier (Provence), who is represented on one side armed and on horseback and on the other playing the fiddle. These noble musicians were known as nobles jongleurs to distinguish them from the professional jongleurs, since their musical activities were simply for pleasure, rather than being a means of earning a livelihood; music for them was one of the exercitia liberalia (noble or liberal exercises). In medieval times, therefore, the fiddle (along with the harp) was indispensable to courtly and lordly life.
Unfortunately, practically no bowed string instruments dating from before the thirteenth century have come down to us. The first one was found in Poland during excavations in 1941; it has five strings and is of hybrid construction (dating from c.1255 and 1275). In order to understand the characteristics and functioning of these instruments, therefore, we have to obtain as much information as possible from other sources. The various areas to be investigated are as follows:
I. Iconographical Sources throughout the medieval period, instruments are to be found in sculpture (capitals, friezes etc.), frescoes, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, stained - glass windows, and so on.
II. Historical and Literary Sources from the tenth century onwards, numerous references to musical instruments, playing techniques, instrument - making, and performance are to be found in chronicles and other literary, philosophical or musical texts.
III. Musical Sources information may be obtained from extant original works or from works that can be pieced together from the manuscripts of vocal music from that time.
IV. Traditional Sources much can be learned from all the research that has been carried out into our oral folk heritage, which has been preserved in a state of reliable historical purity.
When it comes to reconstructing this medieval repertoire, we are faced with a number of basic problems: Which instruments were used? What sort of sound did they produce? What music was played?
Where instruments are concerned, we have used four distinct types, all of them with gut strings:
1. An atypical form of ancient rebec (from the Orient and probably dating from the end of the fourteenth century). In Spain it was known as a rabe morisco (Moorish rebec). The great Muslim philosopher Al - Farabi (c.870 - 950) considered it to be the instrument that was closest to the human voice.
2. A five - string soprano fiddle (vihuela de arco), made by an unknown Italian instrument - maker (probably fifteenth century).
3. A five - string tenor fiddle (vihuela de arco), also anonymous.
4. A six - string lira de arco by an unknown Italian instrument - maker (probably early sixteenth century).
From what can be seen, from iconographical sources, of the shape of the instruments and the type of bow and strings used, it is obvious that the concept of iceal sound at that time must have been very different from that of today. Only the sound and technique of; certain present - day folk instruments, as played in Greece (Crete), Macedonia, Morocco, India, and so on, can give us a rough idea of what this ancient music must have been like: in dance or folk music, the sound may be archaic and sometimes primitive, but the result is always full of life and expression; where lyrical, poetical or courtly music is concerned, the sound is more modulated and refined, as the Spanish poet and ecclesiastic Arcipreste de Hita tells us in his Libro de Buen Amor (c.1330) - unwritten works selected from folk music of very ancient tradistruction of a concert of that time or a musicological tion, which was collected and studied by various researchers in study of facts that cannot - and will never - be known the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with absolute certainty.
The fiddle with its sweet melodies,
sometimes dreamy, sometimes joyful,
sweet notes, delightful, clear, well turned.
The listeners rejoice and make merry.
Where the music is concerned, we have chosen works from a variety of sources: - written works from the Italian Trecento and from the Cantigas de Santa Maria by Alfonso X (Alfonso el Sabio).
All these pieces are basically related to the very typical cultural world of ancient Hesperia, where the three basic cultures of the Mediterranean world - Jewish, Islamic and Christian - existed side by side for so many centuries. With this in mind, we have divided the programme into three sections plus a conclusion. Each section contains a set of three works from these three cultures, plus two pieces of courtly music taken from a manuscript in the British Museum (add. 29987) containing fourteenth - century Italian music.
As Johannes de Grocheo points out in his As Musicae, the different forms of music of that time had distinct poetic and social functions, according to their content and character: among the songs in the vernacular, he mentions the cantus gestuatis. the cantus coronatus and the cantus versualis, and for instrumental music, the rotundellus, ductia and stantipes. He also describes the bowed fiddle (vihuela de arco) as the most delightful of all stringed instruments in that "it is capable of replacing many different instruments" (in se virtualiter alia continet instrumenta). Of course, he adds, during feasts, tournaments and jousts, drums and trumpets are also used to fire men with passion, but "in the fiddle all sorts of subtle music are to be discerned" (in viella tamen omnes formae musicates subtilius discernuntur).
The programme presented on this recording is, of course, based on a maximum amount of historical and musicological evidence, but it is not intended to be either a hypothetical historical recon.
What we propose here is an attempt - inspired by the styles corresponding to each of these cultures - to recreate a certain art of sounding the bow during that medieval period. Above all, this programme is may be considered as tribute to all the jongleurs and poet - musicians who sincerely believed that, through music, the soul could be stirred to boldness and valour, magnanimity and liberality - qualities that give dignity to the human condition:
Ut eorum animos adaudaciam et fortitudinem,
magnanimitatem et liberalitatem commoveat,
quae omnia faciunt ad bonum pregiment.
- Jordi Savall (adaptation: Mary Pardoe)