minstrel: Laurence Wright ?

Timothy Phillips hrothgar at telepath.com
Tue Nov 9 17:32:31 PST 1999

The history of the guitar comes up several times a year on
this list.  Yet my o'er-glancing of the archives doesn't
show anyone citing Laurence Wright's entirely-on-point article,
"The Medieval Gittern and Citole: A case of mistaken identity",
Galpin Society Journal, Volume 30, pages 8-42, May, 1977.
I suppose this is because the article is old-hat to
most of the list.  But this unspoken presupposition leaves
anyone who //isn't// familiar with Wright's article without
information that others on the list take for granted.   So
perhaps at least once someone should summarize Wright's article
for the list.

By my reading of the article, Wright's thesis as it applies to
the guitar is that:

(1)  The guitar a.k.a. gittern originally had a bowl-shaped
soundbox, so that it resembled a small lute, and usually
four strings or courses, tuned (as the top four strings on
the modern 6-string guitar) in intervals 4th-3rd-4th.

(2) The distinction between "Moorish guitar" and "Latin guitar"
is made only by a few writers in a few places, and should not
weigh heavily in the understanding of the guitar's history.

(3)  Pictures of the rounded guitar have commonly, and
erroneously, been  identified in the past as pictures of
"mandoras".   This practice amounts to using a mainly
16th-17th century word to describe 13th-15th century
pictures.  (Possibly some surviving "mandoras" are actually
guitars, also.)

(4) The renaissance or "Spanish" guitar was created when a
new body style, derived from the vihuela, was applied
to the instrument.  This process had occurred
not later than the mid-1500s  The same word was used because
the newer instruments, though innovative in shape, were
intended to be strung and played in the same way.

(5) The guitar's older rounded shape and newer Spanish
shape existed side-by-side for a while, but eventually
the Spanish shape prevailed.

(6) The angular or holly-leaf shaped instrument, shown
in a number of paintings and carvings, sometimes paired
with a fiddle, which many  earlier organological works
identify as a "gittern" is actually a citole.

My impression of the reception of Wright's thesis:  Most
scholars seem to have accepted it, though Mary Remnant is
(or was) not sure.

I hope some will find this interesting

Tim Phillips
<hrothgar at telepath.com>

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