minstrel: Tuning

Alte Musik Salzburg schallaboeck at magnet.at
Thu Mar 23 02:27:02 PST 2000

Three Answers to Rowen Seers letter:


I wrote first, "To get really good period instruments is no more that much
problem, at least here in Europe."

Rowen answered, " well we've looked every place we can and have been
disappointed with what we've found."

My new answer, "18 years ago when I started with medieval music it was
nearly impossible to find good instruments because there existed very few
instrument makers doing them and because of that less competition many of
them could produce in bad quality without problems to sell it.

During the last 15 years the number of early-music-instrument makers
increased and with it the quality rose enourmosly. It is no more enough to
build a wooden, medieval looking box with some strings .


I wrote first, "Yet before I must ask you to tell me how you know that
"medieval music was often
out of tune and out of time". You got some records???

Rowen replied, "  now there is really no reason to take that tone or be

My new answer, "Sorry when I was to direct making this joke with the
records. Yet understand my point of view: I am a professional musican in the
field of early music and believe me my ears are not that rotten that I don't
here the difference between a well tuned and a bad tuned instrument and with
the second case I feel the same pain as you.

The same story with the musicans like with the instrument makers. 20 years
ago the general standard of Early Music was the way that you could make
whatever kind of pseudo-historical music and you had success. I know it that
well because our ensemble started it's carreer exactly with this kind of
music. But there was and is a development with the musicans in direction: 1.
More authentic playing, 2. Higher quality-standards, 3. Better entertainment
for the audience.

Today I would not like to play music on the same level as I did 15 years
ago!!! And not only I would not like it I also could not have success any
more because of an audience that realised this development too. We musican
were offering them the higher standards and the audience got used to them."


Rowen wrote, "I apologize because I was not clear enough in my statement.
What I meant was, Medieval instruments are often out of tune, not that they
use a different (and yes, an equally valid) scale. That is a  whole separate
issue. What *I* mean is that the instrument technology was a much lower

My new answer, "Somehow you are right. Many of the original medieval
instruments were supposed to be on a lower technical level with bad sound
and very difficult to tune right. Yet just visit in the year 2000 your local
instrument store and try some cheap guitars and flutes and you will have the
same result!!!

You want to have a really good violin and you can choose between a new built
and a Stradivari which you'll take???

What I want to tell you:
There is good and bad instruments today and it was not that different in
medieval times. If you want to have a good gothic hurdy-gurdy (14th century)
you must look around and at least I take a compromise between historical and
modern technoloy. The sound must be as original as possible. Yet if it is
possible to build now instruments that get tuned easily I accept this with

Let me tell it in other words: I do not accept instruments out of tune!!!"

All the best


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