minstrel: Medieval fiddling

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at socrates.Berkeley.EDU
Tue Nov 7 20:02:43 PST 2000

>Hello all, I have been lurking for a while but I do have a question.
>(or three...)
>I am interested in the history of the violin (specifically fiddle
>music).  I have found that the fiddle changed form many times over the
>years, not just in shape but in number of strings, drone strings,
>frets/non-fretted, etc.  ?? Is the viol d'gambe a predecessor of the
>violin?  It is a fretted instrument, isn't it?

You might find the following book of interest:

Remnant, Mary.  1986.  English Bowed Instruments from Anglo-Saxon to 
Tudor Times.  Clarendon Press, Oxford.

>I am especially interested in the "period-ness" of Irish/Scottish jigs
>and reels.  Especially in the "jig" or "reel" music format itself, not
>specific tunes at this point.  Secondarily I find myself interested in
>Scandanavian folk music, and what they were playing there pre-1600.

There are two ways to approach this topic.  One is to look at the 
period tunes we have that are labelled as "jigs" or "reels" (I know 
there are some of the former, I'm not as certain of the latter), 
especially ones associated in some way with Ireland or Scotland. 
Another way is to come up with some way of characterizing the 
category "Irish/Scottish jigs and reels" as you understand the term, 
and then to search for period pieces of music that fit that 
characterization.  The first approach has several practical 
advantages in terms of ending up with a body of period music to play 
at events.  Not only does the second approach have no guarantee of 
success, it requires considerably more music theory expertise.

I'm not familiar with the surviving evidence on Scandinavian music, 
so I can't help on that end.

>I don't see anything right off of the SCA minstrel page that seems to
>address this specific area, maybe I'm just not seeing it.
>Websites I've seen are either selling instrument kits, or talking about
>performers who perform "in the style of..." or "performing medieval
>pieces..."  I don't seem able to find histories of fiddle music
>evolution, or if I do it's starting in 1710 or so.

Consider the possibility that "fiddle music" -- to the extent that it 
describes a coherent style and body of music -- might not date back 
to the SCA's period.  There have been vast changes in musical and 
performance styles since the Renaissance, even in "folk music".  The 
chances that a style of tune or performance popular in the last 
couple centuries existed in that unchanging form since before 1600 
are fairly small.

>Additionally, I have been told that the "Cape Breton" style of fiddling
>which is growing in popularity is, in fact, not a new style at all but
>is instead the ancient Scottish fiddling technique that was nearly lost
>forever to Scotland when all of their fiddlers emigrated here to North

It is very common for folk-music traditions to focus on 
"ancientness", since that is a factor that tends to be valued (even 
when it is fictitious) by modern people.  But "ancient" in the 
context of folk music most often refers to the 18th century at best. 
It is generally a mistake to start with a premise that a musical 
genre or playing style will continue essentially unchanged for 
multiple centuries.  While the possibility can't be excluded 
entirely, it isn't the way to bet.  And in very practical terms of 
trying to come up with a genre or style for SCA performance where you 
can have a high level of confidence in the historic basis, you have a 
much better likelihood of success if you start from the actual period 
evidence than if you try to take a modern style or genre and work it 

I know this comes across as discouraging, but it's also discouraging 
to invest a lot of time, energy, and emotion in trying to find 
historic roots for a modern musical style and being unable to 
discover any.

Heather Rose Jones
hrjones at socrates.berkeley.edu

To unsubscribe from this list, send email to majordomo at pbm.com containing
the words "unsubscribe minstrel". If you are subscribed to the digest version,
say "unsubscribe minstrel-digest". To contact a human about problems, send
mail to owner-minstrel at pbm.com

More information about the minstrel mailing list