minstrel: Instrument Differences

Fred Ross fred at horace.ls.net
Wed Nov 15 18:30:54 PST 2000


Interspersed below.

Fred Ross
s.k.a. Philippe de Minerve
a.k.a. Sgath
http://www.ls.net/~fred/

On Wed, 15 Nov 2000, Taliesin of Earthstar wrote:

> In the area of period music and period music instruments, my knowledge is
> lacking. I couldn't tell a violin from a bowed psaltery from a rebec, and
> from what I understand the rebec is the only one within SCA-period. I've
> seen a modern-made Welsh-style crwth that was strung/fretted/tuned like a
> banjo, and I've seen those "lute-shaped guitars" that some people object
> to so much. Indeed, I couldn't tell you if the mandolin I'm getting for
> Christmas is anywhere near a period style.

The violin was indeed period (this I know well, it's my primary
instrument, and I've picked up something of its history over the last
twelve years).  I've seen the round backed guitars, and I'm not sure where
the mandolin falls (though I believe the Cremonese luthiers were making
round backed mandolins alongside violins at the end of period).  If the
mandolin you're getting for Christmas has a back and belly connected by
sides perpendicular to them, then it's a style barely a hundred years old,
but which has, due to marketing, nearly taken over in the US.  In Europe
you don't see them much, just the round backs.

As for guitars, I don't know how far back the Baroque guitar goes, but it
may reach just into period as well.  This was a much smaller instrument,
with a body narrower in proportion, and (of course) a shorter neck.  The
one I saw had moveable gut frets, but used six strings for the sake of its
mucisian - it was also the only low instrument in the ensemble (a violin,
a mandolin, and some recorders played by the same people) so the extra
bass string was important for balance.

> Yet I also have seen people in the SCA get bored and walk away from songs
> like "Twa Corbies" and "Agincourt Carole," yet sit entranced by such
> perennial favorites as "Bored on the List-field" and "Beer, Cold Beer."
> Yes, there is, and will always be, an audience for strictly period music
> with strictly period instrumentation, but I guess I wonder how large the
> gap is between "popular" and "period" music.

Believe it or not, the repertoire of Elizabethan song is as lively as any
of the filk I've encountered, and usually a lot prettier.  Vocalists still
perform early music a lot, so good manuscripts and editions are (fairly)
readily available.  Dowland's First, Second, and Third books of Ayres and
Songs are a good place to start.  For examples of songs that would go over
very well with almost any audience, listen to Emma Kirkby and Anthony
Rooney's album 'Time Stands Still', which I recommend on purely musical
merits as well.

There is no reason why you couldn't use the lute or viol parts for these 
songs on the mandolin.  It would just require a little transcription. Just
look at the parts first.  There was a lot of chording, but there was a lot
of voicing and counterpoint as well.  On the mandolin the goal in 
accompaniment is continual motion.  On instruments like the lute you can
get away with a more laid back accompaniment, but the mandolin's harsh
attack and short sustain require a different style.  You might listen to
any of Planxty's CDs for an example of really wonderful mandolin and
bazouki accompaniment.  I want to work on this kind of thing with the
violin, but I need to find time first.


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