minstrel: welsh scales

Christina van Tets cjvt at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 10 03:38:09 PDT 2001

Hello the List!

Madog Hir wrote (ages ago - my apologies for my lateness - baby due in 8 
weeks is occupying my mind rather at present)

>I've heard it asserted that Ionian mode music (the "modern" major scale)
>probably existed in Wales "since before recorded history" -- songs cited
>as proof are Londonderry Air and Men of Harlech. Does anyone have any
>information on this (for or against)?

On finally finding my copy of Crossley-Holland's 'Welsh Homophonic Music in 
the Middle Ages' (Music and Letters vol 23 - 1942 - pp 135-162) I read:

'...C major, called Isgywair in Welsh, meaning "low key".  This was one of 
the "five standard and warranted keys" of old Welsh music mentioned in an 
ancient book not now extant called "Ceidwadigaeth Cardd Dant" (the 
"Preservation of String Music", within three provinces of Wales) quoted in 
Peniarth MSS. 62 and 147*.  This book says that the musical science was 
confirmed in Ireland by Mwrchan at a place called Glyn Achlach**.  Other 
keys are found amongst the [ap Huw] pieces, such as the "Key of the Change 
of String", or B flat, in the song which is so named, "C[aniad] tro tant".

* For printed version of original see T. Gwyn Jones, "Cerdd Dant", in 
"Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies". Vol 1, part 2 May 1922, pp. 

**The tradition about Glyn Achlach remains unsubtantiated by Irish history.  
The Ap Huw MS (p. 104) mentions a piece called "kwlwm ymryson fflam 
achlach".'  - pp. 139-140

There are 2 more pages on scales, then similar detail on the 24 standard 
harmonic and rhythmic measures used, probably for guided improvisation.

Hope this helps, and sorry again for its lateness!

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