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Bagpipe playerclick image for bagpipe sound (175kb wav) 
or here for the same in mp3 format

The origins of the bagpipe can be traced back to the most ancient civilizations. The bagpipe probably originated as a rustic instrument in many cultures because a herdsman had the necessary materials at hand: a goat or sheep skin and a reed pipe. The instrument is mentioned in the Bible, and historians believe that it originated in Sumaria. Through Celtic migration it was introduced to Persia and India, and subsequently to Greece and Rome. In fact, a Roman historian of the first century wrote that the Emporer Nero knew how to play the pipe with his mouth and the bag thrust under his arm. During the Middle Ages, however, the bagpipe was heard and appreciated by all levels of society.

Bagpipes have always been made in many shapes and sizes, and have been played throughout Europe from before the Norman Conquest until the present day. Medieval pipes usually had a single drone - see contemporary illustrations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for English single-drone pipes. Around 1400 (give or take 50 years), most shepherd-style pipes acquired a second drone. A third drone is added about after 1550. See paintings by Brueghel and the illustrations in Praetorius' Syntagma Musicum. The Renaissance also saw the advent of small, quiet chamber pipes such as Praetorius' Hummelchen or the French shuttle-drone models, some blown with bellows under the arm rather than with the mouth.

The construction of the bagpipe allows a continuous supply of air to be maintained. By squeezing the bag with his left hand while a breath is taken, the flow of air can be kept up in both the drone pipes and chanter. Other features of this instrument are the mouthpipe and the double reed of the chanter and drone. The mouthpipe contains a round piece of leather hinged onto the bag end which acts as a one way valve. As the player blows air in, the flap opens; when he stops blowing the air pressure within the bag forces the flap shut. The chanter has seven finger holes and a thumb hole, and has a usual range of an octave and one note.

The bagpipe is ideal for solo dances and monophonic music. It has been mentioned for use in polyphony, but if so, problems would arise. The drone would preclude the possibility of any change of mode, and the continuous sound would prohibit observance of rests.

Stone carving of bagpipe During the Renaissance, the bagpipe gradually moved from country to court. Both Edward II and Edward III had pipers at court. King Henry VIII, composer and music patron, also had an extensive collection of instruments which, according to a contemporary account, included wone with pipes of ivorie and a bagge covered with purple vellat. As a rustic instrument it has been immortalized in the paintings of Pieter Breughel and his contemporaries.

Bagpipe DronesMusica Antiqua's collection includes a replica with two drones patterned after Brueghel's Peasant Wedding, and a Hummelchen (little bumblebee) bagpipe which is modelled after the smallest of the four included in Praetorius' Syntagma Musicum of 1619. The Brueghel model is smaller than a highland pipe and loud, but not as piercing as a today's highland pipes. The Praetorius model is tiny and has sweet and delicate tone, making it useful both as a solo instrument and in ensemble with other Renaissance instruments. The chanter has a range from c1 to d2 and two drones tuneable to and or g and d. This boxwood replica was made by Wolfgang Lentelme of Germany. 


Additional Resources:

Bladder Pipe

Bladder pipe being played

click on image for bladder pipe sound (164 wav) 
or here for a short mp3

The bladder pipe is a very distinctive loud instrument which has a reed which is enclosed by an animal bladder. The performer blows into the bladder through its mouthpiece, a wooden pipe. Like the bag of a bagpipe, the bladder serves as a wind reservoir keeping the lips from touching the reed directly. The bladder pipe's sound is unusual because the player is unable to tongue or otherwise control the reed. This medieval instrument was one of the principal early wind cap instruments and is considered the forerunner to the crumhorn. Since it cannot overblow for an upper register, the fingering is even similar to the crumhorn.

Bladder pipe being playedEarly images of bladder pipes sometimes show the instrument with a second pipe parallel to the first, apparently serving as a drone. The instrument existed before medieval times with Aristophanes in Lysistrata mentioning a wind instrument called a physalis (a word derived from bladder). It is mentioned in medieval literature and is shown in art from the time. Two bladder pipes, for example, are among the instruments illustrating Cantigas de Santa Maria, a collection of sacred songs written for the court of Alfonso el Sabio (reigned from 1252-1284)By the sixteenth century, the bladder pipe had become an instrument associated with beggars and peasants.


Musica Antiqua's bladder pipe has a bladder from a sheep. It looks like parchment and crackles as it is filled. Replacement cost for the bladder is currently $50.


bladder pipe Additional Resources:

  • G Kinsky: 'Doppelrolrblatt-Instrumente mit Windkapsel', AMw vii (1925), 253-96
  • A. Baines: Woodwind Instruments and their History (London, 1957, rev. 3/1967)
  • H. Becker: Zur Entwicklungsgeschichter der antiken und mittelalterlichen Rohrblattinstrumente (Hamburg, 1966)
  • R. Weber: 'Tournebout-Pifia-Bladderpipe (Platerspiel)', GSJ, (1977)


Cornamuse being played(dulzaina?)

click here for cornamuse sound (120kb wav)

"Corna Muse are straight like bassanelli. They are covered below, and around the bell have several little holes, from which the sound issues. In sound they are quite similar to crumhorns, but quieter, lovelier, and very soft. Thus they might justly be named still, soft crumhorns, much as cornetti muti could be called soft cornetts."

- Praetorius

It Was a Lover and His Lass in mp3 format 
(Soprano voice, rebec, recorders, bass cornamuse)

The cornamuse was clearly described by Praetorius, and is yet a mystery in these modern times, because none have survived to the present and because of the confusion of instrument names at the time. Different names which were used for similar instruments and similar names used for different instruments. cornamuseThe name cornamusefrom the Latin cornamusa commonly meant bagpipe as in the French cornemuse. The use of the name dolzaina, from the Latin dulcis (sweet), is thought to be the same or a similar instrument to the cornamuse, and yet the name is often intermingled with the dulzan or dulzian of the curtal families. These two names were sometimes used in the same sentence, as in an ensemble consisting of dolzaina, cornamuse, shawm and mute cornett.


Praetorius stated that the cornamuse has no keys. They came in several sizes, each having a range of a ninth similar to other reed-cap instruments.


Musica Antiqua has an alto and a bass cornamuse in which are reproductions by Gunther Koerber of Germany. Notice that the Antiqua cornamuse have keys similar to those of the crumhorn family.


Additional Resources:

  • Zacconi: Prattica di musica (Venice, 1592/r1967)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, iii (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • C. Sachs: Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde (Leipzig, 1920)
  • I. Hechler: 'Die Windkapelinstrumente: Geschichte, Spielweise, Besetzungsfragen',Tibia, ii (1977), 265
  • B. R. Boydell: The Crumhorn and Other Renaissance Windcap Instruments (Buren, 1982)


Krumhorn being played(krumhorn)

click here for sound of bass crumhorn  (194kb wav)

Beginning with the fifteenth century a new type of double reed instrument was developed. The player's lips did not touch the reed because the reed was enclosed inside a protective cap with a slot at one end. Strongly blowing through this slot causes the reed to vibrate as it does in the bagpipe chanter. The name of the Crumhorn comes from the German krumhorn (also krummhorn, krumphorn), meaning curved horn (or the older English crump, meaning curve, surviving in modern English in crumpled and crumpet, a curved cake).

Lo Spagnoletto - dance tune by Negri 
(fifth  verse by bass crumhorn)

canario - dance tune by Fabrito Carioso 
(sixth verse by bass crumhorn) 
(seventh verse includes soprano crumhorn)

The name first occurs in 1489 as an organ stop.The crumhorn, used in the 14th to17th centuries in Europe, is wooden, with a cylindrical bore. The crumhorn is the earliest and most common instrument of the reed cap family which also includes the kortholtcornamuse, and hirtenschalmei. The crumhorn is thought to have developed from the earlier bladder pipe.

The cylindrical bore (as opposed to a conical bore) and the reed closing the end of the resonating tube mean that the crumhorn overblows a twelfth rather than an octave, giving the instrument a fingering system similar to the lower register of the clarinet. However, the lack of direct control of the reed of a windcapped instrument renders these higher notes extremely difficult to access. Thus the normal range is limited to the simple fundamental sounds produced by successive opening of the holes giving a range of an octave and one note. Many larger surviving instruments have auxiliary holes that extend the range downwards to just over an octave. On modern reconstructions additional keys are provided to extend the range upwards by one to three notes. And there is some evidence to suggest that crumhorns were sometimes played without the windcap, possibly to facilitate the production of higher notes. 


Click image for 140kb wav of Crumhorn trio 
or here for the entire Chichilichi cucurucu in mp3 format

L'innamorato in mp3 format 
(soprano with soprano recorder and lute 
with alto and great bass crumhorn)

krumhorn fingerings Crumhorns have a characteristically sharp attack which is very effective in an ensemble. Depending on how their reeds are voiced, they range in tone from a gentle, somewhat nasal humming of a bumble-bee to a rich, resonant buzzing.

The crumhorn was turned out of a length of wood, which was then bored out, filled with sand, plugged, and the lower end steamed (to soften it) and finally bent into a half circle. The curve is decorative only, having nothing to do with the sound. The curved bell section of many surviving instrument is hollowed out to form a more or less conical foot, which has the effect of raising the volume.

The reed comprises a thin strip of cane, folded over and bound to the staple (a short tube) inserted into the top of the wooden pipe. When the reed is blown through, it vibrates, causing a standing wave to develop in the bore of the crumhorn. Pitch is governed not only by the length of the pipe down to the open finger holes, but also by breath pressure, so that the crumhorns are played at a fixed dynamic level. Variations in pitch from changes in breathing are like the change in pitch of a bagpipe chanter as the player starts to fill the bag. Blow too hard and the reed closes (no sound). Blowing too softly allows the pitch to flatten or sag to unusable levels.

Note that larger crumhorns have a pipe or airway on the side of the cap (similar to the large recorders) which is blown into to allow reaching the finger holes on these longer instruments.

A four-part consort usually comprised an alto crumhorn (in F or G), two tenors (C) and a bass (F). Less frequently, soprano (C) and great bass (C) crumhorns were used.

krumhorn reedDespite its strange shape and the amusing reaction of listeners when the instrument is played poorly, the crumhorn played a serious role in all kinds of renaissance music ranging from dances and madrigals to church music. As early as 1500 crumhorns were used along with other instruments to accompany two masses performed for the wedding of Duke Johann to Sophia of Mecklenburg. King Henry the Eighth of England owned 25 crumhorns, so they may have been played at his court. However, they were not as popular in Great Britain as on the Continent, especially Germany, Italy and the Low Countries, from where a small repertoire of music specifically for crumhorns has been preserved.

Musica Antiqua's krummhorns include a soprano in c1, alto in f, 2 tenors in c, bass in F, and a great bass in C by Koerber of Germany as well as a great bass in C by Moulder of England and a soprano, alto, tenor, and bass by Steinkopf.

crumhorn caps

Margot labourez les vignes in mp3 format 
(soprano voice with three crumhorns)


Three Country Dances in One 
(ground bass by bass crumhorn)

Additional Crumhorn Sources

(some sources courtesy of Nicholas Lander of Crumhorn Home Page)

  • Agricola M. 1529/r1969) Musica instrumentalis deudsch

  • Boydell, B. (1979). Ieorg Wier, an early sixteenth-century crumhorn maker. Early Music 7: 511-517.
  • Boydell, B. (1982). The Crumhorn and other Windcap Instruments of the Renaissance Frits Knuf, Buren. Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Boydell, B. (1984). Crumhorn In Sadie, S. (ed) The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. McMillan, London.
  • Early Music Shop (undated). The Adjustment and Maintenance of Plastic reeds.
  • Brochure. Hanchet, J.F. (1980). Adjustjment and control of double reeds for direct blown early instruments Early Music, July: 361-207.
  • Brown, H. M. (1973) Sixteenth-century Instrumentation: the Music for the Florentine Intermedii
  • Cerone, D. P. (1613/r1969) El melopeo y maestro
  • Diderot, D. (1765) Encyclopedie
  • Douwes, C. (1699/r1970) Grondig ondersoek van de toomen der musiek
  • Hantelmann, G. v. (19??). Directions for Playing the Crumhorn, Cornamuse and Kortholt Moeck Verlag, Celle. Ed. Nr. 2077.
  • Hunt, E. (1975). The Crumhorn Schott, London. Ed. 11239.
  • Kinsky, G. (1925) Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente mit Windkapsel AMw
  • Kite-Powell, J.T. ed. (1994). A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music Schirmer, New York.
  • Kite-Powell, J.T. (1994). The Crumhorn In Kite-Powell (loc. cit. 63-68).
  • Leguy, J. (1978). Precis de Facture d'Anches Renaissance -- Handbook of Renaissance Reed-Making. Zurfluh, Paris. French and English text.
  • Lesure, F. (1955) Le Traite des instruments de musique de Pierre Trichet AnnM
  • Lewin, G. (1985). The cornamuse - a reassessment. Recorder and Music Magazine 8(1): 9-14.
  • Lorraine, K. (1982). A Handbook on Making Double Reeds for Early Winds Musica Sacra et Profana, Berkeley.
  • Mersenne, M. (1636, 1648/r1972) Harmonicorum instrumentorum libri IV
  • Meyer, K.T. (1983). The Crumhorn: Its History, Design, Repertory, and Technique. Studies in Musicology 66. University of Michigan Research Press, Ann Arbor.
  • Moeck, H. (1971). Zur Geschichte von Krummhorn und Cornamuse Moeck, Celle.
  • Moeck, H. (undated). The Adjustment and Maintenance of Plastic reeds Brochure.
  • Monkeymeyer, H. (1976). Album of Pieces and Exercises in Four Volumes for the Crumhorn, Cornamusa, Curtall and Other Wind Instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque Era. Volume I, For two instruments with intervaliic fifth relationship. Edition Moeck Nr 2088. Moeck, Celle.
  • Monkeymeyer, H. (1976). Album of pieces and Exercises in Four Volumes for the Crumhorn, Cornamusa, Curtall and Other Wind Instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque Era Volume II, For two instruments of the same pitch Edition Moeck Nr 2089. Moeck, Celle.
  • Montague, J. (1976). Mediaeval and Renaissance Musical Instruments Ure Smith, Sydney.
  • Munrow, D. (1976). Instruments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Oxford University Press: London.
  • Nickel, E. (1971) Der Holzblasinstrumentenbau in der Freien Reichsstadt Nurnberg
  • Papineau, G. (1980). Comment Tailler vos Anches -- Reed Do It Yourself. Le Droit Chemin de Musique, Paris.
  • Praetorius, M. (1618/r1980) Syntagma musicum
  • Robinson, T. (1973). The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Sachs, C. (1909) Doppioni und Dulzaina: zur Namensgechichte des Krummhorns SIMG
  • Smith, D.H. (1992). Reed Design for Early Woodwinds Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis.
  • Stevenson, C. (1980). Make your own Crumhorn Recorder & Music 6(12): 346.
  • Thomas, B. (1973). An introduction to the crumhorn repertoire. Early Music 1: 142-146.
  • Thomas, B. (1973). Playing the crumhorn: First steps. Early Music 1: 151-156.
  • Thorn, C. (1984). Things to play on crumhorns and the like. Recorder and Music 8(3): 76-78.
  • vander Straeten, E. (1888/r1969) La musique aux Pays-Bas avant le XIX
  • Virdung S. (1511/r1970) Musica getutscht
  • Wells, M. (1973). The crumhorn: Historical sources. Early Music 1: 139-141.
  • Whone, J.F. (1975). Constructing a crumhorn. Recorder & Music 5(3): 90-93.
  • Young, P.T. (1980). The Look of Music: Rare Musical Instruments 1500-1900. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
  • Young, P.T. (1993). 4900 Historical Woodwind Instruments: An Inventory of 200 Makers in International Collections Tony Bingham, London.
  • Zacconi L. (1592/r1967) Prattica di musica


Krumhorn cap


Dulcian being played


"The common bleting musicke is the drone,  
hobuis and curtoll."

-Stephen Batman, 1582

One of the most significant innovations in sixteenth century woodwind instrument building was the development of the double bore principle. Two parallel holes drilled in the same piece of wood and connected at one end by a U-curve allowed aninstrument to sound twice as low for its apparentlength as one with a single bore. Little is known about where the earliest development took place, although some evidence points to Italy. The name dulcian (also dulzian, dulzian, dolzone, delzan, dulcan, dolcan) is from the Latin dulcis (sweet). This instrument was also called the curtal (or curtoll, curtail) from the Latin curtus(short).

By the end of the sixteenth century the dulcian had become a part of the town band. The bass shawm was did not last because it was too cumbersome and heavy. The dulcian could be used not only as an outdoor band instrument, but also in church to double the bass line on motets and masses, and in the courtly chamber for more intimate secular music. To counteract the bottom-heavy sound created by its conical bore, and to allow it to play with softer instruments, a perforated mute or bell cap, looking much like a pepper shaker, may be inserted in the open end. According to Praetorius, this makes the tone considerably softer and more beautiful.

dulcianThe dulcian was made in several sizes and has a range of about two and one-half octaves (C to g1). As the name indicates, the tone has a dolce quality when compared to the shawm. The bass size was the one which lasted as the forerunner of the bassoon.

Musica Antiqua's collection includes a cherrywood bass dulcian in C by Gunther Koerber of Germany and a Moeck bass dulcian.

Additional Resources:

  • T. Albonesi: Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam (Pavia, 1539)
  • L. Zacconi: Prattica di musica (Venice, 1592/r1967)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum, ii (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • H. de Garsault: Notionaire (Paris, 1761)
  • dulcianJ. B. de La Borde: Essai sur la musique (Paris, 1780/r1972)
  • E. Ozi: Methode nouvelle et raisonnee (Paris, 1787)
  • W. Heckel: Der Fagott (Biebrich, 1899)
  • F. W. Galpin: 'Romance of the Phagotum', PMA, lxvii (1940-41), 57
  • B. Klitz: 'A Composition for Dolzaina', JAMS, xxiv (1971), 113
  • W. Voigt: Untersuchungen zur Formantbildung in Klangen von Fagott und Dulzianen(Regensburg, 1975)
  • G. Joppig: Die Entwicklung der Doppelrohrblatt-Instrumente (Frankfurt am Main, 1980)
  • W. Jansen: The Bassoon: its History, Construction, Makers, Players, and Music (Buren, 1984)


dulcimer being played(hackbrett)

click image for dulcimer sound 
(140kb wav) 
or here for a short mp3

or here for the entire Flowers in the Forest 
(dulcimer, rebec, tenor recorder)

In English-speaking countries, dulcimer (or dowcemere, dulcimor, dulcimur, doucemelle, doulcemelle, dolcimela, or dolcema, all from dulce melos, Greek for sweet sound) was the name given to the type of psaltery or box zither which had a trapizoidal soundbox and which was played by striking the strings with hammers. In areas around Germany, the term was Hackbrett (or hackbrad, hackbrade, hakkebrett, or hakkebord) meaning chopping board or chopping block.

The King James translation of the Bible occasionally translates nebel as dulcimer, but the ancient Hebrews didn't have a dulcimer as we know it from the Middle Ages. A 12th century ivory book-cover made in Byzantium contains oldest known evidence of the typical trapiziform instrument with lateral strings. Then no other dulcimer representation is found until the middle of the 1400's, when the instrument was introduced to western Europe. Shortly thereafter, dulcimers were found in Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Flanders, northern France and England.

dulcimer hammersDulcimers often had one or two bridges over which the strings crossed providing the opportunity for more pitches because the performer could strike a sound on each side of the bridge. In 15th century images, dulcimers had single courses of six to nine strings and were played on the lap or on a table. The hammers seem to be held between the index and middle fingers. A century later, the multiple bridges were more common, with between eight and twelve double courses. A neck strap could be used for portability. Soundboards were commonly decorated.

While images portray the dulcimer held by angels and individuals of the upper classes, Gehard de Jode portrayed it in 1600 along with the hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe. In 1609 a dulcimer was recorded along with a violin in a ship's log in Jamestown, Virginia.

Musica Antiqua's collection includes a hammered dulcimer.

dulcimer tapestry










Additional Resources:

  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • H. H. Drager and W. Wunsch: 'Hackbrett', MGG
  • S. Marcuse: Musical Instruments: a Comprehensive Dictionary (New York, 1964)
  • A. Baines: European and American Musical Instruments (London, 1966)
  • J. Jenkins: Musical Instruments (London, 1970)
  • K. H. Schickhaus, ed.: Hackbrett Tablatur von 1753 (Munich, 1974)
  • S. Marcuse: A Survey of Musical Instruements (London, 1975)


Gamba being played(bass viol de gamba) 

click on image for gamba sound (115kb wav)
or here for the same in mp3

The voice between her lips, 
and the viol between her legs, 
she'll be fit for a consort  
very speedily.

-Thomas Middleton, 
a Trick to Catch the Old One

The viol family may have originated by applying a bow to a pre-existing plucked string instrument. It may have developed in Spain during the late fifteenth century (the tenor viol has the shape, size, and tuning of the Spanish vihuela). Only about the year 1600 did its outward appearance become standardized. Of the common sizes of the gamba family, the bass was the largest, and the treble viol was the smallest.

Gamba stringsAllemande - dance tune by Susato 
(Gamba plays bass part, also includes soprano, alto, tenor recorders)

La gamba in mp3 format 
(gamba with alto and tenor recorders)

The most common viol has six strings and is tuned in the interval of fourths with a third in the middle. It has a long tail, fretted finger board (like the modern guitar), a flat back, sloping shoulders, and deep sides with reinforcing crossbars inside. A carved head often adorns the top of the instrument. The viol has the shape of a dismembered female body, and when held between the legs in playing position, as in the case of the bass viol, a type of play may be imagined that is not strictly musical.

All viols are played while seated, with the instrument held on or between the knees. (There is no support, or peg, on which to rest the instrument as is the case with the modern cello.) The viol bow is held in an underhanded position with the finger controlling the tension of the horse hair.

Gamba headThe viol, as the lute, was cultivated among courtly society by gentlemen amateurs. Although usually associated with serious music, it often was mentioned in comic situations, where it connoted an affected ass. Sir Andrew Agnecheek plays o' the viol de gamboys (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night) and Onesiphorus Roard's description of his niece's attributes is quoted above.

A consort of viols was the ideal medium for polyphonic music. Its sound was sustained and clear with little vibrato. Viols were ideal for accompanying solo voices in consort songs.

The gut strings require frequent tuning.

Musica Antiqua's collection includes a bass by Linda Shortridge, a bass by Hart, a bass by Kelishek, and a tenor by Glan y Gors. The bow pictured is by Seifert.

Gamba being played








Additional Resources:

  • The Viola da Gamba Society of America
  • ORPHEON - Museum of Historical Musical Instruments
  • The Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain
  • Czech Lute & Viola Da Gamba Society
  • Viola da Gamba Society of France
  • Viola da Gamba Site
  • Polish Viola da Gamba Site
  • Viola da Gamba Society of Greater New York
  • S. Virdung: Musica getutscht (Basle, 1511/r1970)
  • H. Judenkunig: Utilis et compendiaria introductio (Vienna, c1515-19)
  • M. Agricola: Musica instrumentalis deudsch (Wittenberg, 1529/r1969)
  • H. Gerle: Musica teusch (Nuremberg, 1532)
  • G. M. Lanfranco: Scintille di musica (Brescia, 1533/r1961)
  • S. di Ganassi: Regola rubertina (Venice, 1542/r1970)
  • D. Ortiz: Trattado de glosas (Rome, 1553)
  • V. Galilei: Dialogo....della musica antica et della moderna (Florence, 1581/r1968)
  • G. Dalla Casa: Il vero modo di diminuir (Venice, 1584)
  • S. Mareschall: Porta musices (Basle, 1589)
  • L. Zacconi: Prattica di musica (Venice, 1592/r1967)
  • S. Cerrato: Della prattica musica (Naples, 1601)
  • T. Robinson: The Schoole of Musicke (London, 1603)
  • P. Cerone: El melopeo y maestro (Naples, 1613)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum, ii (Wolfenbuttel, 1618)
  • F. Rognoni: Selva de varii passaggi (Milan, 1620/r1970)
  • M Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • J. Playford: Musick's Recreation on the Lyra Viol (London, 1642)
  • J. Rousseau: Traite de la viole (Paris, 1687/r1965)


Gemshorn being playedclick image for gemshorn sound (162kb wav) or here for same in mp3 format
entire song Como hua moller in mp3 format

The gemshorn is the only medieval flute with a sharply tapering conical bore. Its shape is determined naturally since it is made from the horn of a chamois or ox. The tone has a sweet color somewhere between a soft recorder and an ocarina. Its haunting delicate sound is even more impressive when one considers the ordinary material from which it is constructed. Shepherds probably used its gentle tones to calm animals. 

The first clear illustration of the gemshorn is found in Virdung'sMusica Getutscht (1511). By mid sixteenth century the instrument had fallen out of use. It has survived in the organ stop of the same name. The stop contains a strong fifth-sounding partial.

gemshorngemshornclick image to the right for short wav of gemshorn trio 
or here for the complete trio in mp3 format

Musica Antiqua's gemshorns include an alto in E-flat, a tenor in B-flat, and a bass in E-flat by Finke and a tenor in B-flat by Meinl and Lauber.




Additional Resources:

  • C. Sachs: 'Das Gemshorn', ZMw, i (1918-19), 153
  • H. Fitzpatrick: 'The Gemshorn: a Reconstruction', PRMA, xcix (1972-3), 1

three gemshorns



harp being playedclick image for harp sound (220kb wav) 
or here for the same in mp3 format

"Teach him to harpe with his nayles sharpe"
-Kyng Horn
, 13th century

The harp is one of the most ancient types of stringed instruments. It was important in pre-Christian cultures and still survives today in many forms all over the world. Harps use open strings exclusively, thus the range of each is determined by the number of strings. In the Middle Ages strings were made from twisted animal gut (usually from sheep), although horse hair and even silk were used as well.

Each string of the harp is attached to a wooden peg or metal pin. Strings are tuned by adjusting these pegs or pins. Since tuning was diatonic, only one mode could be used at a time.

According to the Laws of Wales (twelfth century), the three items indispensable to a gentleman were his harp, his cloak, and his chessboard, while the three proper things for any man to have in his house were a virtuous wife, his cushion on his chair, and his harp in tune.

HarpDue to the lack of a notation system, little is known about how the harp was used, how it accompanied troubadour melodies and what kind of preludial and interludial material might have been performed. Players relied on memory and improvisation.

The harp had an important role in legend and folklore. It not only was the instrument assigned to King David, but also was credited with supernatural powers which could destroy the feynde's myght.

The Romanesque harp was developed in the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. One of Musica Antiqua's harps is based on a late twelfth century English Bible illumination. It has twenty gut strings, a range of almost three octaves (f to d3), is thirty inches tall, and is ideally suited to accompany minstrel, troubadour and trouvere songs. The brass strung clarsach replica was made by Tim Hobrough of Scotland.












Additional Resources:

  • J. Bermudo: Declaracion de instrumentos musicales (Osuna, 1555/r1957)
  • V. Galilei: Dialogo...della musica antica e della moderna (Florence, 1581/r1968)
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • E. Jones: Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards (London, 1784)
  • E. Bunting: A General Collection of Ancient Irish Music (London and Dublin, 1796/r1969)
  • S. F. de Genlis: Nouvelle methode pour harpe (Paris, 1802/r1974)
  • F. W. Galpin: Old English Instruments of Music (London, 1910)
  • F. Harrison and J. Rimmer: European Musical Instruments (London, 1964)

statue of man playing harpHarp strings






harp image in stained glass

King David playing the harp 
stained glass by P. von Andlau - late 15th century 
formerly in the choir of the collegiate at Tubingen 
now in the Wurtemburg museum at Stuttgart


harpischordCome, Charming Sleep in mp3 format 
(soprano voice with harpsichord accompaniment)

Two types of stringed keyboard instrument were available to the household or court musician from the 16th century to the middle of the 18th: the harpsichord and its near relations, the spinet and virginal; and the clavichord.

In the harpsichord family the string is plucked by a small plectrum, originally of quill. The variety of sound from these plucked instruments is achieved not primarily by finger pressure, but more subtly by phrasing and articulation. Variety of tonal color can be obtained, on a harpsichord by judicious choice of registration. The harpsichord was used both for solo performance and accompanying in chamber groups and in larger ensembles of the period. It typically had two sets of strings per key, tuned either to the same pitch or with one set sounding an octave higher (a 4' register). The registers were controlled by hand stops above the keyboard. Two manuals (keyboards) were to be found on certain larger instruments, which usually featured three sets of strings.

harpsichord keys Found from the beginning of the 16th century, the Italian harpsichords were lightly constructed, almost invariably finished in natural wood. They usually had a single manual and a basic registration of two 8' stops which were often used together, although a 4' stop was occasionally an option. They have a characteristically pungent, immediate, almost at times percussive tone which is well suited to 17th century Italian music.

The other main type of harpsichord in use from the early 17th century was the Flemish style instrument, and it is the name of the Ruckers family that is most associated with this influential tradition. Flemish instruments were more solidly constructed than the Italian, invariably with the basic two sets of strings (either one 8' and a 4' or both at 8' pitch). Two manuals were common, though the upper manual was originally used for transposing; only in the second half of the 17th century was the additional manual used for contrast of tone with the ability to couple the registers of both manuals for a fuller sound. The Flemish often painted their instruments, decorative lids and soundboards being common features. French instruments developed from the Flemish design. Many so-called French harpsichords were in fact Flemish in origin, rebuilt by French makers who increased the compass in both treble and bass.

English harpsichords, in contrast, had a directness and down-to-earth quality both in appearance and sonority with a characteristically powerful tone, a reedy treble and a sonorous bass. Of polished veneered wood, with a straight, plain design, they could equally have one or two manuals. In general terms the harpsichord as a solo instrument was perhaps less popular in Germany than in France or England.

The spinet is a smaller, domestic harpsichord normally with one string per note. Having a shorter string length, the strings often run diagonally from the keyboard in order to save space. The virginal (or virginals, the plural being equally correct) also has one string per note but here these run parallel to the keyboard. This useful domestic instrument was more popular than the harpsichord in northern Europe (particularly in England and the Low Countries) in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. 

harpsichord keys Instruments on the clavichord principle were known in the fourteenth century and appeared to have been popular throughout Europe. By the 16th century it was little used in England and the Low Countries, although many examples can be found in Spain, Italy and Germany. Two strings per note, set closely together so that the tangent played both in unison was established as a general principle. There are early examples of fretted clavichords, where the tangents of adjacent keys hit one double string at the appropriate point.

Additional Resources:

  • Finchcock's Living Museum of Music
  • University of Michigan's Bradley Lehman's Harpsichord Sounds Page
  • Kleyn and Tigli's Harpsichord Sounds Page
  • Harpsichord Miscellany
  • Harpsichord Information Center
  • S. Virdung: Musica getutscht (Basle, 1511/r1970)
  • G. Zarlino: Le istitutioni harmoniche (Venice, 1558/r1965)
  • A. Banchieri: L'organo suonario (Venice, 1611)
  • M. Praetorius: Syntagma musicum ii, iii (Wolfenbuttel, 1618/r1958)
  • B. Jobernadi: Tratado de la musica, 1634
  • M. Mersenne: Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636/r1963)
  • C. Douwes: Grondig ondersoek van de toonen der musijk (Franeker, 1699/r1970)
  • J. Adlung: Musica mechanica organoedi (Berlin, 1768/r1961)
  • M. Steinert: Catalogue of the M. Steinert Collection of Keyed and Stringed Instruments (New Haven, 1893)
  • A. J. Hipkins: A description and History of the Pianoforte and of the Older Keyboard Instruments (London, 1899)
  • P. James: Early Keyboard Instruments (London, 1930/r1970)
  • W. Landowska: Commentaries for the 'Treasury of the Harpsichord Music' (New York, 1947)
  • F. Hubbard: Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making (Cambridge, Mass., 1965)