|Music from the Robert ap Huw Manuscript,
Dooley, one of the leading exponents of the Irish harp in its historical
form and style - playing a 34 brass wire-strung harp, with a frame
of cherry and soundbox made from of one piece of willow and plucking
the strings with the fingernails. Having pioneered the playing
of Irish dance music (Rip
the Calico CD) during the early part of his performing career,
more recently he has spent many years working on the Robert
ap Huw Manuscript, the oldest collection of harp music
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|Six pieces from the oldest collection of harp music in existence played on the metal-strung harp by Paul Dooley, one of Ireland 's most accomplished harpers.|
|01||PROFIAD Y BOTWM||
|02||GOSTEG DAFYDD ATHRO||
|03||CANIAD Y GWYN BIBYDD||
|04||CANIAD LLYWELYN DELYNIOR||
|05||PROFIAD YR EOS||
|06||CANIAD MARWNAD IFAN AB Y GOF||
Around the year 1613, Robert ap Huw, a young harper from Anglesey, copied transcriptions of the ancient harp music of Wales. The strange tablature he reproduced has puzzled scholars for centuries. Some have said this music is of the kind Gruffudd ap Cynan brought with him from Ireland c. 1100, when he reclaimed his ancestral throne of Gwynedd.
In the Middle Ages, a rich musical tradition thrived across Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Players of the harp and other stringed instruments supplied accompaniment to bardic poetry and also practised the art of purely instrumental music. This was the music of kings, chieftains and noblemen, an ancient classical tradition regulated by strict custom and convention, involving rigorous training and examination. Those who achieved the status of master of their craft were held in high esteem and enjoyed many privileges.
Ireland had been central to the tradition, yet it is from Wales alone that detailed records survive. These records (dating from c. 1496 onwards) constitute one of the greatest challenges in the history of music. For at least 250 years, scholars have had to struggle to make sense of those records, because the musical tradition vanished everywhere along with the suppression of classical native culture in the 16th and 17th centuries. A bewildering array of exotic, unfamiliar musical terms and principles which were the foundation of a vast repertoire of music now lost are described in manuscripts. Over 300 compositions, most of them of great length and complexity, were catalogued. It is possible to date a few of the named composers to a period ranging from c. 1320 to c. 1485. Some of the many unattributed pieces appear to be older as their titles have reference to earlier times, as far back as the 11th century, beyond which date the references seem to become mythological. This was the high art music known in Wales as cerdd dant, 'the music of strings'.
After the loss of Welsh independence at the end of the 13th century, the Welsh aristocracy were able to continue supporting these ancient style of string music and syllabic verse. At times, even the English monarchs were patrons, but tragically, towards the end of her reign, Elizabeth 1 must have come to view the harp as a symbol of resistance. In 1603 she sent the infamous, blunt instruction to Lord Barrymore in Ireland : " hang the harpers wherever found " ! In this climate of fear and uncertainty, patronage for the bardic institutions in Wales too, seems to have ground to a halt, finally ending a tradition that stretched back to the pre -Christian origins of bardism. Only echoes of this ancient system of music-making remain in today 's music.
By the middle of the 16th century, Welsh harpers had devised their own sophisticated musical notation in an effort to capture and preserve all the details of their art, perhaps with an awareness that it was already threatened with extinction. Many pieces were recorded but all of the original transcripts have been lost.
Miraculously, one manuscript of actual written music has survived. The Robert ap Huw Manuscript (British Library Additional MS 14905) contains some 71 pages of Welsh harp music drawn from the repertoire of cerdd dant. The material was copied c.1613 by Robert ap Huw from various sources, including a book by William Penllyn, a master harper of the mid 16th century. The music is written in a unique tablature ( with notes and strings represented by letters ). This is the oldest collection of harp music in existence and by far the oldest to contain both bass and treble parts.
As well as various instructions on how to interpret the tablature, the manuscript includes a list of 'Twenty Four Measures of Cerdd dant '. Measures were patterns of chord changes which formed the structural basis of the metre and harmony of a piece. Different chord types could be written as '1's and '0's. For instance, the measure named coraldan was written in shorthand as 111010010001. Remarkably complex pieces were built up using variation techniques in the treble, above long repeating chord cycles in the bass. The resulting music was completely different from any other medieval music, and yet, although the system of harmony used does not coincide with any system that has developed since, the harmonies are almost instantly accessible to modern ears.
Bronze plaque on the shrine of St. Mogue c. 1100
According to Welsh tradition, these 'Twenty - Four Measures of Cerdd Dant ' were settled at a council of Welsh and Norse- Irish musicians held at Glendalough in Ireland, in the presence of Muirchertach Ua Briain, High King of Ireland (1091 to 1119).
There are also several accounts that a similar meeting was held at Caerwys in Wales, by Muirchertach 's ally, Gruffudd ap Cynan, ruler of Gwynedd. In tradition, this meeting, or eisteddfod, was the origin of the set of rules governing the art and conduct of poets and musicians known as the Statue of Gruffudd ap Cynan. The statue lists all the requirements for the gradual progression of the apprentice musician to the level of pencerdd or master musician, ensuring precision in composition and the enduring conservation of each piece through accurate performance and teaching. Several versions of the Statue are extant, dating from the 16th century. One of the earliest was drawn up for another eisteddfod at Caerwys, commissioned by Henry VIII in 1523.
Gruffudd, son of Cynan ap lago, King of North Wales, had grown up in exile at the court of his grandfather, Olaf Sihtricson, Norse King of Dublin. In the latter part of the 11th century, Gruffudd raised an army and sailed many times from Ireland, fighting many battles before eventually reclaiming the throne of Gwynedd. By the early 1100s, he had regained much of his father's territory. Gruffudd's reign and that of his son, Owain were relatively peaceful times, allowing music and poetry to flourish. This period is seen by some as the " golden Age" of the arts in Wales.
The Annals of Ireland record Gruffudd's
death under the year 1137 and mention that he brought with him
from Ireland performers and various stringed instruments:
David Powel, a 16th century Welsh historian, wrote: " There are three sorts of minstrels in Wales; the first sort named Beirdh, which are makers of songs and odes of sundrie measures, ... The second sort of these are plaiers upon instruments, chiefly the Harp and Crowth, whose musike for the most part came to Wales with the said Griffyth ap Conan, who begin on the one side an Irishman by his mother and his grandmother, and also borne in Ireland, brought over with him out of that countrie divers cunning musicians into Wales, who derived in a manner all the instrumental musike that is now there used, as appeareth as well by the books written of the same, as also by the names of the tunes and measures used amongst them to this daie. The third sort, called Atcaneaid, are those which do sing to the instrument plaied by another, and these be in use to this daie."
Dolwyddelan castle, Gwynedd, North Wales
St. Kevin's Kichen, Monastic city of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
A factual basis for these traditions of musical links between Ireland and Wales is suggested by the famous passage on Irish instrumental music written in 1188 by the very well-informed Welsh writer, Giraldus de Barri:
" The attention of this people to musical instruments, I find worthy of commendation, in which their skill is beyond comparison superior to that of any nation I have seen ... It is wonderful how, in such precipitate rapidly of the fingers, the musical proportions are preserved, and by their art faultless throughout: in the midst of their complicated modulations, and most intricate arrangements of notes, by a rapidity so sweet, a regularity so irregular, a concord so discordant, the melody is rendered harmonious...that all may be perfected in the sweetness of delicious sounds. They enter upon, and again leave, their modulations with so much subtlety; and the tinklings of the small strings sport with so much freedom under the deep notes of the bass, delight with so much delicacy, soothe so softly, that the excellence of their art seems to lie in concealing it....
It is to be observed, however, that Scotland and Wales, the latter in order to disseminate the art, the former in consequence of intercourse and affinity, strive with rival skill to emulate Ireland in music ...."
Giraldus later repeated much of the same passage to describe instrumental music in ales. Considering the strong ties between Ireland and Wales in his time, along with the highly conservative nature of the Welsh tradition during the centuries that followed, it ought to be that the music Giraldus was so taken with was very closely related to that copied by Robert ap Huw some 420 years later. So it is that the manuscript provides us with a unique window onto an ancient form of music, one that seems to have once dominated the Celtic world, if not beyond.
The harp played on this recording is a low-headed meatal-strung harp,a type once common throughout Britain and Ireland. The harp is strung with brass and bronze wire and the soundbox is carved out of one solid piece of willow. Its design is based on the Trinity College Harp (also known as the Brian Boru Harp), the oldest surviving Irish harp.
PROFIAD Y BOTWM (Profiad of the Button or the Boss)
The profiad pieces, or preludes, are structured
very differently from the other pieces in the manuscript.
GOSTEG DAFYDD ATHRO (Gosteg of Dafydd the Master)
This is one of a small group of straightforward pieces that may have been used to provide a background to feasting, perhaps to accompany the ceremonial involved in formal banqueting such as the entering and seating of the guests and the setting of table.
Its simple structure gives the listener of today a good introduction to one of the many measures of cerdd dant. Here the measure is corffiniwr, essentially a pattern of chord-changes which used to be written 11001011 11001011.
The Dafydd Athro of the title is listen in the tradition genealogy of harpers in a position that would suggest he flourished around the mid 14th century.
CANIAD Y GWYN BIBYDD (Caniad of the Grey-or Fair-Haired Piper)
This fairly short piece is unusual in that it refers to piping. It may be best understood as a good-humoured sketch of how harpers viewed the music of pipers. It certainly is a very light and lively piece, with a drone throughout.
CANIAD LLYWELYN DELYNIOR (Caniad of Llywelyn the Harper)
The last in the manuscript, this complex piece may have been designed as soothing music (suaintrai in Irish). There are many references to the practice of Celtic Kings and chieftains having their harper play them to sleep in the bedchamber. Music is sweetest in the dark, explains an early Irish text.
PROFIAD YR EOS (Profiad of the Nightingale)
Yr eos, the nightingale, was an epithet that was applied to particularly respected performers. Unlike Profiad y Botwm, this dramatic prelude has a restless, almost desperate flavour, taking us into a strange and unfamiliar musical landscape. Just the introduction is played here.
CANIAD MARWNAD IFAN APY GOF (Lament for Ifan ab y Gof)
This class of piece, the 'death-playing ' or lament, was composed in honour of the deceased, probably not for the funeral but for the memorial service that was traditionally held a month later.
Ifan, a member of one of the most prominent musical families of his time, was a highly respected harper and composer. This piece is one of the two laments for him listed in early manuscripts, where one is attributed to his son Llywelyn and the other to Dafydd Athro.Following an extensive first part in the keening, lamenting style, in which even the tolling of church-bells seems to be imitated, the piece does not leave us in sorrow but moves forward into celebration.
I had my first encounter with mysterious music in the early 70's when I heard an arrangement of some of it by Arnold Dolmetsch on Alan Stivell 's record "Renaissance of the Celtic Harp ".
The album was a huge influence on my starting to play the harp. But it was much later that the Robert ap Huw manuscript became irresistible to me. In 1994 in Wales I met the harper and dedicated researcher, Peter Greenhill. He had been working on the music for over twenty years, building on all the latest research until practical solutions to all its puzzles had been found.
What emerged were a small number of clear and consistent principles which, for the first time, make musical sense of the entire manuscript. The results were fascinating and I just had to start playing the music.
Although we can never be certain about the
finer points of expression in written music, even with this ancient
manuscript, there are many clues to be found if one is prepared
to be patient.
I let the music speak for itself...
Paul DooleyFor more on the interpretation, go to : www.pauldooley.com /aphuw - pages
My thanks to:
Fiona, Paddy & Jimin for putting up with me through all this. Val Blance, artistic director at Aras Eanna, for all the tea and moral support,and most of all, Peter Greenhill for all his help and for sharing his years of experience with the music.
Digital Photography by Fiona O' Dwyer
All Titles arr. Peter Greenhill (MCPS)
The Robert ap Huw Manuscript (Lb1 Add. MS 14905) is reproduced by permission of the British Library. Translations from Giraldus de Barri 's Topographica Hiberniae and David Powel 's Historie of Cambria courtesy of Walton 's Publishing, Dublin. Dolwyddelan Castle photographed by Steve Crampton, ElectronicPictures. The Trinity College Harp, photographed by Declan Corrigan is reproduced by kind permission of the Board Trinity College Dublin. The Shrine of St. Mogue is reproduced by kind permission of The National Museum of Ireland.
|Title:||Music from the Robert ap Huw Manuscript, Vol. 1|
|Instruments:||Solo Harp (wire strung)|