Digital Medievalist: Scéla
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Last week both Mirabillis.ca and Celtica Studica linked to stories about an incredible find of five Celtic battle trumpets, or carnyxes. The 470 objects and fragments of objects, (the find is stupendous in terms of the objects) were found at the end of September during a dig at Naves, in Correze in southern France, in a ditch hollowed out of a Gallic-Roman temple. Their find doubles the number carnyxes (or really, pieces of individual carnyxes) we have. Four of the carnyxes end in boar's head bells, the fifth, a snake.
Sometime around 1816, in a field in Deskford, near Leitchiston, in Banffshire, Scotland, the remains of a Carynx was found, one of only 5 to be found Europe-wide, until now. Dating as far back as between 100 and 300 C. E., the fragment was the "head" or bell of the carnnx, featuring a wild boars' head (see the image on the left), was made of beaten bronze sheets and brass findings. At Deskford, in north-east Scotland, the finest example of the surviving carnyx parts was found, amongst other offerings, in a peat bog.
The carnyx is held vertically when played, so that the sound emerges from the bell of the trumpet, about 10 feet from the ground, well over the head of most men. When properly played, the carnyx is both loud and penetrating. Diodorus Siculus, discussing the Gauls, wrote "Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war" (Hist. 5.30); later, Polybius in a description of the 225 B. C. E. battle of Telamon describes the terror of the Romans at the onslaught of the Celts. He emphasizes
the dreadful din, for there were innumerable hornblowers and trumpeters and, as the whole army were shouting their war-cries at the same time, there was such a tumult of sound that it seemed that not only the trumpeters and the soldiers but all the country round had got a voice and caught up the cry
(Hist. 29.5-9; Cited in Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. 103).
The carnyx is frequently featured on ancient Celtic coins, on Roman sculpture, even on sculpture in India. Perhaps the best known example of the carnyx in art is on one of the interior panels of the Gundestrup Cauldron (see image to your right). In the late 1990s John Kenny reconstructed a playable carnyx based on the fragments found in Deskford. He subsequently recorded several CDs featuring the Carnyx, even working with performers like Kathryn Tickell, who features the ancient horn on her album Ensemble Mystical, on the "Burning Babe" track. You can hear a bit of John Kenny playing the carnyx here, or on his Voice of the Carnyx album here.
Friday, November 26, 2004
A few days ago Metafilter had an interesting link to this site about the Cantigas de Santa Maria. The Cantigas de Santa Maria represent one of the largest collections of solo songs from the middle ages. The manuscripts were written during the reign of King Alfonso X "El Sabio" (1221-1284), though probably not actually by him, all attributions aside. The Cantigas, 420 narrative and lyric poems in praise of the Virgin Mary, are preserved in four manscripts, all closely related, and include the music (with duration and timing information). The lyrics of the Cantigas are in Galician-Portuguese, the literary language of thirteenth century Castile. Two of the manuscripts are illuminated, with images closely related to the lyrics of the songs. The illustrations are not only charming works of art in their own right, they're highly regarded by music historians for the information they provide about early music performance and instruments. The Cantigas Database project, directed by Dr Stephen Parkinson, is assembling data about the cantigas, including possible sources of the texts, classifying and organizing them in terms of content and type, with plans to analyze the texts and their illustrations.
Somewhat surprisingly, I first learned of the Cantigas, not from one of the early music classes I took as an undergraduate, but from a passing reference in Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. In II 2 of The Game of Kings the always allusive Lymond Crawford writes in a letter to Christian Stewart, delivered via the inadvertent services of Agnes Herries:
Rosa das rosas e Fror das frores
Those are lines from Cantiga 10; you can see the accompanying illumination here from Cantigas de Santa Maria: Spain, ca. 1280, Codex Ms. T. I. 1 (Cantigas [Canticles] de S. Maria). Done under Alfonso X. Madrid, El Escorial.
The iTunes music store has a couple of albums containing selections from the Cantigas, including one from the Unicorn Ensemble, featuring "Rosa das Rosa." You can hear it here . In addition to the melodic tonalities we associate with Western European medieval music, you can also hear the influence of medieval Arabic classical music.