The six-stringed lyre shown
above is a copy of a lyre from a Frankish grave of
around 700 A.D. and was found under the floor of
the church of St. Severin. Similar lyres are
depicted in manuscripts and on carvings produced in
Britain during the 8th and 9th centuries (e.g.
Durham Cassiodorus, fol. 81v: David Rex, early 8th
century and a sculpted coloumn at Masham,
Yorkshire, early 9th century) and found in Saxon
graves from the 6th century onwards. The copy, made
by Guy Flockhart of Cardiff, faithfully follows the
original in having the sound board nailed to the
body (which is carved from one piece), instead of
being glued, as are more modern instruments like
the crwth. The lyre was the most important stringed
instrument in Northern Europe in the 6th and 7th
centuries and its primary role was to accompany
song. The strings of this lyre pass over an amber
bridge and splay to meet the tuning pins directly,
there is no nut.
The copy is strung,
experimentally, with gut. Hucbald of St Amand
(840-930 A.D.) seems to suggest CDEFGA as a lyre
tuning in his De harmonica institutione and
Bragod have begun setting stanzas from 'Y Gododdin'
and other material from The Book of Aneirin
using Hucbald's tuning. It is likely that other
tunings were also used in the 6th and 7th centuries
and Bragod has embarked on further settings using
The North European lyre was
strummed with a plectrum held in the right hand.
The fingers and thumb of the left hand rested
against the strings, damping but not silencing
them, and releasing single strings, or maybe groups
of strings, to sound freely as the music required.
In the type of lyre illustrated on this page, the
frame of the instrument is shaped so that the left
hand of the player may be firmly wedged in place,
making a strap unnecessary.
The lyre is the ancestor of the
crwth. By the 9th century, some lyres had a finger
board bisecting the frame, like the crwth (Bible
of Charles the Bald,9th century A.D., Paris,
Bibliothèque Nationale). When the bow
reached Europe (certainly by the 11th century), all
the elements of the crwth were gathered together.
The bow may be considered as a new kind of
plectrum. A player may bear against the frame of
the crwth with the outer edge of the left hand
while the left thumb is plucking the lateral
strings, so gaining extra stability. CDEFGA,
Hucbald's lyre tuning, also the 'natural hexachord'
or 'natural deduction' of Guido d'Arezzo
(995-1050), is the series of notes produced by the
crwth in first position. The crwth tuning used in
medieval Wales survived into the late 18th