Tuning the Lyre and Crwth

 

 

Photograph: Ben Stammers and Sarah Roberts

 

Robert Evans talks about tuning the lyre and crwth

  

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 different tunings.

 

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 century.

 

pic  

Photograph: Ben Stammers and Sarah Roberts

 

Mary-Anne Roberts singing a stanza from 'Y Gododdin'

accompanied by Robert Evans on the 6th century lyre.

 

Our E-mail address bragod@bragod.com

 

  

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Lecture: Robert Evans.

 

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