The personalities of medieval musical instruments can be described as having a lot of variety—in character, color, and volume, to name a few. Many of the typical instruments of the Middle Ages can even be defined by a combination of the kinds of sounds they produce.
Two instruments that lie at opposite ends in character are the harp and the hurdy-gurdy.
The medieval harp is a soft instrument and a much simpler version of the one heard in today’s orchestras, yet both have a common ancestor. The harp is often associated with the Biblical King David and, by extension, with wisdom.
The hurdy-gurdy, on the other hand, has a strong, piercing, and rustic sound. It, too, is an ancient instrument, its drone strings and simple keyboard playing music heard in many villages.
Bagpipes and Clavicytherium
Two other medieval instruments with very different characteristics are the bagpipes and the clavicytherium. Like the hurdy-gurdy, the bagpipes recall a more rustic music-making and one done outdoors, while clavicytherium, a type of early harpsichord, is always played indoors and in intimate settings.
John Abberger and the Baroque Oboe
Principal oboe of the Canadian baroque orchestra Tafelmusik, John Abberger is in fact an American who took up the baroque oboe in the early 80s not long after graduating from Juilliard. In 2005, he recorded J.S. Bach’s oboe concertos with the ensemble Four Centuries of Bach.
Our featured recording is of Spanish Renaissance composer Alonso Mudarra. The European group Private Musick explores music from Mudarra’s Tres Libros de Musica en cifra para vihuela. Published in Seville in 1546, it contains music by Mudarra and his contemporaries for the vihuela, a kind of early guitar, in addition to including music for voice with vihuela accompaniment.
The ensemble’s director, Pierre Pitzl, has also arranged some of the pieces for viola da gamba consort. Spanish soprano Raquel Andueza is the soloist in the vocal works.