Harmonia Early Music

Medieval Instruments: Pipe & Tabor, Vielle, Organetto, & Recorder

Harmonia goes medieval on you in a tour of a few of the typical instruments from the Middle Ages---the vielle, recorder, organetto, and the pipe and tabor.

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musicians and instruments

Photo: Anonymous

Instruments from the Middle Ages (l to r: pipe and tabor, vielle, organetto, and recorder).

The musical instruments played in the middle ages were unusual, varied, and used in a multitude of contexts. The idea of what was standard didn’t really exist, but there were classes of instruments such as keyboards, winds (which were blown), plucked (like a harp), bowed (like a violin), or percussion (like a drum). Instruments were also grouped by volume… as in “loud” or “soft.”

The music that was performed was either vocal, dance, or anything in between.

Pipe and Tabor

One instrument that was both wind and percussion was the pipe and tabor, which has been around since at least the Middle Ages though hasn’t changed much in the ensuing centuries. Imagine the way a pipe and tabor is played: the performer often holds one end of a recorder-like instrument with his left hand while blowing into the other end. Around his left wrist is a leather strap from which hangs a small drum about the size of a tambourine. With his right hand, he beats the drum in time with the music. Sometimes beats with the music in a straightforward way, and, in others, he gets kind of funky.

Vielle

Slightly pear-shaped and resembling a violin, the medieval vielle was on the shoulder and resting on the legs like a small viola da gamba. It was a very expressive instrument used in accompanying the voice or even performing arrangements of vocal music. One of its ideal partners was the harp, another instrument widely played medieval Europe.

The vielle was played in all parts of society… from peasants to the nobility. It was played at home, at court, as well as dances and parties.

Organetto

The organetto of the 14th and 15th centuries was no different than the organ except that it was smaller… much smaller. It was portable and was carried by a strap over the shoulder. It could sit quite easily on a table top or on one’s lap. The right hand pressed the keys while the left pumped the bellows. The organetto was heard alone or with other instruments such as percussion.

Recorder

Today, the recorder is associated with schoolchildren all over the world who are introduced to the fundamentals of music by playing melodies on it. Yet, the recorder has been around since the 13th Century when it was used to play vocal and dance music of all varieties (its use as teaching tool came much, much later). Professional musicians normally had a main instrument and played the recorder on the side (sometimes in a consort).

The music heard on this episode was performed by La Colombina, Poul Høxbro, Per Far Lieto, Tetratkys, and Rayuela.

Here’s a video of the duo Per Far Lieto performing the anonymous song “Per non far lieto”:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k89vPGjURYE

Music Heard On This Episode

Tomás Luis de Victoria: Psalmus "Confitebor"
La Colombina — Ad Vesperas (K617, 2008)
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Tomás Luis de Victoria: Psalmus "Confitebor"
La Colombina — Ad Vesperas (K617, 2008)
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Anonymous: "Got in vier elementen" (and others)
Poul Høxbro, pipe and tabor — Tu Tu Pan Pan: A piper’s journey through medieval Europe (Classico, 1999)
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Francesco Bonporti: “Invenzione prima” in A major, III.Giga.Allegro
Chiara Banchini, violin, Jesper Christensen, harpsichord, and Gaetano Nasillo, cello — Invenzioni a violin solo (HMX, 1997)
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Nicolaus de Perugia: O sommo specchio – instrumental
Tetraktys — O tu cara sciença mie musica: Works from the Squarcialupi Codex (Olive, 2006)
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Francesco Bonporti: “Invenzione prima” in A major, IV.Recitativo
Chiara Banchini, violin, Jesper Christensen, harpsichord, and Gaetano Nasillo, cello — Invenzioni a violin solo (HMX, 1997)
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Gherardello da Firenze : Ballata "Per non far lieto"
Per far lieto (Catalina Vicens, organetto, and David Kuckhermann, percussion)
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Francesco Bonporti: “Invenzione prima” in A major, Bizari
Chiara Banchini, violin, Jesper Christensen, harpsichord, and Gaetano Nasillo, cello — Invenzioni a violin solo (HMX , 1997)
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Jacobus de Bononia/Anonymous: Aquil’altera-Creatura gentile-Uccel di Dio
Rayuela — Instrumental Music with Recorders between 1300 and 1650 (Olive Music , 2005)
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Tomás Luis de Victoria: Magnificat secundi toni
La Colombina — Ad Vesperas (K617, 2008)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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  • Stephen Rouse

    is it not possible to listen to harmonia online anymore? what happened? I am unable to listen on the radio and have always listened online.

  • http://www.bernardgordillo.com/ Bernard Gordillo

    Stephen, are you not able to access all of the archived shows, or is it just week's? If it is this week's, it's not accessible just yet because it's still airing around the country. You'll be able to listen to it and all of the forthcoming shows beginning on the week following their airing. “Medieval Instruments” will be up on Monday morning. Many thanks for listening to us online.

  • deemery

    On a related note, why can't this show be made available in MP3 format so it can be carried around on portable music players? I have means to “transcribe” the show from RealAudio to an MP3 so I can listen to it on airplanes, but it's a pain to have to do this extra step.

    An RSS feed for the show, as well as for the podcast, would be appreciated. Not everyone is into the Twitter fad.

  • http://www.bernardgordillo.com/ Bernard Gordillo

    The show is streamed due to broadcasting regulations and is not available for download. RSS feeds can be accessed through the home page by clicking on the feed icon next to each component of the show (programs, podcasts, blog). Thanks for listening to the program!

  • http://www.bernardgordillo.com/ Bernard Gordillo

    The show is streamed due to broadcasting regulations and is not available for download. RSS feeds can be accessed through the home page by clicking on the feed icon next to each component of the show (programs, podcasts, blog). Thanks for listening to the program!

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  • annakim925

    Using the name, I think that “portative organ” is more popular than “organetto”.

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