Gallic Bards

The singer poets of Medieval northern Europe were creating music that developed apart from the Greek and Roman, and Christian Church music evolving in the south (such as madrigal.) Roman historians even made note of their outer provinces' Gallic bards' poems and songs, and their lyre-like instrument was represented on Julius Caesar era gold medallions. Charlemagne's collection of their songs unfortunately has not survived ravages of time. Breton's contributed with the use of the Crouth (also called, Crowd, Chrotta, Crwth) where a bow moved across strings pressed by the left hand inserted in an upper opening. The Welsh developed that instrument into their harp. The bards Fingal, Fergus, and Ossian have only their fame remaining, sadly, leaving none of their songs.

They were proficient in two different secular groupings. One class specialized in heraldry, history and emphasized poetry, the other were musicians, with doctorates earned after at least 9 years: in harp, the six string crouth and vocals.

Celtic Bards

Fergus, the traditionary bard of Ireland, sang of the heroic, the legendary, and the warriors. And he was one of many of that time that had already an established music tradition rivaling any others of the 5th century before St. Patrick landed and established his missionary work. This art was at its height at the 10th century with Irish King O'Brien, and his 28 string large based, four holed harp. Ever since England began its constant warring and conquering, banning the Irish traditional music, temporarily crippling the mighty legacy, the culture has since been striving to rebound. (And now in the 21st century has become an enlightened and prosperous one.) Of course, the Scottish bards were of same tradition; and they had the trademark bagpipe, along with the Celtic harp.

Other Early Northern European Scalds

The Anglo Saxons further south (before the Norman Conquest) had scalds (as their bards were called), and gleemen or minstrel; and the monks provided music in monasteries. Alfred the Great played the harp and sang, while others played the psaltery, the rota, minature 11 stringed harps, the viols called fiddles, citharas, coronets, and other horns. Ancient scalds of the Scandinavian used harps and an interesting horn instrument, the lüdr; and the mythic Runic poetry exists in the Edda. The Finns have their Kalevala a myth similar to Orpheus accompanied by Kantèle or Harpu a psaltry-like 5 string minor scaled instrument.

The main contribution of all these northern bards, scalds, minstrels, and other singers was their danceable rhythms from being celebratory music of the people. The traveling minstrels shared techniques during their stays in various castles, Inns, camps, and monastaries. As Robert le Mains explained:

I can play the lute, the violin, the pipe, the bagpipe, the syrinx, the harp, the gigue, the gittern, the symphony, the psaltery, the organistrum, the regals, the tabor, and the rote. I can sing a song well and make tales and fable.


After the Crusades, the 12th to 13th centuries education improved, and the finer arts became more appreciated created with higher form and in better social settings. The trouveres were the singers comprised of knights who not only competed with jousting, but with verse competition. They would be brought in to lighten things up during the heavy times of Lent. Their secular services would be paid for, and even their continued musical education was helped, even though this was on a sporadic availability. The music of these centuries survives as "airs," which by todays standards was more primitive, but there was variety: Chansons des Gestes, Romances, and Serventois were for single voice, Motets, and Rondeaux were for dicant style; and for more voices they had duplum, triplum, quadruplum, and quintuplum.


jongleurs perform their work, unless it was before other high-born aristocracy. The list of these is the Who's Who of Chivalry:

  • Richard the Lion-Hearted of England
  • Count William of Poitiers
  • Rambout
  • The Count of Orange
  • Pierre d'Auvergne
  • Pierre Ramon de Toulouse
  • Pierre Vidal
  • Pons de Capdueil (a poet and violinist as well)
  • Aimeric de Pequilain
  • Blagobres (a virtuoso on all instruments)
  • Blondel de Nesle
  • Chatelain de Coucy
  • Thibault, King of Navarre

The French historian, Clement had a list of 28 trouvÁres of lesser social class than those, but we have 33 songs of Adam La Hale (b. 1240). He is attributed with the first opera, Robin and Marion, a Jeux Partis consisting of dialogue and airs.

German Versions


These (Love singers) were the German equivalent, of which 162 are listed in this occupation. This group, mixed with some royalty, including even kings, Richard Wagner characterized later in his operas. Some of the notable members were Klingsor, Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parcival), Gottfried of Strasburg (Tristan and Isolde), Walter von der Vogelwiede, the Chevalier Tannhauser, and Frauenlob Henrich Meissen. Their love themes diverged from their French counterparts in the emphatic portrayal of purity in a woman.


Folk songs of the common people were simpler than their fancy peers, but they were so full of rhythm, had three-voice style; and they were ahead of their time utilizing major and minor modes.


They were the most noted (especially Wagner) of these kinds of guilds, whose members received their charters from Emperor Charles 1V. They were mostly a varied group of tradesmen, not the most noble or educated: farriers, locksmiths, armorer, cobblers] and tailors. They had another clique within which comprised of "higher classed " company of engravers, physicians, and the independently wealthy gentlemen. The most famous of these was the cobbler-poet of Nuremburg, Hans Sachs, who followed, like all the others; the conservative format of Tablatura.

The stereotype of the happy wandering troubadour can now take its own minstrel troup on the road, the reality was far richer and exciting than the fairy tales that have been handed down.

source: History of Music; W.J. Baltzell, 1905

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