A medley of Instruments
Early instruments seldom match the dynamic range of their modern orchestral equivalents, but they do have a range of expression which, at its best, gives the music great emotional depth. Renaissance Spanish music provides many possibilities to contrast different instrumental families, such as the sensuous quality of recorders and voice against rhythmic bass lines played on viol, vihuela or cornamuse and driving percussion.
The instruments that we play are described on this page.
VoiceThe voice is not usually regarded as an instrument. In fact, the voice works like any other woodwind, with air passing over a vibrating membrane - the vocal cords. Pitch is changed by altering the cord tension, and the quality of the voice can also be varied by changing the shape of the mouth and tilting the larynx. Singing was highly regarded as a skill for both men and women. Queen Isabella was herself an accomplished singer, and taught her daughter Catherine of Aragon. History records that Catherine sang Spanish songs at the English court with her cousin Margaret of Austria, before her marriage to Henry VIII. We also know that the Spanish court was very aware of the wider European culture. Our main source book, 'The Songs of the Palace', includes pieces from the Netherlands to Southern Spain, which was in turn influenced by North African music. Expert singers may have employed a range of styles, including the reedy quality of the classical Arabic tradition, and the purity of early French song.
- Viola da gamba
Viola da gamba
PercussionAgain, we know little about what instruments were used, especially as percussion is almost never specified outside the orchestral tradition. So it's one of the joys of this music that we've been able to explore both European and Arabic percussion, adding great variety and drive to the music. At present, our percussion includes: Frame drums (top) - large shallow drums from 30-60 cm in diameter that produce a very resonant sound and can be tuned to the mode of the piece. The darabuka (second) - a one- or two-headed drum of relatively high pitch, usually with a ceramic, wooden or metal body. The riqq (third) - a small frame drum with jingling-plates from North Africa that has existed in Spain from the Middle Ages to the present day under the name of pandereta. The tabor (bottom) - a large cylindrical drum played with a single stick. For more information about tabors, see Harms Historical Percussion. We also use folk percussion such as claves, maracas and bells. The darabuka, frame drums and riqq were made for us by Norbert Eckermann.
Lute[caption id="attachment_502" align="alignright" width="154"] Renaissance lute by Arthur Robb 2013[/caption] The lute has a long and distinguished history, the origins of which can be traced to Mesopotamia from 3000 BC. When the Moors invaded Spain in the eighth century, they brought with them a plucked instrument called the oud (literally meaning 'the wood'), which has the typical lute pear-shaped body with bowled back and angled peg box. The earliest depiction of a European lute can be found in the Libro de Jueglos (Book of Games) commissioned by Alphonso in 1283. This instrument is fretted, whilst the oud is not, reflecting the very different type of music played by the two traditions. The earliest European lutes have four courses or pairs of strings. Over time, these increased to five, and then six - which became the standard number for most of the Renaissance. It was only in the second half of the sixteenth century that the number of courses increased to ten. During the baroque period, the body size and number of strings increased with up to 14 courses being common. This caused certain tuning difficulties and was one of the reasons for the demise of the lute in the eighteenth century. Another reason was its small volume compared to keyboard instruments, which were more effective in providing accompaniment and continue parts in chamber ensembles. When asked how long he had been playing, the great lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss - then in his fiftieth year, answered "Twenty years". Contradicted by one of his friends, who knew for certain that Weiss was already playing the lute in his tenth year, Weiss replied, "True, but for twenty years I was tuning the instrument".