Music in Welsh Culture Before 1650: A Study of the Principal Sources

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Music in Wales has long been a neglected area. Scholars have been deterred both by the need for a knowledge of the Welsh language, and by the fact that an oral tradition in Wales persisted far later than in other parts of Britain, resulting in a limited number of sources with conventional notation. Sally Harper provides the first serious study of Welsh music before 1650 and draws on a wide range of sources in Welsh, Latin and English to illuminate early musical practice. This book challenges and refutes two widely held assumptions - that music in Wales before 1650 is impoverished and elusive, and that the extant sources are too obscure and fragmentary to warrant serious study. Harper demonstrates that there is a far wider body of source material than is generally realized, comprising liturgical manuscripts, archival materials, chronicles and retrospective histories, inventories of pieces and players, vernacular poetry and treatises. This book examines three principal areas: the unique tradition of cerdd dant (literally 'the music of the string') for harp and crwth; the Latin liturgy in Wales and its embellishment, and 'Anglicised' sacred and secular materials from c.1580, which show Welsh music mirroring English practice. Taken together, the primary material presented in this book bears witness to a flourishing and distinctive musical tradition of considerable cultural significance, aspects of which have an important impact on wider musical practice beyond Wales.

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About the Author:

Sally Harper is a senior lecturer and Director of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Music, University of Wales, Bangor, where she also directs the Centre for Advanced Welsh Music Studies and edits the bilingual journal Welsh Music History / Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru. Brought up in the West Midlands, she moved to Anglesey in 1991, and now speaks Welsh fluently. She has written widely on music and culture in medieval and early modern Wales, although her first book was a study of Benedictine medieval liturgy, and she continues to work in this field. She also has interests in the music of the contemporary church.

Review:

'This is an important addition to our understanding of Wales's rich musical heritage.' South Wales Evening Post 'The book is excellent in its way - congratulations on the author for her labours...' Early Music Review 'This substantial publication is the first modern, and only major, study to provide a comprehensive overview of Welsh music history from the earliest written evidence up to the mid-seventeenth century... erudite yet highly accessible, thorough and well laid out... Harper's survey is an ambitious one, and not one that many scholars could have attempted, let alone succeeded in carrying out with such conviction. This book will long remain a milestone not only for students of the history of music in medieval Wales, but as a model-setting example of Insular musicological research. We are very much in her debt.' Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland 'Sally Harper has taken a gigantic leap forward in this largely unknown territory... the story of one musical culture yielding to another has been repeated all over the world. When it is actually happening it can be observed by ethnomusicologists. When it lies in the past, it has to be unearthed from documents, a difficult process which Sally Harper has accomplished in exemplary fashion.' NABMSA Newsletter 'This is a pioneering work in the study of early Welsh music... This is a truly remarkable work of Welsh music scholarship and one that will serve a wide and demanding readership for many years to come.' Renaissance Quarterly 'This study is consummate in its scope and in the thoroughness with which each of its aspects is addressed. It is generously illustrated with images, maps and tables, and it also contains a useful catalogue of liturgical manuscripts in the Appendix. This clear and well-ordered presentation, together with a very detailed index, makes the book both accessible and extremely useful for investigating specific topics ... (Harper) has ... provided musicologists and those interested more generally in the history and performance of Welsh musical arts with an indispensable guide to the sources and their interpretation.' Early Music 'This volume [...] fills a major gap by providing an accessible English-medium guide to the often disparate sources from which a clearer view of musical traditions in Wales can be pieced together... a valuable guidebook to a very complex field that will now be opened up to a far wider audience in Wales and beyond... this study provides a window not only onto the history of music but also onto cultural life in Wales during a period of tremendous changes.' Plainsong and Medieval Music 'Those of us who have on occasion spoken or written about the history of music in Wales have generally fallen into the trap of claiming that there is little that can be said about any period before the eighteenth century because of lack of evidence. This important study sets out to counter that mistaken view, and does so with distinction. ... This is a major work of scholarship which is proof of the author's standing as one of the foremost historians of Welsh music.' Welsh History Review '... the first serious major study of the Welsh music of this period... Dr Harper brings a staggering array of disparate sources together in a tour de force of forensic musicology, coupled with an acute awareness of wider cultural concerns, and she does so with a clear, well-pointed prose style which is eminently readable... (She) has produced a study that will surely remain the definitive text for the foreseeable future. The book is well illustrated and authoritatively and comprehensively referenced.' Studia Celtica 'The book is well illustrated with tables, maps, and pictures, and in this as in other respects it serves the needs of both the specialist and the generalist readers. Harper's study is an important achievement and one that she was uniquely qualified to write. It should serve as the point of departure for future work on the history of music in medieval Wales for some considerable time to come.' Speculum 'Sally Harper's publication is both a pioneering study in, and a significant contribution to, Welsh musical studies...This publication is both well structured and neatly presented. It provides a durable framework for equivalent studies in other areas of musical interest. Simply put, Harper proves that the music of Wales is worthy of serious consideration by scholars in ethnomusicology and in cognate disciplines.' Ethnomusicology

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