Medieval musical instruments

Music rarely plays a role in historical mysteries as a way of capturing the essence of a story’s time and place. There are some exceptions such as Alan Gordon’s Fool’s Guild mysteries, Edward Marston’s Nicholas Bracewell series set in the Elizabethan theatre, Margaret Frazer’s Joliffe series set around a traveling troupe of actors and Beverle Graves Myers’ series with Venetian opera singer Tito Amato. Michael Jecks’ recent title, The Templar, the Queen and her Lover, had a band of musicians as prominent characters and Frank Tallis does an excellent job of describing the passion for music in his series set in Vienna. However, authors tend to use sights and smells that are more familiar to modern readers rather than the unfamiliar sounds of instruments long ago abandoned.

Curious readers who are interested in discovering the difference between a rebec and a rackett, what a sacbut looks like or how a kortholt sounds should visit the Medieval and Renaissance Instruments site maintained by the Musica Antiqua group at Iowa State University. The site lists thirty-two instruments from bagpipe to zink. Each instrument is given its own page with a photos, history and additional resources. Many pages also include wav or mp3 files so you can actually hear the instruments in use. The group’s site also lists many other early music resources on the web.

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