Anglo-Irish Music from 1200 to 1400

From A History of Irish Music by William H. Grattan Flood

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Chapter X

UP to the present we have been treating of Irish musical history in its true acceptation, that is Celtic-Irish music, but from the year 1200 Anglo-Irish music has to be reckoned with, as a distinct factor in the social life of Erin. Between the years 1180 and 1280 there was a fusion between the invaders and the native Irish, and some years subsequently, as Dr. Joyce writes, "the English all over the country were fast becoming absorbed with the native population." In the first decade of the thirteenth century many of the colonists had adopted the language, dress, and habits of their adopted country, and, in 1206 (among the deeds of Christ Church, Dublin), there is mention of "Geoffrey the Piper."

One of the greatest musical theorists of the thirteenth century was John Garland, of County Louth, known variously as De Garlande and Gerlandus. Born about the year 1190, he was sent to Oxford to be educated, as was generally the case with the Anglo-Irish nobles,[1] and, in 1212 or 1213, he went to finish his studies at Paris. In 1218 we find him taking part in the crusade against the Albigenses at Toulouse, where he wrote his famous treatise on music, De Musica Mensurabili Positio, and then returned to Paris. So great was his fame as a grammarian and poet, that he was selected to assist at the foundation of the University of Toulouse in 1229, but he had to leave, in 1232, owing to friction with the Dominicans. We again find him in Paris, in 1234, where he was still living, in 1264, according to Roger Bacon. The street in which he lived and taught was called the "Clos de Garlande," afterwards known as "Rue Gallande."

John Garland gives ample evidence of the musical principles he had imbibed in Ireland by his strong insistence on the rhythmical test in Organum. He divides Organum into two kinds, namely, Rectum and non rectum, and he tells us that the Long and the Breve are to be strictly taken in the first regular mode—the plain chant being notated in symbols of equal length. To him is due the invention of the copula and the figures sine proprietate. But he also shone as an original composer, and gives some admirable lessons in double counterpoint.

Not alone did Garland excel all his fellows as a musician, but he was a distinguished literary man, as appears from his De Triumphis Ecclesiae which he finished at Paris, in 1252, and of which the British Museum possesses a MS. copy, which has been printed by Mr. Thomas Wright.

Among the deeds of Christ Church, Dublin, there is mention, under date of 1260, of "William the piper;" [2] and, in 1287, there is a record of a grant of land to "Roger the harper." In addition to players on the pipe and harp, there is ample evidence to prove that the Anglo-Irish of this period were also conversant with the flute and the recorder.

Lovers of Shakespeare do not need to be told of the skilful manner in which the bard of Avon introduces the "recorder" in Hamlet, but it is not generally known that the earliest mention of the instrument of that name is in the Manipulus Florum, begun by John Walsh, in 1280, and finished by Thomas Walsh, of Palmerstown, Co. Kildare, in July, 1306, Both these learned men were Anglo-Irish Franciscan Friars, and their conjoint book was printed at Venice in 1492. Dr. John Walsh was regent of Oxford in 1258, and subsequently taught in Paris, where he died in 1284. His fellow-countryman, Dr. Thomas Walsh, mostly lived at Naples, where he ended his days, and is better known as Thomas Hibernicus.

In the Anglo-Norman ballad entitled "Rithmus facture ville de Rosse," or "The Entrenchment of New Ross"—describing the building of the walls of Ross, Co. Wexford, in 1265,—written by Brother Michael FitzBernard, a Friar of Kildare, allusion is made to tabors and flutes, also to carols.

It is probable that the lovely air "An Cuilfionn," anglicised as "The Coolin," dates from the year 1296 or 1297, inasmuch as it must have been composed not long after the passing of the Statute, 24th of Edward I., in 1295, which forbade "the degenerate English in Ireland" to imitate the native Irish "by allowing their hair grow in coolins"—"nec amplius praesumant avertere in Colanum." In the Irish song the bard makes the Irish maiden despise the Anglo-Irish who conformed to the statute by cutting off their coolins, and prefer the chieftain-lover who was proud of his Irish ancestral custom. This inedited Statute, which was apparently unknown to Moore, Moffat, and Stanford, is quoted by Ledwich in his Antiquities (p. 347), and is also to be found in the Harris manuscripts.

Some Irish and Anglo-Irish minstrels accompanied King Edward I. in his expedition to Scotland in 1301. From the Annals of Ulster we learn that John FitzThomas MacFeoris (Bermingham), and the principal barons of Ireland were in Scotland "from a fortnight before Lammas [August 1st] to November day of that year," and again, in 1303. Allusion has previously been made to the bagpipers who went to Calais in the train of King Edward I.[3]

As an instance of the general use of the Irish language in speech and song by the Anglo-Normans in Ireland at the opening of the fourteenth century, there is an interesting item chronicled by Friar Clyn, under date of 1326: "A.D. 1326. The O'Carrolls killed Sir Matthew Mylborne, a trusty and prudent Knight, English by nation, but Gaelic by use of speech, speaking only Gaelic."

Mensural music was now beginning to supersede the old metrical measure peculiar to plain chant. The Longa or Long Note (see *) was divided into three equal or two unequal parts, or breves, e.g. (see *), which in turn was subdivided into three notes called semi-breves, (see *); and, from this system was evolved the structure known to mediaeval musicians as "Cantus Mensurabilis." In the theoretical treatises of this period, we get specimens of Organum purum, Conductus, and organum communiter sumptum; and there are yet preserved many illustrations of Cantilena, Rondel, Ochetus, or Hoquet, and Motet, all of which go to prove that the line of cleavage with old traditions had definitely begun—soon to develop into what is now known as Modern Music.[4]

The adaptation of secular songs to sacred words was freely practised in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. William of Malmesbury tells us of Thomas, Archbishop of York (1070), that "whenever he heard any new secular song or ballad sung by the minstrels, he immediately composed sacred adaptations of the words to be sung to the same tune." Very remarkable it is that the existence of the very earliest known English folk-songs is due to a record among the archives of the Kilkenny Corporation. In the Red Book of Ossory, there are fifteen pages written in double columns containing sixty Latin verses, written by Richard Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory, who ruled from 1317 to 1360—best known for his connection with the heresy and witchcraft trials between the years 1324 and 1331. We may date the Bishop's verses as of about the year 1324.

These Latin verses, or Cantilenae, were written by Bishop Ledrede "for the Vicars Choral of Kilkenny Cathedral, his priests, and clerics, to be sung on great festivals and other occasions," as is stated in a memorandum in said book, "that their throats and mouths, sanctified to God, might not be polluted with theatrical, indecent, and secular songs." The sixty pieces are in honour of Our Lord, the Holy Ghost, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the first of them is entitled: Cantilena de Nativitate Domini, a sort of Christmas Carol, followed by three others "de eodem festo."

To the antiquarian musician the really interesting feature of the Bishop of Ossory's verses is that six of them are set or adapted to English tunes, the names being given as follows:—

1. Alas! how should I sing, yloren is my playing
    How should I with that old man,
    To leven and let my leman }Sweetest of all thing.
2. Have mercy on me, frere, barefoot that I go.
3. So, do, nightingale, sing full merry
    Shall I never for thine love longer Kary.
4. Have good dey, my lemen dear
5. Gaveth me no garland of green
    But it ben of wythones [withies] yrought.
6. Hey how the chevaldoures woke all night.

Two of the Cantilenae are set to French tunes, and may be of somewhat earlier date than the English songs. It may be added that Chappell's account of the contents of the Red Book of Ossory, so far as it relates to the adaptations of Bishop Ledrede, is both inaccurate and misleading. The interested reader will find an accurate description given by Gilbert in the Tenth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission where some of the Latin lyrics are given in their entirety.[5]

Another most valuable contribution to Anglo-Irish literature is the morality-play, called "The Pride of Life"—written in 1345. This play is regarded by the late Professor Morley as one of the earliest known specimens of its class in the English language. It was found among the deeds of Christ Church, Dublin, and was written on the back of an account-roll. In this old morality-play we have the familiar mumming characters of King, Queen, Nuncio, Bishop, First Soldier and Second Soldier. There are 120 quatrains, mostly in dialogue form, one of which will suffice as an example:—

"Thu art lord of lim and life
and King wt outen ende,
stif and strong and sterne in strife
in loude qwher thu wende."

In 1360, King Edward III. issued an ordinance to the Sheriff of Kilkenny forbidding any Englishman dwelling in said liberty to speak Irish, and also ordering that "every Englishman must learn English and must not have his children at nurse amongst the Irish." Almost needless to add that this enactment was openly violated by the denizens of the Pale; and the violaters, who were termed "degenerate English" by the loyal colonists, were regarded on a par with the "wilde Irish." In fact many of the great nobles were said to have become Hiberniores Hibernicis ipsis, and, in 1388, a royal license was granted to Gerald, Earl of Desmond, "to allow his son to be brought up as an Irishman," under the tutelage of Conor O'Brien, of Thomond, "for the better preserving the peace for the future."

Sir James Ware has preserved for us the "first staffe only" of a ballad which was composed about the year 1370, by some Anglo-Irish citizen of Waterford, to warn the townsmen of the old city by the Suir against the machinations of the Powers, of County Waterford, who had become more aggressive than the natives by reason of their many raids on the city, The original ballad which, like its counterpart in our own time, must have had a dozen or more verses, has long since perished (having been torn out of the antique parchment volume some time after Sir James Ware made an extract from it), but we are assured that it was a regular household-song in Munster at the close of the fourteenth century. At page 94, of Sir James Ware's manuscript,[6] we read:—

"There is in this book (the Book of Ross or Waterford) a longe Discourse in meter, putting the youth of Waterford in mind of harm taken by the Powers, and wishing them to beware for ye time to come. I have written out ye first staffe only:—

'Young men of Waterford lernith now to plai
For yur mereis plowis ilad beth a way [7]
Scure yur hafelis yt lang habith i lei [8]
And fend you of the Powers that walketh by the way.

    'For rede.

'For if hi taketh you on and on
From him scapeth ther never one
I swer bi Christ and St. John
That off goth yur hede
    'Now hi walkith etc.,' "

Sir James Ware's transcript was made in February, 1608, and was acquired by Bishop More, of Norwich, who lent it to Bishop Tanner, and it subsequently passed into the library of the Earl of Oxford. As an instance of the manner in which the editing of the Lansdowne Catalogue was done by Douce, it is rather amusing to find him giving the following explanation regarding the line "in mind of harme taken by the Povers"—"The Povers," says this eminent antiquary, "seem to mean the paupers or rabble"!

Of course, it is the Powers, or le Poers, of County Waterford, who are here alluded to, and who were by far the most powerful clan in that county from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. Crofton Croker adds:—"Mr. Lemon, of the State Paper Office, has queried, whether the common expression of ' By the powers' does not refer to the warlike strength of the Poer family, or faction, becoming proverbial?"

Anyhow, although Ware attached no importance to this ballad in his day, yet we, of the twentieth century, would gladly have wished that he had not stopped at transcribing "one staffe onely." Had he taken down the traditional folk-tune it would have been more interesting still. We possess no single example of thirteenth, or fourteenth, century Anglo-Irish secular music; and all that has escaped the vandalism of the so-called Reformation is of a sacred character, of which I shall treat in a subsequent chapter.

The history of English Music during the first half of the fourteenth century is almost a blank, and the only two names that adorn the latter half of that century are Anglo-Irish—namely John D'Exeter and Lione Power. Of the former very little is known save that he was of the D'Exeter family, Lords of Athleathan or Ballylahan, now known as Strade, barony of Gallen, Co. Mayo, and he wrote some sacred music now preserved in the Old Hall MS. a most valuable repertory of fourteenth and fifteenth-century English composers.[9] Concerning the latter, we are, fortunately, in a better position. To Lionel Power, a worthy Anglo-Irishman, of Co. Waterford, is due the first English treatise on Music, about the year 1390, and his nationality is placed beyond question by another Anglo-Irish contemporary who styles him noster Lionel.

Davey, the historian of English Music, tells us that Power appears in Coussemaker's great work as Iconal. His treatise on Music is included in a volume which Tallis found in Waltham Abbey, in 1537, and which is now in the British Museum, among the Lansdowne MSS. No. 763. Not only is it written in English, but it is illustrated by musical examples.

It is regrettable that we have no details regarding the early life of Lionel Power, but it is almost certain that, like many of the younger sons of the wealthy Anglo-Irish in Ireland, he went over to Oxford to study, and became a cleric,[10] His relative, Milo Power, was Bishop of Leighlin from 1321 to 1347, and another, Sir Maurice Power, was Knight of St. John of Jerusalem in 1415. We can unhesitatingly assign the period of his musical works as about 1380 to 1395, although Davey supposes him to have outlived Dunstable, which could only hold good unless we assume Power to have lived to the age of 120, which is improbable.

The works of Power which have come down to our own time prove conclusively that he had assimilated all that had been written by Guido of Arrezzo, Odington, Tunstede, Franco, Garland, Jerome of Moravia, and other theorists, and had materially advanced the development of harmony and counterpoint. "He certainly," as Davey admits, "establishes the use of sixths and thirds, and the distinct prohibition of consecutive unisons, fifths and octaves." Moreover, he was the first to indicate chords by figures, in other words, he was the inventor of figured bass.[11]

Of Power's compositions which have survived, Morley, in 1597, knew several which cannot now be traced. However, in the choir books formerly belonging to Trent Cathedral, but now at Vienna, out of forty works, mostly by English composers, eleven are by Power, eight of which were transcribed about the year 1430.

Other compositions by our distinguished countryman are in the Liceo Communale, Bologna, whilst, at Modena, eight motets of his are still to be seen, one of which is for four voices.

Between the years 1375 and 1400 improved organs were gradually being introduced into the larger churches in Ireland. In the absence of any local records, it is of interest to quote the earliest bill in existence for the erection of an organ in Ely Cathedral, in 1396:—

Twenty stones of lead, 16s. 9d.
Four white horse-hides for four pairs of bellows, 7s. 8d.
Ashen hoops for the bellows, 4d.
16 pairs of hinges, 1s. 10d.
13 springs, 3d.
1 lb of glue, 1d.
1 lb. of tin, 3d.
6 calf-skins, 2s. 6d.
12 sheep-skins, 2s. 4d.
2 lbs. of quicksilver, 2s. 0d.
Wire, nails, cloth, hooks, staples, etc., 12d.
The Carpenter, 8 days making the bellows, 2s. 8d.
Organ builder and his board, 40s. 0d.
[sic].£4 8s. 3d.

This was a "pair of organs" which had twelve notes corresponding to the twelve sounds of the plain chant and was furnished with chromatic notes—sharps and flats—in a separate row from the natural keys. The actual amount of the bill as furnished tots up to £3 17s. 8d., but we must presume that there are some items omitted. At a rough calculation, £4 8s. 5d. may be estimated as equal to £100 of to-day. At this period the organ keys were so large that the performer was termed a "pulsator," or smiter, and the keys were struck with the clenched fist. As a matter of fact, the keys of the organ built at Halberstadt, in 1361, were from two to four inches in width, with a space of two inches between some of them.


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[1] In 1255, owing to "the noisy Hibernian element" in Oxford, there was much disturbance, and among the students were John Barry, William Power, and 28 other Anglo-Irish. The Irish students were very numerous in 1267, and occasioned much trouble.

[2] Geoffrey Chaucer (1328-1400) says of his Miller:—

"A bagge-pipe coude he blowe and soune."

[3] See Chapter iii.

[4] See Oxford History of Music, Vol. I. (1901).

[5] Appendix Part V.

[6] Lansdowne MS. No. 418.

[7] For your mares and plows are both led away.

[8] Secure your oats that lieth overlong in the fields.

[9] The Old Hall MS. (so called because it belongs to the famous English Roman Catholic College of St. Edmund's, Old Hall, Ware) is a transcript made in the latter part of the fifteenth century, apparently intended for a church choir. A very full description of the contents of this manuscript was given by Mr. W. Barclay Squire, of the British Museum in Sammelbande Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, an excellent digest of which was published by Mr. Robin Grey, in the Edmundian for July, 1901.

[10] In the fourteenth century students from Ireland were very numerous at Oxford University. However, we read that, in 1423, Irish students were expelled from England.

[11] Davey's History of English Music, p. 58.


Long Note