Music in Medieval and Early Modern Wales

Exploration of the music of medieval and early modern Wales has been a focus of the Centre’s activity from its inception in 1994, and has resulted in a steady stream of substantial articles and monographs. The most recent of these is Sally Harper’s Music in Welsh Culture before 1650: A Study of the Principal Sources (Ashgate, 2007), which explores the very different currents of sacred and secular music in medieval and early modern Wales.

For further information on the recent work undertaken by CAWMS and other Bangor scholars on early liturgical and sacred music, please go to the page Music of the Welsh Church.

The Centre’s association with secular music in early Wales extends from a series of projects dealing with bardic culture (including the famous harp manuscript copied by Robert ap Huw) to the music sung and played in Anglophile Welsh households during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Click here for a general introduction to early music for harp and crwth in medieval Wales.

Some of the material discussed is to be found Bangor’s own University Archive, home to a number of treasures – including two extraordinary late sixteenth-century musical lists associated with Plas Lleweni in north Wales. Lleweni, near Denbigh, was home to the Welsh-speaking courtier John Salusbury (c.1566–1612), an able English poet and an acquaintance of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Image of the lists records the names of thirteen Welsh bardic musiciansThe first of the lists records the names of thirteen Welsh bardic musicians and poets who visited the Lleweni household one Christmas in the 1590s, Image of the list cataloging the titles of some eighty populat itemswhile the second catalogues the titles of some eighty popular items – apparently a record of Lleweni’s current domestic repertory. These confirm the family’s taste for the most recent music, including instrumental music by Dowland and jigg tunes associated with the Elizabeth wit, Richard Tarlton. (For full details, see Sally Harper, ‘An Elizabethan Tune List from Lleweni Hall, North Wales, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, 38 (2005), 45–98.)

Important work on Lleweni and its music has also been undertaken by Professor David Klausner of the University of Toronto, whose study of the dramatist Thomas Salusbury of Lleweni (1612–43) and the masques Salusbury wrote for his friends may be found in Welsh Music History volume 6 (‘Family Entertainments among the Salusburys of Lleweni and their Circle, 1595–1641’). Other publications produced by the Centre have also drawn widely on Professor Klausner’s invaluable collection of Welsh dramatic and bardic material published in Records of Early Drama: Wales (Toronto, 2005).

CAWMS is also actively committed to exploring the sources of early Welsh musical theory. Paul Whittaker, Irwen Cockman, Stephen Rees and Sally Harper have all written on this area, and a parallel edition of extant Welsh medieval theoretical texts is planned for the near future.

One further strand of the Centre’s work – and one of the most important – is its ongoing exploration of the critical association between early Welsh instrumental music and medieval strict-metre poetry. Much of this work is undertaken in association with other scholars, including those in related disciplines. CAWMS has to date hosted two experimental workshop performances matching medieval cywyddau to material from Robert ap Huw’s book of harp music, with contributions from Dr Meredydd Evans, Phyllis Kinney and Elinor Bennett in 1999, and Professor Gwyn Thomas and Elinor Bennett in 1995. The Centre has also made a significant contribution to Professor Dafydd Johnston’s new electronic edition of the work of Wales’s finest medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym (, published on-line in 2007). This state-of-the-art website features experimental recitations of three of Dafydd’s poems performed by Dr Meredydd Evans accompanied by Bethan Bryn (harp), alongside performances of various instrumental items from the Robert ap Huw manuscript played by William Taylor (harp) together with an extended essay on Dafydd ap Gwilym and music by Sally Harper.