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THE WELSH CRWTH

 

Crwth , harp and pipes have been documented in Wales since at least the 12th century. The Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda, in the 10th century and later versions in the 12th and 13th centuries provide information about the status of music in Wales. The Law states that the king should recognize the status of master craftsmen in his service by giving each one an appropriate instrument, specified as harp, crwth, or pipes. From other MS we know that; a Christmas feast was held by the Lord Rhys at Cardigan in 1176;

“At Christmas in that year, the Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd held court in splendour at Cardigan, in the castle. And he set two kinds of contest there: one between bards and poets, another between harpists and crwthers and pipers and various classes of music-craft. And he had two chairs set for the victors.”

"Crwth [chorus, crot, crowd] is a Welsh term for a plucked and, from about the 11th century, a bowed lyre. The name is cognate with the Irish crot, cruit, which originally denoted a plucked lyre but was ultimately used for a harp. The Middle English crouthe, crowd(e) is a late 12th-century borrowing of the Welsh crwth.

The body, including the neck, is carved from a single block of sycamore in the age-old manner with the sound-board made of pine. To lighten the upper part of the instrument the insides of the arms were hollowed out, echoing Dark Ages lyre construction. The string holder at the back of the yoke was also hollowed out. The forward sloping arms are found in numerous depictions of classical lyres, and on the crwth have the effect of keeping the strings parallel to the sound-board.

 

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Lack of pre-16th-century information in Welsh sources makes it impossible to confirm whether the crwth had always been six stringed or had at least become so by the time the apparently six-string crwth was carved on a misericord at Worcester Cathedral in about 1397. Unlike the harp and the medieval fiddle, the crwth did not develop beyond its late medieval form.

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Worcester Cathedral

The crwth was a rare instrument in medieval England, apparently already obsolete by the 16th century, although it retained its high status in Wales until the end of the century.

There is no surviving iconographical evidence of the crwth in Wales from before the 16th century, there is a considerable body of literary and documentary evidence which attests to the important role the crwth played in Welsh society as a high-art instrument. The earliest reference to ‘crwth’ or ‘crythor’ is found in a pre-1100 poem:

Wyf bard ac wyf telynawr

Wyf pibyd ac wyf crythawr

(I am a bard, a harper, a piper and a crwth player).

 

The crwth and harp were the only two instruments used in Welsh bardic performance throughout the later Middle Ages. Until the end of the 16th century the crwth's special status alongside the harp meant that a prestigious, formal repertory analogous to that of the harp was also played on the crwth.

During the 17th century crwth players had to play the new, pan-European, bourgeois music demanded by all classes. They played jigs and other dance tunes, and accompanied popular songs, ballads and post-Reformation carols. Remnants of bardic repertory survived briefly outside their social context. When it died out at the end of the 18th century the crwth still embodied the musical theories of ancient Greece and medieval Christianity and of Welsh bardic music in its lyre construction and characteristic tuning. Modern players using accurate copies of crwths and using bridges which are, in Barrington's words, ‘perfectly flat, so all the strings are necessarily struck at the same time, and afford a perpetual succession of chords’, have begun exploring the bardic repertory, accompanying traditional Welsh and English popular songs and ballads and playing historical dance music."

(Grove Dictionary of Music)

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Crwth player 14th C. MS

Crwth Player 11th C. MS Brittany

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Jones MS drawing of Welsh Musical Instruments c. 1610

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Crwth London 1871-80

King David with Crwth 11th c. ms

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French reproduction c 1900

'Crwth y Foelas' from the Saint Fagans National Museum of Wales

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According to Clera's website:

Four examples of the crwth have survived. The oldest is the 'Foelas Crwth' from the Pentrefoelas area, which can be seen today in the Museum of Welsh Life, Sain Ffagan. It was made in Llanfihangel Bachellaeth, Gwynedd, and it has a date carved on it: 1742. Another example is in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, one in the Corporation Museum, Warrington, and one in the USA, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

see Clera's site HERE

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