Medieval Musical Instruments Part Nine

This week we’re looking at another stringed instrument. Although the citole above looks a bit like a violin, it’s probably an ancestor of the guitar. It was altered many centuries after it was made at the end of the thirteenth century. The F holes are not original and there were also changes to the fingerboard and the bridge. It’s the only surviving (mainly) medieval citole, however, so it was worth including this photograph.

Like the rebec, the back and sides were carved from a single piece of wood and the soundboard was glued to the front. The neck was very deep and a thumb hole had to be carved in it to make the instrument comfortable to play. You might just be able to see from the photograph that the distance between the back and the front was less at the bottom than it was at the top.

The citole had frets on the fingerboard, sometimes four and sometimes five. As you’ll see in the videos, it was plucked with a long, narrow plectrum. It’s a rhythmic instrument and chords could be played on it, although they might not sound quite right to our modern ears.

We’ve already learned that there were few standards for medieval instruments and, of course, there were citoles of different sizes and shapes. Unusually, though, they mostly had four strings, although the one in the photograph originally had six.

Like the rebec it had a very short period of popularity which was already waning by the end of the fourteenth century. That might explain why no other examples have been found.

To me, it looks like a very awkward instrument to play. It looks no less awkward in these videos, where it is played by people who know what they’re doing.

To my ears, this next recording sounds more like a country and western piece than an English medieval dance, but that’s probably just me.

Here’s another estampie.

A History of Western Music by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Medieval Entertainment, Medieval Life, Medieval Music

7 responses to “Medieval Musical Instruments Part Nine

  1. Losing the Plot

    It has a nice tone, makes me think of Rene Aubry and his compositions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I especially like the first video, though the beautiful setting might have something to do with it, but the tune and the architecture seem to go hand in hand. It definitely looks more like a guitar than a violin.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with Fraggle—the citole appears absolutely heavenly in the first video.

    Liked by 1 person

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