The Encyclopedia of Traditional Celtic Music

(and related topics)

In this section I am collecting information which I find illuminating on the subject of music history, historical performance techniques, and anything else which appeals to me. Naturally I concentrate on my own special interests. I'm going to keep adding things whenever I find something useful.

Here's why I'm chosen some of the topics that are included.

Although I am mostly interested in traditional music, I am including some information on classical music as well. This is done for two reasons. First, it seems clear that centuries ago there was not as much difference between the two as there is now. In many ways, traditional music retains many of the characteristics of earlier classical music. For instance, holding a violin against the shoulder or upper arm instead of under the chin is now regarded as the mark of the untaught fiddler. Yet this was quite common in 17th-century France.

Second, many people believe that the way classical music is played today is the way it has always been played, and implicitly that all types of music should be played in this way. Yet much of the classical repertoire was played quite differently when it was originally performed. Understanding this point should give additional insight into traditional performance techniques.

Similarly, some people think that the way traditional music is played today is the way it has always been played. This is not accurate either.

Here are the subjects I have available:

  • What is meant by the term "Celtic music"?
  • Fretted instruments in traditional music
  • Early and traditional music in Scotland
  • Traditional Irish music
  • Other Celtic traditional music
  • The instruments of traditional music
  • Traditional song
  • Traditional dancing
  • The use of the cello as an accompaniment instrument.
  • Music theory corner—the real stuff!
  • Vibrato
  • The history of music in California
  • Early music MIDI files, presented for study purposes. Quality for listening purposes not guaranteed.
  • A collection of folk music humour.
  • History corner—not music history, just regular history. The focus is on little-known facts and events.
  • Language corner—interesting language-related topics. May include patterns of immigration, historical pronunciation, etc.

  • Note: for a complete list of every page on this, site, try the Standing Stones Site Map.

    This is the main problem in music: one can trace the evidence of the art over 16 thousand years, and one can see and touch the testimony to a world of sound, and yet hear nothing, whereas one can pick up the coins of Alexander the Great, stroll over Pompeian mosaics, admire the frescos of Altamira and taste the honey of Hymettos.

    There may be a way of obtaining an idea of this music (though it is admittedly no more than a slender hope), for it is possible that primitive cultures have preserved ancient instruments, and thereby a certain continuity in musical tradition, that mankind as a species has a kind of memory. This idea was already current in the Renaissance, for in the reminiscences of his travels in the Near East (1554) Pierre Belon du Mans writes:

      Those who wish to find out something about the music of ancient instruments will find better material for their enquiries in the instruments found in Greece and Turkey than in what has been written about them.
      (Les observations de plusiers singularitez, Cavellat, Paris, 1555, f. Ffij)

    [Belon thought of Turkey as the Osmanic Empire, which in those days reached as far as Budapest.]

    Nowadays this would be well-nigh impossible. Bartók (1881-1945) was able to collect folksongs which display traces of a common origin in Central Europe, in Turkey and in North Africa, but he owed this to the memory of men who were already old between the two world wars. What we could still collect today would be a kind of echo, individual elements of the music of the past lacking form and structure, and reminiscent of the fragments of Sardic pottery which the sea around Cape Nora crushes unceasingly.

      Raymond Meylan
      The Flute
      translated from the German by Alfred Clayton
      Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, 1988
      pp. 10-11

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