Medieval Music: Cantigas

GIVEAWAY CURRENTLY GOING (12.30.16) for a 252 piece puzzle of Misty Glenmirril.  Leave a comment to be entered.)

The Song:

Medieval music was often, especially in the earlier medieval years, monophonic, meaning a single line of melody--no harmony.  One thing that often surprises my music students is that songs in earlier eras were not given descriptive or unique 'names' the way pieces are today.  We have A Midnight Train to Georgia, Always on My Mind, Sunshine on My Shoulder, Stairway to Heaven.  Earlier ages had Cantiga, Cantiga, Sonata, Allegro, Largo, Sonata, Syumphony Number 1, Estampie.  Rinse, wash, repeat.

They typically named their pieces after the form or style of music, or after the tempo (largo, allegro)  Hence we have over 400 pieces called Cantiga from Alphonso X (the Wise, in case you're wondering which Alphonso X) alone.  There are many, many more pieces called Cantiga, however.

What makes a song a cantiga?  One sources says cantiga simply means song in the words of Alphonso the Wise.  One dictionary gets more specific: it is a Spanish or Portuguese folk song, typically with love or religion as its topic.

Even more specifically, cantigas are very often hymns of praise to the Virgin Mary.  This particular Cantiga is from 13th Century Spain.  It is, therefore, a song that may have made its way to Scotland by the early 14th Century, and therefore a song Niall may well have known and played,

The Setting:

The song is being played at Carlsluith Castle, on Wigtown Bay in southwest Scotland, on the Galloway Coast.  I usually visit places that date all the way back to the early 1300s, Niall's time, but this trip was specifically to the Dumfries and Galloway parts of Scotland, the home of Robert the Bruce.  Carlsluith happened to be right there, on our way home from a medieval site.  It remains open and accessible at all times, so we went in.

Dating possibly to the late 1400s, it is still very similar to the castles inhabited by Bruce and Niall, and a great setting for playing medieval music.

  • January 28: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Watch for details.
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If you liked this article, you might also like
Medieval Poetry,  The Foggy Dew, or
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