HOLIDAYS & FEAST DAYS
There were many kinds of women who
played music- some for a living and some for recreation,
included troubadours who were travelling musicians, minstrels,
trouveres (troubadours but of nobler birth), and itinerant jongleurs
who sang and entertained with other skills like singing, dancing,
acrobatics and juggling. These are not the women we are concerned
Most accomplished noble women were expected to be proficient on
at least one musical instrument. Many manuscripts show noble women
playing music or surrounded by female angels who play musical
instruments andthe cost alone of most instruments restricted some
kinds of music to those who could afford it.
Instruments might include the harp, rebec, shawm, viol, pipes,
recorder, psaltry or a hurdy-gurdy, although it is less likely
that the shawm or hurdy gurdy were favoured by the upper classes!
Less usual images include playing the bells and horns.
15th century image at left, is a from a set of four panels from
a frontispiece in from Boccaccio. Here we see noble ladies playing
instruments and less usually, a horn of some kind.
Women performed as singers and musicians, either in the home or
in more formal court settings. Many of the courtly romances of
the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries write of women
singing and playing musical instruments.
In the Cleriadus et Meliadice, girls as well as boys perform
singing and on the harp. Ibed writes that:
There might you have heard men
and women singing well!
Boccaccio's Decameron identifies
women singing and dancing along with their male companions. Chaucer
also wrote of the types of instruments musicians might play when
..many scores of thousands,
who made loud minstrelsy with bagpipes and shawms and many other
kinds of pipes, and skillfully played both them of clear and
them of reedy sound, such as be played at feasts with the roast-meat,--and
many a flute and lilting-horn and pipes make of green stalks...
The image above at the top of the
page, Allegory of Music comes from Echecs Amoureux,
France and dates at 1496 to 1498. The image below is dated
1375, Catarino, The Coronation of the Virgin and show women
playing a variety of instruments typically shown surrounding the
Virgin in medieval paintings.