music for women
INSTRUMENTS - PROFESSIONAL
MUSICIALS - NOBLE WOMEN - IMAGES IN BOOKS
were many kinds of women who played music- some played for a living
and other well-bred women had music included as part of their
education and were expected to attain a reasonable level of accomplishment
for recreation and performances at home for guests.
Music would often be accompanied with singing, another suitable
passtime for the noble lady and working class lady alike, although
the songs themselves may have varied.
Certainly the coarse tavern songs of the coarse woman were not
suitable for the lady who sang for her guests. Songs of love and
longing were universally sung, especially at the peak of the period
of courtly love.
Instruments played by women 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
Less usual images include playing the bells and horns, but these
would certainly have been played exclusively my the lower classes.
Bone flutes remain as artifacts, but most medieval instruments
come to use through manuscripts.
Some medieval women were professional musicians who were a part
of a troupe and who lived an itinerant life travelling from place
Troubadours, travelling musicians, minstrels, trouveres (troubadours
but of nobler birth), and itinerant jongleurs sang and entertained
with other skills like singing, dancing, acrobatics and juggling.
The image at left shows two women from the 12th century manuscript,
the Cantigade Santa Maria.
Ladies and music
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 and the cost alone of most instruments restricted
some kinds of music to those who could afford it.
While bone flutes have been discovered which are not a gendered
instrument, that is, favoured by a particular gender, in medieval
art, we usually see shepheards, not noble ladies, playing them.
The 15th century image at right, 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.
musicans in books
In the Cleriadus et Meliadice, girls as well as boys perform
singing and on the harp. Ibed writes that:
you have heard men and women singing well!
Decameron identifies women singing and dancing along with
their male companions. Chaucer also wrote of the types of instruments
musicians might play when he said:
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.
© Rosalie Gilbert
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Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
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