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Showing posts from July, 2014


The nine instruments in general use among the ancient Irish including the professional names of the various performers were:
Cruitire [harper]; Timpanach [timpanist]; Buinnire [flute player]; Cornaire [horn player]; Cuisleannach [player on the bag-pipes]; Fedanach [fife player]; Graice [horn player]; Stocaire and Sturganaidhe [trumpeter]; Pipaire [piper].
The CRUIT is called crwth by the Welsh, and crowde by the English. Originally a small harp or lyre, plucked with the fingers (as in the case of the Roman fidicula), it was subsequently played with a bow, and is mentioned by an Irish poet who flourished about four hundred years before Christ. 
It is justly regarded as the progenitor of the Crotta, the German Rotte, and the Italian Rota. St. Venantius Fortunatus (the great Christian poet, A.D. 530-609) calls the Cruit a CROTTA; and we learn from Gerbert that it was an oblong-shaped instrument, with a neck and finger-board, having six strings, of which four were placed on the fingerboard …


By the end of the 9th Century, the ancient Irish were responsible for the spread of music in Europe.

They were acquainted with the ogham music tablature in pre-Christian ages; They had their battle-marches, dance tunes, folk songs, chants. and hymns in the fifth centuryThey were the earliest to adopt the neums or neumatic notation, for the plain chant of the Western Church; They modified, and introduced Irish melodies into, the Gregorian Chant; They had an intimate acquaintance with the diatonic scale long before it was perfected by Guido of Arezzo; They were the first to employ harmony and counterpoint; They had quite an army of bards and poets; They employed blank verse, elegaic rhymes, consonant, assonant, inverse, burthen, dissyllabic, trisyllabic, and quadrisyllabic rhymes, not to say anything of caoines, laments, elegies, metrical romances, etc.; They invented the musical arrangement which developed into the sonata form; They had a world-famed school of harpers; They generously …


In ancient Ireland the systems of law, medicine, poetry, and music, according to Keating, "were set to music, being poetical compositions." Vallancey tells us that the bards, specially selected from amongst noble youths of conspicuous stature and beauty, "had a distinctive dress of five colours, and wore a white mantle and a blue cap ornamented with a gold crescent." The curriculum for an ollamh (bard) extended to twelve years and more, at the expiration of which he was given the doctor's cap, that is, the barréd, and the title of ollamh.

Cormac Mac Art, Ard Righ [Head King] of Ireland (A.D. 254-277), had a chief bard and musiciansThe Bards were poets, not musiciansThey were a literary people long before the coming of St. PatrickThe invented the earliest form of musical tabulature (Oghams)The Greek Harp was introduced to Ireland by the Melisians, They played 9 musical instruments (sic)They sang songs worshipping Apollo, played on the harpThey demonstrated the f…

Ancient Irish Music: Prior to 1100, there were no unified forms of musical tablature

The main reason there is no written record of Irish music prior to 1100 has to do with the systems in which the music was taught and performed:

The pre-Christian Irish had their ogham music-tablature, and the Irish of the seventh-eleventh century had the neumal accents, after which the Guidonian system was adopted The Guidonian hand was known in Ireland at the close of the eleventh century

Ogham = An ancient British and Irish alphabet, consisting of twenty characters formed by parallel strokes on either side of or across a continuous line.  The very word ogham suggests at once a musical signification, and, therefore, it is of the very highest importance to claim for Ireland the earliest form of musical tablature.

A neume (/ˈnjuːm/; spelled neum in, for instance, the Solesmes publications in English)[1][2][3] is the basic element of Western and Eastern systems of musical notation prior to the invention of five-l…

The Ancient Irish were largely responsible for the Gregorian Chants

In regard to the so-called Gregorian Sacramentarium which Pope Adrian sent to the Emperor Charlemagne by John, Abbot of Ravenna, between the years 788 and 790, Dr. Haberl, one of the greatest living authorities on Church Music, says that "it was altered in the copying, and Gallican elements were introduced." Moreover, it contained only the Roman Station-festivals, with additions made by Popes that came after Gregory," so that Duchesne justly observes that "it should rather be called the Sacramentarium Hadrianum." The Pope also sent two famous Roman singers, Peter and Romanus (author of the Romanian notation) to the Irish monastery at St. Gall's, who brought with them a faithful copy of the Gregorian Antiphonarium, but Duchesne considers that this great musical work was also altered by the monks of St. Gall.

The Celtic monks, from the time of Sedulius, unquestionably introduced and composed many original melodies for the early plain-chant books, and these …


BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF IRISH HISTORY AD200 Beginning of High Kingship at Tara, Meath. 377 - 405 Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King 432 St Patrick comes as a Christian Missionary. 795 Vikings attack the Irish Coast 852 Norse occupy Dublin and Waterford 900 - 908 Cormac MacCullenan, King of Cashel 940 - 1014 Reign of High King, Brian Boru, killed at Battle of Clontarf 1119 - 1156 Turlough Mor O Conor, High King 1134 - 1171 Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster 1166 - 1175 Rory O Conor, last native High King of Ireland 1170 Arrival of the Normans 1258 Gallowglasses ( mercenaries ) come to Ulster from Scotland 1366 Statutes of Kilkenny enacted to prevent Anglo-Normans from integrating with Irish by using the language, laws or customs 1376 - 1411 Art MacMurrough, King of Leinster 1460 Irish Parliamentary independance declared 1477 - 1513 Ireland ruled by Garret Mor Fitzg…

"Ar Éirinn 'ní neórainn cé hí."

"For Ireland I would not tell her name"—"Ar Éirinn 'ní neórainn cé hí." a boat-song by Cormac MacCullenan, Prince-Bishop of Cashel, who died in 908

Ancient Irish Music: St. Notker Balbulus, the author of this valuable book of hymns, about the year 870, is the inventor of Sequences

St. Notker Balbulus, the author of this valuable book of hymns, about the year 870, is the inventor of Sequences.

Sequences were also called Tropes, just as Tropes, properly so-called, were denominated Proses. Although the original meaning of Sequence was a prolongation of the last syllable of Alleluia by a series of neumes, jubili, or wordless chant, yet the name was more generally given to a melody following the Epistle, before the Gospel.

Quoted in the Book of Lismore for an explanation of the term Sequence: "Notker, Abbot of St. Gall's, made [invented] sequences, and Alleluia after them in the form in which they are."

In process of time a special Sequence was introduced for every Sunday and feast-day, but Pope Pius V. eliminated all but five.

The words "In the midst of life we are in death," quoted as Scriptural, but the text is only one of the many contributions to the Sacred Liturgy due to Irish writers a…

Which came first? The Church Modes or the Cantorial Modes?

My email to Dr Klez (Joshua Horowitz)


I teach a Klezmer class on Tuesday nights in South Hadley, MA.  I am researching the origins of Klezmer modes and would like some insight from a scholar such as yourself.


Adam R Sweet

Hi Adam,

Since Judaism predates Christianity, the assumption is that the cantorial modes came first, but, for instance, Freygish, although used in ancient Greece, is a relatively new mode to Jewish music (its not officially a cantorial mode, but belongs to zmiros and niggunim mostly).

Although we like to consider the klezmer modes as being specific to Jewish music, I think if you look at the majority of tunes played today, you'll find that they have more in common with Ottoman Makamat than liturgical music.

Here's a great link:

The oldest surviving musical notation so far discovered, dates from c.1950 BC

by Michael Levy

In ancient musical history, once must first distinguish between the oldest surviving written musical notation, and the oldest surviving written melody. The oldest surviving musical notation so far discovered, dates from c.1950 BC - this was a set of musical instructions to play the hymn, "Lipit-Ishtar" (King of Justice), found inscribed in Cuneiform on a clay tablet discovered at Sumer. Basically, this is no more than a quote of specific tuning intervals for lyre, followed by a tuning scale of the musical mode to be used in the Hymn.
Here is a rendition of the musical instructions for Lipit Ishtar, as arranged for solo lyre, by "Ensemble De Organographia" in their album from 2000, "Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians & Greeks":

Klezmer Musican Profile: Ilya Magalnyk

Accordion artist, composer, arranger and producer. Ilya Magalnyk was born in Moldova, where he also got his education and started his career as a professional musician. In 1990 Ilya made Aliya and soon after became a prominent figure in the Israeli music world.

Accordion Artist

Ilya has performed with some of the best musicians in and outside of Israel: ShlomoGronich, Effie Netzer, Leonid Ptashka, Dan Almagor, TzvikaHaddar, Alex Anski, Chaya Samir, Elisha Sweigeils, Lev Jorbin and many others.

Ilya uses the accordion to combine different music styles, such as Klezmer, Yiddishkeit, French chansons, contemporary music, and Jazz, among many others.

As an accordionist, Ilya has taken part in many plays for Israel’s leading theaters (Habima, the Cameri Theater, the Haifa Theater and the Han Theater). Ilya has gone on many radio and TV shows, took part in the TV show “Shemesh”, and spent innumerable hours in recording studios.

Composer and Arranger

Ilya is a member …

Klezmer Musician Profile: Hankus Netsky

A multi-instrumentalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, Hankus Netsky chairs the Contemporary Improvisation Departments at the New England Conservatory. Netsky is founder and director of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, an internationally renowned Yiddish music ensemble, and serves as research director of the Klezmer Conservatory Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of traditional Eastern European Jewish music. He has taught Yiddish music at New England Conservatory, Hebrew College, McGill University, and Wesleyan University and has lectured extensively on the subject in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. He has also designed numerous Yiddish culture exhibits for the Yiddish Book Center, where he served as Vice President for Education. His essays on klezmer music have been published by the University of California Press, the University of Pennsylvania Press, the University of Scranton Press, the University Press of America, and Hips Road.


Klezmazzical Ecstasy - Study for a Portrait

by Ben Malkin

Pt. I
"I tell you, the dances of a Jew are prayers and the purpose of dancing is to lift up the holy sparks. In a sacred dance, the lower rung of spirituality is raised up to the higher." - The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, by Yitzhak Buxbaum

Masada String Trio: straight out the gate all excitement, blood boiling, flying through the desert, diving headfirst into another genius John Zorn melody, all old world majesty, first bowed, then plucked, very middle eastern, very Ashkenazi tear the roof off the sucker, take off for the stratospheres. For those of us who've loved crazy jazz improv flights of fancy, classical chamber ensemble instrumentation, and klezmer (freygish scales in freylekh time), in equal measure there could no more perfect band than Masada String Trio. The old country pointing towards home, rippling out into the ocean of the twenty first century, made new by mixing & matching innovations in the postmodern pastiche. Only out of NYC…

Franz Josef Haydn

Franz Josef Haydn was certainly one of the greatest creative geniuses who ever lived. Born March 31, 1732, in Rohrau, Austria, into a musical family, Haydn received musical training at a very young age. When he was eight years old he was sent to Vienna to sing in the Vienna Boys Choir. When he left the boys choir he became a freelance musician, giving piano lessons, playing organ and violin in church serves, and sometimes playing in the court in Vienna. He tried his hand at composing during those years as a freelance musician and he realized that his counterpoint was weak, so he studied the famous instruction book on counterpoint by Johan Fux. During this time he also made a serious study of the music of other composers, mostly CPE Bach (the eldest son of JS Bach), whose music became a strong influence in his early works.

Haydn was loved and respected from Moscow to London during his lifetime. What composer prior to Haydn could boast such international fame? None, not even Handel had…