Saturday, November 29, 2008

Medieval Music & Arthurian Legend

What was medieval music? The truth is that little has been passed down in a tangible form such as written music because in medieval times manuscript paper was beyond the affordability of anyone outside of church and 'state' organisations. Hence what we have in written form is music that was created to support church activities such as the celebration of mass. This was not music played upon instruments but generated by the human voice - ie. chanting. Most people today have heard of the Gregorian chant and this is possibly the most well known vestige of truly medieval music still around.

Today there is a wealth of modern music which uses medieval themes and connections as its basis. A good example is that of 'The Earth in Turquoise' - an album of instrumental music based on the legend of King Arthur. A modern 'programmatical' piece, it portrays the legend with each track depicting an 'episode' of Arthur's life. You can download mp3 samples from this epic piece and also read a detailed, music critic's review.

You might argue and say that Arthur's legend was not set in medieval times which is technically correct of course but it was in the 12th century in medieval England that his legend truly became established and entered the annals of British folklore.

It was in the 1100's that both Geoffrey of Monmouth and William of Malmesbury wrote about Arthur - Monmouth did so in his Historia Regum Britanniae and Malmesbury in Gesta Regum Anglorum. It is Geoffrey of Monmouth's work that has been the cornerstone of many historians' research into the origins of the legend of King Arthur.

Part of the Arthurian legend of course is Tintagel in Cornwall, England where Arthur was born son of Uther Pendragon. It is believed that Tintagel Castle (constructed 1236) was built by the then Earl of Cornwall specifically because he wanted to associate himself with Arthur's legend. The surrounding area is deemed by many to hold no strategic value and the location is indeed difficult in which to construct such a fortress. In other words, there appears to be no real reason why Cornwall built his castle there. Testimony to the power of the Arthurian legend in 13th century Britain.

Arthur's legend lives on and will surely inspire composers, artists and writers for many generations to come and it is probably the medieval writings of Monmouth and Malmesbury that we have to thank for that continued source of inspiration.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Medieval New Year Party

New Year is a time when most people celebrate in some way. Of course not everyone celebrates in the same way but many people hold private parties with friends and family. Getting together to muse on the events of the last year and to talk with anticipation of what the year ahead holds a value that is hard to describe. It's just something many people like to do.

A New Year's Party at home is the most popular choice but there are occasions when a group of people, perhaps no more than 20 in number, decide to get together and hold an extra special New Year's Eve party. This is where they might look for unusual ideas of a venue or a theme. For example, they might want to book a hotel package where they check in, enjoy dinner and drinks and then attend the hotel's party (possibly fancy dress or themed in another way) at which there is live music and dancing.

But what if you wanted and (more to the point) could afford something extra special? Perhaps a private party in a medieval castle that you have all to yourselves for the day/night? Well, it's entirely possible these days. The atmosphere, surroundings and comfort that a well appointed medieval castle can offer a private party make for an unrivalled option for a New Year's Eve celebration. Take for example, Eastnor Castle - though not strictly medieval by construction date, it is a 'mock' medieval castle. The famous architect Robert Smirke came up with the idea of constructing a castle in"Norman Revival" style, creating the impression of a medieval fortress which guarded the Welsh Borders (Eastnor Castle is in Herefordshire close to the border of England/Wales). Having visited Eastnor Castle I know that it does indeed convey that 'medieval' impression very well and if I could hold a private party in a wonderfully, astmospheric place this castle would be at the top of the list. In fact, at the time of writing this post I understand there is still the possibility of an exclusive private hire of the castle for a New Year celebration!

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Carlisle Castle - A Medieval & Military Fortress

I recently went with my family to visit Carlisle Castle. What a surprise it was. Almost 900 years of history packed into one place - and what a history! Carlisle Castle has played a role in some of the most colourful and significant periods in British history.

These include:
  • being at the frontline of Anglo-Scottish border warfare for many years including 1315 when it repelled a particularly fierce attack by the Scots

  • acting as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots in 1568

  • being besieged for eight months by Parliament's Scots allies during the English Civil War with its Royalist garrison only surrendering after eating rats and dogs (1645)

  • being the last English fortress ever to suffer a siege - in 1746 during the Jacobite Rising. Bonnie Prince Charlie's garrison of men were unable to hold off the Duke of Cumberland's army only to become prisoners there themselves. Many of them died in the castle.

Taking a tour of the castle was both interesting and enjoyable. The architectural features were very notable as one would imagine of a truly medieval castle and there were some particularly fascinating things such as the stone carvings in the great Keep believed to have been made by prisoners in 1480. I am saving that topic for a more detailed blog with photos later on.

The exhibitions are really well presented with many artefacts on display. Walking around the castle walls offers fantastic views over the city of Carlisle and the wonderful black cannons were really impressive! (See photo) The military history of the castle is reflected in the wonderful Border Regiment & King's Own Royal Border Regimental Museum which is housed within the castle walls and to which you get free entry when you purchase a ticket to tour the castle.

There is so much to Carlisle Castle that a single blog post just can't do it justice!

You have to go there to believe it and if you can't get there then revisit this Blog and where we will be developing further content on what must surely be one of the best medieval fortresses in England, possibly second only to the Tower of London.

Labels: , , , , ,