While resting after work on two major musicology essays at the moment, one on Galician cantigas di amigo and the other on Johannes Ciconia, I’m looking at more practical music-making in the form of vielle / Fidel / Fiedel, in my case tuned the same as a treble viol and played gamba-wise rather than at the shoulder. The more I hear from recorded performances, the more I realise how virtuosic this music is, which may explain why a medieval scribe notated them so underpinning their survival down to our own time.

What follows is today’s rather haphazard findings on CDs and the internet. This is in marked contrast to my analyzing performances on LPO/CD/YouTube of Ciconia secular music in far greater detail and with more rigour! Having come across today some performances of dance music which are in fact too fast to dance to, I’ll probably backtrack somewhat and find something slower to get my teeth into.

Yesterday I was honoured to attend Opera Australia’s launch of its OzOpera production, Sound Garden. What impressed me, among many other fascinating aspects of the production, was the use of the West African djembe drum. It was great to see a professional percussionist, Tim Brigden, in action and the experience added to my humble understanding of drumming in medieval music; drums are used to accompany the vielle solos in the recordings mentioned below.


Parlamento (Palamentro), anon. istampitta – BM MS Add 29987

Source is the British Library London, Add. 29987, fol.60-60v (1/0) and a facs has been published by the American Institute of Musicology in 1965 by Gilbert Reaney, “The Manuscript London, British Museum Add. 29987” (Musicological Studies and Documents 13). I’m also aware of an edition by Jan ten Bokum, De Dansen (Utrecht, 1976), pp.49-50. The full citation is “De dansen van het Trecento. Critische uitgave de instrumentale dansen uit hs. London BM add.29987, Utrecht Institut voor Muziekwetenschap, 1967. Scripta Musicologica Ultrajectina I. I think my modern edition comes from the Norton Anthology of Western Music, vol.1, ed. Claude V Palisca, Yale Univ, W W Norton, 1980, pp.40-42: set out in bass clef, with five puncti or sections, each with an aperto and chiusso endings (the equivalent of our first and second time repeats). Apparently it’s discussed by Frederick Crane in Early Music 7(1979): 24-33: On performing the “Lo estampies”.

The Ensemble Unicorn CD recording (Naxos), Chominciamento di gioia: Virtuoso dance-music from the time of Boccaccio’s Decamerone, in fact is a recording of all thirteen instrumental pieces in the BM manuscript, i.e. eight titled istampitta, four saltarello and a trotto. In terms of dating, they appear alongside madrigals c.1390, all the more interesting for someone like me looking at Johannes Ciconia (Rome, Pavia, Padua, Venice approx 1390-1410).

For the record, here is a list of the pieces in the manuscript: Lamento di Tristano and La Manfredina (both slow/solemn), each followed by a Rotta (quick variations); trotto and saltarelli 1-4 (dance music, with simpler and jauntier structure than the istanpitte); the programmatic instanpitte – Parlamento (Talk), Tre fontane (Three Springs), Ghaetta (the cheerful woman), In pro (Please), Prinicipio di virtu (Principle of Virtue), Isabella and Chominciamento di gioia (Beginning of Joy). 

When it comes to recordings, there are three early ones in addition to the above-mentioned Ensemble Unicorn’s:

1. Medieval English Carols and Italian Dances. New York Pro Musica, dir Noah Greenberg, American Decca 79148.

2. Recordings to accompany A History of Western Music and Norton Anthology of Western Music (compiled from other recordings), dir Thomas Binkley, David Munrow and Denis Stevens.

3. Estampie, Instrumentalmusik des Mittelalters. Early Music Studio, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dir Binkley. 1974; EMI-Reflexe IC 063-30-122 (GER)/IC 163-119/24 (GER). Recorded 1962.

I’m also aware of a more modern recording: Instrumental Music from the 14th century Italy. Sinfonye, Glossa GCD920701 (which also includes Tre Fontane, Principio di Virtu, La Manfredina etc. and which seems to complement their other CD devoted to medieval instrumental music, Dance in the Garden of Mirth). The internet site devoted to the Silk Road has a mp3 recording.

More on this piece anon! I’m interested to eventually find out more about the instruments modern instrumentalists are employing, as well as accompaniment for the soloist and the tempi.

Trotto – BM MS Add 29987

On the Dufay Collective recording, A Dance in the Garden of Mirth, their track 8 has it teamed up with a Saltarello from the same mansucript source, as mentioned above. It appears to be played on solo vielle by Giles Lewin, with additional drone strings; it seems to be an ‘extended mix’, the whole thing repeated several times. The approach is obviously strongly rhythmic dance music and the following Saltarello deploys the same instrumental forces with the addition of big bass drum accompaniment.

 Chominciamento di gioia / The Beginning of Joy – BM MS Add 29987

There are references in the literary texts Decameron and Il Solazzo to istampitte or estampie being played in front of guests, but in neither case do the guests arise to dance. This appears to point to the form evolving into absolute music, for the purposes of listening rather than dancing.

Ensemble Unicorn has a recorder playing the first punctus/parti, followed with strings and drum accompaniment. The tempo is tempestuous; there are trills on the cadences. It moves straight into Saltarello No.4 and the whole of this track lasts 7mins 23secs. Another recording by them as posted on YouTube has an even faster tempo, too fast for anyone to actually dance, but sounds great!

The Newberry Consort record this on their Il Solazzo album, track 4 (6:27) for vielles and lute. Obviously a more intimate sound.

See magnatune.com for a version on high recorder and drum, on the debut album Canconcier (CD, 56:15, 27 Apr 2009). They also play In seculum viellatoris and the third and sixth Estampies Royales, amongst others.

See the discussion by Jeremy Noble, Early Music Dance (Performing early music on record 5), Early Music 1976(4): 355-360.

This Chominciamento di gioia is obviously popular for medieval ensembles venturing into recording. See The Dufay Collective, Medieval Dance Music, A L’Estampida. Avie Av0015. Inter alia Danse real, English Dance, 6th 4th and 7th estampies reals, Lamento di Tristano, La rotta, etc.






Here below a list of music for vielle and/or Fiedel, the medieval violin-like bowed string instrument, played either at the shoulder or in the lap, gamba-style. The extent to which this repertoire can also be played on the other medieval ‘violin’, the rebec, is worthy of further investigation.

The objective of collecting these examples from music history anthologies and recordings is to create a fakebook for busking, alongside singers. I acknowledge the sources, ancient and modern, of the music I’ve collected so far. Details of recordings are in the references. My primary consideration is textless monody, notwithstanding the plethora of solo song from the medieval period.

I can’t ever see myself in the company of other viellists, but I think playing these is scope for positive interaction with our musical heritage, whether they are played on vielles, or rebecs, or violins, viols or ‘cellos. Certainly fluency is required in treble, octave treble and bass clefs if working from these scores, or working from manuscript facsimiles once reading neumes is mastered.


Danse Royale. Thirteenth century solo (ductia) from Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale fr.844. One modern editor advises a slow graceful tempo. Grocheo writes that the “ductia excites the soul of man to moving in an ornate fashion, according to the art called dancing”. A textless melody, in 3-4 sections, each performed twice (first open ending, second closed); less complex and of shorter construction than the stantipes. See recording on two shawms and trumpet by Dufay Collective (track 6). See HAM 40(1 – ductia) and (2 – estampie).

Danse Royale. An estampie from HAM vol.1, different from the one above, in seven sections with repeats. See David Munrow recording.

English Dance (Estampie). This comes from HAM vol.1 in ten sections (pp.43), with an eleventh featuring chords (with a continuously repeated top note, F, and moving chords beneath it).

Istampita Belicha. Italian, fourteenth century. GB-Lbm 29987. Recorded by Dufay Collective (track 6).

Istampita Chominciamento di gioia. Fourteenth century, Italian. GB-Lbm 29987, f.56. Arranged by Newberry Consort for vielles and lute. Recorded also by Ensemble Unicorn, accompanied by Saltarello no.4

Istampita Ghaetta. Italian, fourteenth century. GB-Lbm 29987.  Recorded by Dufay Collective (track 1). 

Istampita Pa(r)lamento.  Five sections, each with ‘open’ and ‘closed’ repeats. GB-Lbm 29987. Recorded by Ensemble Unicorn.

Istampita Tre Fontane. GB-Lbm 29987. Recorded by Ensemble Unicorn.

La Prima Estampie Real. French, thirteenth century. Recorded by Dufay Collective (track 2)

La Quatra Estampie Real. The Fourth Royal Estampie, French thirteenth century. Recorded by Renaissance Players (track 11)

La Quinte Estampie Real. The Fifth Royal Estampie, French thirteenth century. One of eight on two pages; Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms.Fr.844 folio 104vo.  See AMWC, example 29. Recorded by David Munrow (track 1) and Dufay Collective (track 9).

La Seconde Estampie Real. French, thirteenth century. Recorded by Dufay Collective (track 4)

La Tierche Estampie Real. French, thirteenth century. Recorded by David Munrow (track 17) and Dufay Collective (track 5).

La Uitime Estampie Real. French, thirteenth century. Recorded by David Munrow (track 11), Dufay Collective (track 3) and Renaissance Players (track 4).

Lamento di Tristan, with Rotta. An estampie from the fourteenth century. HAM vol.1, p.63. Recorded by Ensemble Unicorn.

Saltarello. An estampie from HAM vol.1, p.63.

Trotto. English, fourteenth century. London, British Museum Mus.Add. 29987. One modern edition has this starting on C and in two flats; another has it starting on G with one flat, putting it in the range of, for example, a treble viol.


Ductia. HAM, two-voice dances. HAM 41(a) is set for two parts on a bass clef. 4a(b) is set for two parts both on octave down treble clefs. Ernst Stolz has done a YouTube video clip, 41a on two viols, 41b on recorder and viol.  

Stantipes. English, thirteenth century, London, British Museum Harley 978. HAM vol.1 describes this as a ductia.

Stantipes imperfecta (Ductia). English, thirteenth century. London, British Museum Harley 978. In five sections, where the Cantus theme is in the lower tessitura in the first two sections, but moves to the upper part in Sections 3-5. Obviously this is an example of the Cantus having been composed first and an additional part added to it. 


In seculum viellatoris: motet a3 from thirteenth century, Bamberg Codex.

In seculum. HAM 32c, pp.34-35 and commetnary at p.219. Untexted, but editors of HAM indicate instrumental performance is extremely unlikely.

Rondellus. Walter Odington (c1300), De Speculatione Musicae, Coussemaker, Scriptorum I, 247.

Multiple vielles

Johannes Ciconia, Ligiadra donna. Newberry Consort; vielles.

Antonio Zacara da Teramo, Rosetta. Newberry Consort; vielles.

Zacara, Un fior gentil. Newberry Consort; vielles.

Anon. Principio di virtu. Newberry Consort, vielle, rebec and lute.

Vielle and voice(s)

Johannes Ciconia, O rosa bella. The Newberry Consort has recorded this vocal solo with vielles.

Der May. This is an accompanied song by Oswald von Wolkenstein (1377-1445) in HAM vol.1 Ex.60. An extended song with an accompanying textless bass line.

References – scores

Archibald Davison and Willi Appel. Historical Anthology of Music, vol.1. 

Timothy Roden, Craig Wright and Bryan Simms, Anthology for Music in Western Civilization. Volume A: Antiquity through the Renaissance.

References – CD recordings

Chominciamento di gioia: Virtuoso Dance-music from the time of Boccacio’s Decameron. Ensemble Unicorn, Vienna. Naxos, 8.553131.

Dufay Collective: A Dance in the Garden of Mirth: medieval instrumental music. Chandos, 9320. 1994. Giles Lewin and Suzanne Pell, vielles.   

Il Solazzo: music for a medieval banquet. The Newberry Consort. Harmonia mundi 907038.

Music of the Crusades. Early Music Consort of London, dir. David Munrow. Decca, 430264-2.

Venus’Fire. The Renaissance Players, dir. Winsome Evans. Walsingham 8004-2. Recorded 1992/3. Issued 1994.

Wanderers’ Voices: Medieval Cantigas & Minnesang. Newberry Consort, Harmonia mundi 907082. Minnesang by Wolkenstein and others; cantigas from Martin Codax and the Las Huelgas Codex.

Herewith a list of short viol solos, suitable for busking:

English traditional. Popular soaring solo melodies, with potential for variations. 

Greensleeves (major).

Woodycock (minor).

Daphne (major).

Pavan Lachrymae (minor).