Unprofitable Instruments

Vielle

The vielle was ubiquitous in the Middle Ages. In the opinion of Johannes de Grocheio, they were capable of playing “every musical form.” Existing in an abundance of designs, vielles could play monophonic or polyphonic music, in instrumental consorts or accompanying voices. I offer several models of vielle.

Battle Abbey Vielle

This vielle was designed with the modern violinist in mind. It is roughly the same size as a violin with the same number of strings, yet it has a distinctly medieval construction and sound. The four strings can be retuned to A,D,a,d or G,D,g,d, and played convincingly to accompany monophonic song or polyphonic music.

  • One piece body of maple, pear, or cherry
  • Arched soundboard of high quality spruce
  • Gut strings, tuned A,D,a,d or G,D,g,d
  • String length 32.5 cm
Battle Abbey Vielle, front view
Battle Abbey Vielle, back view
Battle Abbey Vielle, side view
Battle Abbey Vielle, closeup
Battle Abbey Vielle
Battle Abbey Vielle
Battle Abbey Vielle
Battle Abbey Vielle
Battle Abbey Vielle

Sources

Battle Abbey, English 14th century, BL Cotton Domitian A.II f. 8

Battle Abbey, English 14th century, BL Cotton Domitian A.II f. 8 (detail)

DeLisle Psalter Vielle

DeLisle Psalter Vielle

This vielle was intended to have a robust design that can accommodate many styles: leg or arm playing, flat or arched bridge, five strings on the fingerboard or four with a lateral drone string. Like the British Museum Citole, it has a keel-shaped back and a bent top.

  • One piece body of maple, pear, or cherry
  • Bent spruce soundboard
  • Gut strings, tuned something like C,G,C,g,c
  • Large model string length 42-44 cm
  • Small model string length 39-20 cm
DeLisle Psalter Vielle, front view
DeLisle Psalter Vielle, back view
DeLisle Psalter Vielle, side view

Sources

De Lisle Psalter, English, 1330s

English Square Fydell

English Square Fydell

I developed this fiddle with distinctive square sides when I worked with Dan Larson. It has three strings, a lightweight, constructed body, and a bent soundboard. Someday I would be interested in returning to this model as a monoxyle, or carved body, instrument.

  • Constructed body of maple or cherry.
  • Bent spruce soundboard
  • Gut strings tuned in fifths
  • Large model string length 40 cm, tuned G, d, a
  • Small model string length 37 cm, tuned C, g, d’
English Square Fydell, front view
English Square Fydell, back view
English Square Fydell, side view
English Square Fydell
English Square Fydell

Sources

Gloucester Cathedral, c. 1280

Beverly Minster

Alternun Bench end, 1510-1530

Mary Rose fiddles, 1545