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Bagpipes in Germany, Part 1

I wrote this article to give an overview about bagpipes that are common (or used to be common) in german speaking regions. As "german speaking region" I'd like to define the historical Germany ("Teutschland") as Michael Praetorius might have seen it in his days: including the Netherlands (which were part of the "Holy Roman Empire of German nations" until 1648) and Bohemia.

This text is far from complete; too large is the amount of pictures and descriptions of bagpipes in historical documents, too large the chance of misinterpretation. I do not claim this article to be 100% historically correct either. This text is probably quite contradictious and full of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. Sorry for this, but I am no historian and my profession is thoroughly un-musical. Please regard this article as an amateur musician's effort to get a historical overview over his favourite instrument. With this web page I'd like to address all lovers of bagpipes and other historical instruments -- people who are enchanted by the soul of an instrument that most people consider dead outside the celtic Europe (especially in Germany). I hope to get one or the other response - I'm looking forward to any remarks and suggestions.

For more information about bagpipes please refer to the sources used at the end of this article.

First proof of bagpipes in Europe may be found at Aristophanes (greek author of comedy pieces, 445 - 385 B.C.), Dio Chrysostomus (also greek, ca. 100 A.D.), Marcus Valerius Martialis (roman poet, 40 - 100 A.D.) and Gaius Suetonius Tronquillus (roman author, 70 - 130 A.D.). The latter mentioned the bagpiping Nero (probably!) in his biographies about roman emperors ("De vita caesarum"). Dio Chrysostomus wrote about a contemporary sovereign, possibly Nero as well, who could play a pipe ("aulein") with his mouth as well as with his "arm pit". Chrysostomus and Martialis both mention the askaules, which literaly means "bagpiper" [8]. Unfortunately nothing is known about the appearance of these pipes, only their sound is described (by Aristophanes) as somewhat "buzzy" or "wasp like" [2].

The earliest medieval proof for bagpipes can be found in the "Hieronymus-letter" to Dardanus from the 9th century:

"chorus quoque simplex pellis cum duabus cicutis aereis: et per primam inspiratur per secundam vocem emittit"

I don't speak any latin but Stephan der Pfeiffer kindly translated the phrase for me:

" instrument with a simple bag and two air-tubes; and through the first [tube] it is blown, out of the second comes the voice."

The letter tells of an instrument made out of a bag, a blow pipe and a melody pipe. We can't gather from the text if a drone was fitted to the instrument. There is no evidence that the medieval bagpipe was developed from this early greek or roman instrument. A connection between the medieval european bagpipe and the arabian bagpipe also is very unlikely. The arabian bagpipe did not appear before the 11th century (mentioned by arabian writers). It's direct ancestor is probably the early bagpipe from ancient greek and Rome as mentioned above. This european instrument was probably "forgotten" in the first millennium and was "re-invented" in medieval times. Correspondingly primitive the first medieval bagpipes might have appeared.

First proof for bagpipes in Germany can be found in a text from the 12th century by Joannes von Affligem. He called the instrument "musa". Further german referance to bagpipes are found in two "Interlinearversionen" of psalms from the 12th and 13th century where the instrument is being referred to as "suegelbalch" or respectively the "balchsuegelen".

From the 9th to 13th century the bagpipe was widely spread over the whole of Europe, after the second half of the 13th century usually with one to three (in some cases up to four!) drones in a seperate stock (seperated from the chanter). After the 13th century desriptions and pictures of bagpipes become more frequent so that the instrument's development process can be tracked quite unbroken.

On the following pages I'd like to show a few kinds of bagpipes that were common in the german speaking regions of Europe. I will try to add a photo of a modern reconstruction to every historical picture. Because most of the photos are of my own pipe-collection or from my friends' the number of photos is still quite sparse. I hope that some kind readers will provide me with pictures of other pipes which I will gladly add to this collection.

Medieval German Bagpipes

The first medieval bagpipes probably had single cane reeds in cylindrical bored chanters and were probably without drones. Bagpipes with cylindrical bored double chanters and a common horn bell were known in Germany as early as in the 10th century (as mentioned in a script from Bamberg). On these instruments it was possible to play the melody with one chanter and the drone with the other.

Low drones are only possible to be constructed as a seperate drone pipe (in Germany called "Brummer", "Stimmer" or "Bordun"). On early pictures the drone's length is mostly shown twice the length of the cylindrical bored chanter. Drones of early medieval pipes were therefore mostly tuned one octave below the lowest chanter note. They were almost definitely fitted with single reed canes as were the chanters. Protruding bells of double-reeded chanters can only be found in Germany on late medieval pictures (similar to the little picture at the top of this page: M. Severinus Boetius: "De Arythmetica, de Musica", 14th cent.). The conical bored double-reeded chanter was introduced in Europe by the crusaders as a descendant of the arabian zamr oder surna. The crusaders called this instrument shawm (german: "Schalmei"). In the 13th century this instrument was used as a chanter for the already popular bagpipe, first in France and Italy, in the 14th cent. also in England and after the mid-14th cent. in Germany. The drone(s) were still bored cylindrical and fitted with a single reed cane. Quite often the drone-bell was nevertheless widely protruding or at least bottle-shaped.

On the picture above a "medieval Shephard's Pipe" (made by german pipe maker Andreas Rogge) can be seen. The instrument is fitted with a conical, double-reeded chanter in g and one or two single-reeded cylindrical drones with a slightly protruding or bottle-shaped bell. The bell is hollowed-out in an acorn-shaped manner, as can be found with modern Gaita Gallegas from Gallicia. The instrument is played with half-closed ("french") fingering and can be overblown for half an octave. A picture of the single-droned version will follow (hopefully not too late) in '97, as soon as I receive my ordered instrument :-)

Medieval bagpipes with double-reeded chanters are made by: Andreas Rogge, Alban Faust, Bodo Schulz, Paul Beekhuizen.

Although the combination of conical double-reeded chanter and cylindrically bored drones quickly spread over Europe (in the western world as the Great Highland Pipe still the epitome of bagpipes) the very opposite single reeded and cylindrical bored pipes not only survived the centuries until today, but was constantly developed, especially in the german language aera.

Apart from the bellows, for which no evidence has been found for medieval bagpipes, many stylistic elements of medieval pipes can be found in the below shown instrument made by Pavel Cip from the Czech Republic.

The instrument is (like all reed instruments made by Pavel Cip) exclusively fitted with single reeds. Therefore it can't be overblown and because of the open fingering it is restricted to a diatonic scale of a ninth. I drilled an additional hole for the right hand thumb into the chanter to be at least be able to play in g major and e minor.

Unfortunately Pavel Cip stopped making mouth blown instruments, therefore all his pipes use the bellow which is typical for all traditional czech pipes. This might have an "antique" look for us modern civilized people but in my opinion it is a stylistic lapse in an (apart from this fact) consequently medieval instrument. I nevertheless must admit that playing with the bellows has some advantages: the instrument is because of the lack of breath moisture easy to maintain and one has the possibility to accompany the instrument's mellow sound with some singing. What Praetorius thought about such actions can be read in the paragraph about the Musette

Medieval bagpipes with single reeded chanters are made by: Pavel Cip, Alban Faust

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