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Crwth

From Academic Kids

A modern crwth in its case
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A modern crwth in its case

The crwth is an archaic stringed musical instrument, associated particularly with Wales, although once played widely in Europe.

Contents

Nomenclature

Crwth is a Welsh word, pronounced to rhyme with tooth (SAMPA /kru:T/ or /krUT/). The traditional English name, little used today, is crowd or crouth; it is also known as the rote (rota, rotta, rotte), and, in Latin, the chorus. The Irish word is cruit. The English surname (family name) Crowder or Crowther means a player of the crwth, as does the Scottish name MacWhirter.

History

The origins of the crwth go back into antiquity; it is said to have been played in Wales since Roman times at least. It bears a clear resemblance to the classical lyre, with the addition of a bow. It lingered on in Wales much later than elsewhere, but had gone completely out of fashion by the 18th century, or at the latest the early 19th, supplanted by the more versatile and powerful fiddle (violin). There are many carvings, manuscript illustrations and written descriptions of the crwth, but so complete was the abandonment of the instrument that only three 18th-century Welsh examples survive. These are held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans near Cardiff, and Warrington Museum (near Manchester in the North of England).

Physical description and playing technique

Missing image
Crwth-player.jpg
Crwth being played by Cass Meurig using a neck strap; photo taken by Harry Campbell of Gwybodiadur.co.uk at the 2003 National Eisteddfod

The crwth consists of a fairly simple box construction with a flat, fretless fingerboard and six gut strings, usually tuned GgDdCc. The G strings run parallel to the fingerboard, but not over it, so these are used as drones, either plucked or bowed. The remaining strings are usually bowed with a short horsehair and wood bow. One characteristic feature of the crwth is that one side of the bridge goes through a soundhole and rests on the back (lower surface) of the instrument. Although it has been conjectured that this is a primitive attempt at a soundpost, something the instrument lacks, it is more likely that it is designed to take some of the weight of the strings off the belly (upper surface): since this is flat and unbraced, it is much weaker than the belly of a violin.

The tuning referred to above is mentioned in several manuscript sources of information about the crwth and is believed to have been the standard tuning for the instrument. It is, however, likely that different tunings would have been employed, as was and still is the case with many other stringed instruments.

The crwth can be played on the shoulder like a violin, between the knees like a cello, or held vertically against the chest, supported with a strap around the player's neck (see picture). However, since the art of crwth-playing died out so completely, the exact manner in which the instrument was traditionally played, like the tunings employed, will probably never be known for certain.

Due to the limited range, as well as the tuning and the flat bridge, the crwth is harmonically limited; its tone can seem rough compared to that of the modern violin, as well as lacking in power, but it is capable of a delicate and gentle sound. For all its technical limitations, the crwth has great charm, and is much more than a historical curiosity.

The crwth today

A number of modern reconstructions of the crwth have been made; makers include Guy Flockhart, Nial Cain and Gerard Kilbride. A handful of folk musicians are reviving the tradition of playing this instrument, among them Cass Meurig (who also plays with the groups Fernhill and Pigyn Clust), Bob Evans (Bragod), and Dan Morris (Cilmeri). The repertoire of surviving crwth tunes is very small, although many other traditional tunes can be adapted for the instrument and new tunes are being written for it.

Recordings

Cass Meurig has brought out a CD of crwth music on the [1] (http://www.fflach.co.uk/trad.html|Fflach:tradd) label, entitled Crwth (CD272H), also featuring Nigel Eaton (hurdy-gurdy) and Bob Evans (crwth). MP3 samples of three of the tracks can be downloaded (and copies of the CD purchased) from http://www.creightonscollection.co.uk/textonly/Albums/A0041-text.htm.

External Links

fr:Crwth hu:Crwth sv:Crwth

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