Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 


123 Street Avenue, City Town, 99999

(123) 555-6789


You can set your address, phone number, email and site description in the settings tab.
Link to read me page with more information.


Three Scandinavian frescos / Tre skandinaviske kalkmalerier

Photo/foto: Poul Høxbro


Pipe and tabor player from Roskilde cathedral, Denmark (c. 1464). Pibe og trommespiller fra Roskilde domkirke (ca. 1464)


Pipe and tabor player painted by Albert Målare in Härkeberga church, Sweden (c. 1470). Pibe og tromme-spiller malet af Albert Målare i Härkeberga kirke, Sverige (ca. 1470)


A duo, pipe & bones - pibe & tabor. Painting from Estuna church in Uppland, Sweden (mid 15th cent.) En duo med pibe & snatterpinnar samt pibe & tromme Kalkmaleri fra Estuna kirke i Uppland, Sverige (midten af 1400-tallet)




This article (with few additions) is the one I wrote for the CD

Guy with pipe and drum plays for them this estampie

This line is from a song by the trouvère Jehan Erars (c. 1200 - 1259), and is one of the first references in existence to the instruments pipe and tabor being played by one and the same person. The first actual illustration is found in the El Escorial  manuscript of the Spanish king Alfonso the Wiseís large collection of Marian songs Cantigas de Santa Maria  from about 1260. When the instrument combination was conceived remains uncertain for the time being, but what is certain is that the combination flourished in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, when it was prevalent on the whole of the European continent as a more or less commonly used musical instrument, if literary references and numerous illustrations are to be considered significant. Of course it can always be maintained that both words and pictures have been created according to literary or iconographic models, but if one disregards this rigid view of historical sources - and the pictures of pipe and tabot playing are yo deverse to be all copies -  a completely different picture of the instrumental combination pipe and tabor emerges from that suggested by the today's revival of medieval music.

It is quite clear that there was never any question of the instruments being a musical curiosity in the Middle Ages. Neither was there any unequivocal association with the devil - or God for that matter. It is true that the few Nordic depictions of pipe and tabor players wear a foolís costume, and indeed there are many situations involving dancing, which are connected to the instruments, but otherwise the pipe and tabor crop up quite simply on the same footing as other common instruments of that time, from the great, symbolic orchestras of angles to illustrations of everyday music making, where their function seems to have been unusually versatile. On street level it can be seen as an accompaniment to bear-tamers, acrobats and the carols (chain dances) so deplored by the clergy. At the other end of the scale appear in church processions, at royal wedding ceremonies well as generally in small ensembles of angels, when it was often used together with the harp and rebec.

Between these extremes the instrumental combination was a common form of entertainment for both high and low, often as part of a small ensemble of various combinations of the harp, lute, rebec/fiddle. But for the seductive Moorish dances the pipe and tabor were always the solo accompaniment. The pipe and tabor are however also seen in more official situations, for example as a trio leading an infantry unit or on horseback in a royal ceremonial procession and proving a background for tournaments and jousts.

In the Middle Ages it was customary to divide musical instruments up into two main groups depending on the power of the instrument in question. The powerful ones like for example trumpets, horns, shawns and bagpipes were called haut  (loud) instruments, and all string instruments, flutes and portatives were categorized as bas  (soft). The two classes of instruments were as a rule kept clearly apart and were not played together in the same ensemble. But here the pipe and tabor apparently create an interesting exeption, since in the many pictures where they are portrayed they play in one instance together with the trumpet, shawn and bagpipe, in another with the harp, lute, psaltery, rebec and fiddle. In the pictures of the large orchestras of angles or other pictorial allegories in which ìallî instruments are represented and often divided into the two main groups, one also sees indications that the pipe and tabor had not achieved a permanent position in either of the groups, since they seem to have been classed as loud or soft an equal number of times. In other words it was an unusually flexible instrumental combination which could be heard in every conceivable context and perhaps in a far greater of the medieval tonal conception that former reconstruct ions of medieval music would seem to suggest.

This was the state of affairs until the beginning of the 16th century when the pipe and tabor slowly began to disappear from everyday life and only survived in certain regions. They are thus specifically mentioned in connection with France, Spain, the Netherlands and England. In the Netherlands they disappeared into obscurity, while in England they were the traditional instruments for Morris dances  until the beginning of the 20th century, when the tradition managed to die out in the space of only a few years, until the insrtumental combination had a revival in connection with the Morris dance tradition. But in the South of Frances and many places in Spain as well as in Peru and Bolivia this resourceful one-man-band still plays an important role in the traditional music. It should also be mentioned that in the Salamance province of Spain the pipe and tabor can still be heard playing a sacred repertoire in some churches during the offertory.

And why then did this successful instrumental combination disappear from everyday music making? In Thoinot Arbeauís dancing treatise Orchesography  from 1589 an explanation almost reminiscent of market economy is offered, since Arbeau says that in his fathers time it was customary to cut down on expenses by hiring only one musician who played two instruments at once, while at the present time the lowliest workman would have both oboes and trombones playing at his wedding. This is hardly the whole truth and probably not the most important reason. A more likely explanation is to be found in the relationship between the specific limitations of the pipe played with one hand seen in connection with modifications of the then prevalent musical language. As long as music exclusively moved within a modal universe with simple chromatic adjustments determined by the so-called rules of musica ficta , the pipe could cope with most demands made upon it, but it failed when further demands for greater flexibility were made upon it. Neither had the tendency to increase the range required in written compositions encouraged the use of the pipe, since it was extremely uneven in the uppermost register. Indeed it was not able to keep up with developments in art music, and in this way it was compelled to retire from the scene and continue an obscure existence as an instrument of the people, so that in general it had been supplanted by other, more fashionable instruments. No place shows this development better that England, where you find accounts from the 15th century showing the pipe and tabor player as one of the best paid musician - two centuries later the pipe and tabor was mostly associated with beggars in this same country.

The pipe, played with one hand, is a type of recorder/flageolet. The flabiol  of today has five finger holes, but most of the traditional ìone hand pipesî has only three and on many early pictures it will remain an open discussion which of the two types the painter depicted. But as the basic principle is the same and my instruments are all the three hole type I will explain the basics connected to this model.

A narrow inner bore ensures that it is easy to play notes in the harmonic series by over blowing. In the first octave it is only possible to produce the first four notes before over blowing to the second octave, but from there the three holes are sufficient to make it possible to fill out the intervals between the notes which are overblown and in this way play a full scale with a compass of at least one-and-a-half octaves. There seem to have been three basic sizes, the middle one tending to be the favourite, although in the Middle Ages there were probably no actual standard sizes. However, judging from the dimensions in the vast majority of pictures, the most common pipe seems to have had a fundamental somewhere between a and f. In several of the earliest pictures there is also a pipe which seems to be smaller that this (or a flabiol ), whereas especially towards the end of the period in which the pipe flourished, the upper classes appear to have preferred a somewhat larger pipe, probably with a fundamental between e and c.

Apart from this pipe played with one hand the standard version of the ìensembleî also comprised a tabor. The tabor had parchment on both sides which was secured by string, making it possible to regulate the tautness of the skin. I the great majority of cases strings were stretched over one (or both) of the skins, giving a rattling affect every time the drum was struck. Until well into the 15th century the tabor was always flat, the diameter (8 - 14 inches?) being greater that the depth, but in the course of the 15th century and later, there was more often a tendency to make the tabor deeper that the diameter. And not until the latest pictures from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries does the tabor now and then assume the dimensions which are known from the Provençal tambourin or the tamboril of Salamanca.

So this is the standard version of the popular one-man-band. But there were also exceptions which in the most beautiful possible way justify the modern musician's desire for experimenting with sounds. In a tapestry from about 1510 in Musée Royaux et díHistoire  in Brussels an aristocratic trio consisting of a singer, a clavichord and a large one handed pipe is woven into the portrayal. In Palazzo Publico  in Sienna, Taddeo di Bartolo (1362-1422) has painted an angel with pipe and triangle, and in Estuna church, Sweden; a musician can be seen playing a pipe in one hand and in the other hand he holds two bones in exactly the same way as musicians playing Irish folk music still do today. With regard to living musical traditions it is in this connection interesting to turn oneís attention to for example Gascogne and Bearn in France as well as Aragon in Spain, where the tabor is replaced by a string drum. This instrument is an ordinary box zither, i.e. a resonating wooden box with strings tuned in fifths and fourths corresponding to the tonality of the pipe, and beaten by the pipe player with a stick in accompanying rhythmical patterns in the same way as with the drum. Such an instrument was also known in the Middle Ages under names including Chorus  and is seen illustrated in several places in connection with singing, but also - at least from the 15th century and onwards - with the the one handed pipe. Furthermore there also more medieval pictorial evidence for the use of a small hand bell substituting the tabor.

Yet another medieval instrumental combination with the one-hand-pipe should be mentioned here, namely the double pipe, which means two pipes played at the same time by the same musician. This instrument combination was also of common occurrence in certain regions. Howard Mayer Brown has for example established that it was frequently to be found in 14th century Italy: It can often be difficult to see which flutes, or perhaps reed instruments, are in question. In some pictures it would seem that they are merely two small recorders with the small range made possible by the few holes, but in other cases they are clearly two pipes of the kind which are played with one hand. The double pipes are also most often illustrated at a time and in such a way that makes it difficult to determine their scale in relation to each other because of the lack of perspective in the pictures, but from those which are clearest it would seem that in most cases the pipes were the same size and with the labiums  in the same place, which would give the same tuning, and only exceptionally (but now and then)  did the pipeís proportions differ. Exactly which function these double flageolets had is in many ways far more puzzling than that of the pipe and tabor, whose build-in logic of melody and rhythm in combination with living accessible musical traditions to a great extend pints forwards (or backwards). But experiments with different pipes making drones, parallels and simply polyphony reveals a lot of possibilities in sounds and colours. And however clear or obscure an early musical practice may appear today, historical facts will always support any argument that creative experimentation, curiosity and the wish or demand that innovation and variation at whatever time in western history has been the driving force, also in everyday music making. This of course also applies today, when one looks back in a forward looking perspective.

- Poul Høxbro