Approaches to the use of iconography in historical reconstruction, and the curious case of Renaissance Welsh harp technique

C. Macklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is an oft-repeated cliché that ‘smart is sexy,’ and while cynics may find plenty of reason to scoff at the thought, some solace can be taken in the economic success and increase in the social cachet of the ‘historically informed performance’ (or HIP) movement. Countless millions of people over the last thirty years have been drawn to the world of medieval and renaissance music, many as a result of the exciting new sounds created through the thoughtful synthesis of artistic and intellectual sensibility demonstrated in historical reconstructions of early instruments and their playing techniques. In light of this economic and cultural success, it therefore seems fitting to take a step back and think about how individuals today arrive at a view of historical reality in the world of instrumental performance, especially when faced with images and artifacts which may be interpreted in many different ways. This research, as ‘an authentic expression of our contemporary cultural condition bringing new experiences and insights into our world,’ 1 is immensely valuable. However, are we justified in going further and asserting that our modern reconstructive work sheds light on ‘the way things actually were,’ or in other words, that it reveals objective historical truth? In the following pages I will take a closer look at the research methodology of historically informed performance and propose a refinement based on a probabilistic analysis of the data produced. While the areas of research which might benefit from such an inquiry are virtually unlimited, my specific focus for the purposes of this exercise is the harp technique in late medieval and early renaissance Wales. This is one branch of the musicological tree which remains relatively infrequently visited in early music circles, yet one which, as we will see, is richly rewarding when explored through the multifaceted methodology and interdisciplinary orientation of modern HIP research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-224
Number of pages11
JournalEarly Music
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2007

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© The Author 2007. An author's version of the paper will be freely available here from May 2009.

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