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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Concord of Sweet Sounds

The man that hath no music in himself, nor is moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, act 5, scene 1

When I was a child, long before television entered our house, we had a large radio, very much, to my recollection, like the one in the above picture. I recall it being somewhat taller than I was, and we must have had it for some years for eventually I grew enough to be able to observe the record player on the top where there was usually a record in place with the famous His Master's Voice label. It was indeed an "entertainment centre" around which we sat to hear locally produced radio program's about war heroes, such as "The Dam Busters" and "The Air Adventures of Biggles", or a favourite Australian comedy drama about a country family from Snake Gully called "Dad and Dave". The record player was used when my mother was doing the housework, generally playing classical music, and I best remember the house filled with the sound of the Toreador song, from Bizet's Carmen, the voice of the bass-baritone singer accompanied by my mother's mezzo-soprano. My mother was always singing. She sang when she was ironing, polishing the furniture, cooking, baking, or hanging up the laundry, and when she put us to bed. Her repertoire was varied and often included stories with a tragic twist: the demise of an aged farm-labourer named Uncle Ned, a poor girl named Georgina who was "dead and gone" after burning herself while ironing (of particular concern as she usually sang it while she herself was ironing), or the popular Caribbean song made famous by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, about a woman who hit her abusive husband on his head with a pot and a frying pan and left him "stone col dead in de market". My father too had his repertoire, usually of a humorous nature; Gilbert and Sullivan, scout songs, army songs (Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major), Australian ballads and paradies. A favourite was a distorted version of the Maori haka (ceremonial dance/chant) Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!, at the end of which, in true Maori fashion he would stick out his tongue, until on one occasion we laughed so much that he subsequently refused to make a repeat performance.

I recall this aspect of my childhood with a great fondness. But we were not a particularly music-oriented family. We were given music lessons and I recall my older brother managing to squeeze out of a violin a reasonably good rendition of a cat undergoing torture, and my younger brother and myself making half-hearted attempts at the piano. At one stage my parents obtained an old pianola that had a single scroll of music - the 1929 hit of Maurice Chevalier - Louise - "Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise", which we sang along with in our best French accents. I thought that the pianola was a marvellous invention that enabled one to "play" like a virtuoso, without the need to sit through hours of tedious lessons with a piano teacher who had a bad case of halitosis.

Music plays on the emotions and influences many human activities. For example, it is employed to establish and maintain authority. It has always had a central role in lay and religious ceremony, in warfare, at work and in leisure. Like other societies, the Franks made much use of music. They used it in royal ceremony such as the enthroning of a new king, in funerals, in daily or festive services in churches and processions, and in private ceremony. [1] There was a great variety of instruments in use in the Latin East. Albert of Aachen records flutes, stringed instruments and bagpipes[2] and Marino Sanudo lists trumpets, flutes, pipes, shawms (medieval woodwind instruments), nakers (nachar, a type of small drum), drums and kettle drums, viols, zithers, hurdy-gurdies and tambours".[3] Marsiglio Zorzi, the Venetian bailie, mentions a market selling musical instruments in the Venetian quarter of Tyre.[4]

There are numerous examples of music employed in religious ceremony. Music did more than merely enhance ceremony, and its role and effect in Christian worship was noted by the Muslim scholar, Ibn Abī Ṭālib al-Dimashqī in a letter dated 1321 responding to what is known as "a letter from the Christians of Cyprus", part of an ongoing Christian-Muslim polemic:

Similarly, at the times of worship on their festivals and feast days they were accustomed to playing organs and to listening to melodies on them. Musical settings stir human souls and move their natures with delight, filling them with desire for their true being and stimulating the latent angelic natures within.[5]

And bells... bells were everywhere. They were in the churches, rung for mass from the bell towers that spiked the cityscape in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and in monasteries where their peel called the monks or nuns to prayer six times a day. A large bell found in the Al-Aqsa Mosque possibly was used in the Templar compound. A carillon chimed out tunes from the belfry of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem. Thirteen bells of different sizes were recovered from excavations in the church grounds where they had been buried, probably at the approach of Saladin in 1187, along with 221 copper organ pipes (fistulae).[6] The largest bell had a dragon-shaped mount, and the smallest was inscribed with the words “Vox Domini” (Voice of the Lord). In excavations in the Premonstratensian monastery of St Samuel at Nebi Samwil a single carillon bell was recovered. Albert of Aachen records that on restoring divine office at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the Frankish leaders ordered the manufacture of bells of bronze and other metals[7] and there is evidence for the casting of bells in the Holy Land.[8]

Musical instruments were employed in warfare, to organise and inspire troops and as a means of creating alarm in the enemy camp. They were used in times of communal strife and served both to call to arms[9] and to sound a retreat.[10] Albert of Aachen refers to the use by the army of trumpets and bugles (tubarum et cornuum) in order to instil fear in the locals[11] and Marino Sanudo referred to the use of "...flutes, trumpets, horns, shawms, and all musical instruments that make a great noise" to be stationed in the ships as "by their sound they excite the spirits of their friends to fight, by rousing their spirits and by terrifying the treacherous enemy."[12] And there were other practical uses for musical instruments, in ports for example. Trumpets announced arrival of ships[13] and bells were rung to inform of the entry of a ship into the port.[14]

Music and song were, as they always have been, sources of merriment in public and private celebrations. When in 1310 it was found that King Henry II of Cyprus (who I mentioned in my last post), was safe and well in the castle of Partzapert in Armenia where he had been banished by his brother Amaury, and an agreement was reached for his release, the burgesses of Nicosia celebrated for three days and nights, with dancing and singing accompanied by the playing of trumpets, drums and other instruments.[15] On the occasion when King John of Brienne arrived at the Haifa River (Kishon) in 1210 he was greeted by the Greek and Latin clergy of Acre who came in procession on horseback and by foot sounding trumpets, drums, and pipes.[16] On such celebratory occasions, together with local musicians there were foreign musician and minstrels who arrived in the East as pilgrims. John of Joinville recalls to minstrels from Greater Armenia, musicians who also performed acrobatic tricks.[17]

Music in the crusader states remains a largely unquarried area of research although it is an aspect of life abundantly recorded and worthy of greater consideration.

1. Ibn Jubayr describes music in a Latin wedding at Tyre. See The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, trans. Roland J.C. Broadhurst, London, 1952, p. 320.

2. Albert of Aachen, Historia Ierosolimitana, ed., and transl. Susan Edgington, vi.43, pp. 458-59.

3. Marino Sanudo Torsello, The Book of Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross", trans. Peter Lock, Farnham and Burlington, 2011, pp. 129, 133.

4. Regesta Regni Hierosolymitani no. 1114. See Revised Regesta (, no. 2437.

5. Rifaat Ebied and David Thomas, eds., Muslim-Christian Polemic during the Crusades. The Letter from the People of Cyprus and Ibn Abl Talib al-Dimashqf's Response, Leiden and Boston, 2005, pp. 265/66.

6. The organ pipes found in Bethlehem included 221 copper fistulae, apparently from a water-powered organ.

7. Albert of Aachen. vi.41, pp. 454-55.

8. Iris Shagrir, "Urban Soundscapes. Defining Space and Community in Twelfth-Century Jerusalem", in Iris Shagrir, Benjamin Z. Kedar and Michel Balard, Communicating the Middle Ages. Essays in Honour of Sophia Menache, Crusades Subsidia 11, Oxon and New York, 2018, p. 112.

9. The Chronicle of Amadi, trans. Nicholas Coureas and Peter Edbury, Nicosia, 2015, 905, p. 405.

10. Ibid., 1063, p. 460.

11. Albert of Aachen ix.51, pp. 712-13.

12. Marino Sanudo Torsello, The Book of Secrets of the Faithful of the Cross, trans. Peter Lock, Farnham and Burlington, 2011, pp. 105-6.

13. Amadi, 628, p. 300.

14. J. Riley-Smith, “The Survival in Latin Palestine of Muslim Administration”, in P.M. Holt (ed.), The Eastern Mediterranean Lands in the Period of the Crusades, Warminster, 1977, p. 13.

15. Amadi, 709, p. 343.

16. Ibid., no. 182, p. 96.

17. John of Joinville, 1963, p. 297.

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