at this stage, the aspiring harpist places the tablature on the
stand, and starts to play, a rather alarming succession of nonsensical
clumps of notes is likely to be heard. In order to make some sense
of this, it is necessary to understand the sophisticated code of
instructions given by the movement symbols. They almost all refer
to the notes allocated to the upper hand.
Fortunately for us, Robert ap Huw
provided us with a key to these symbols, found on p. 35 of the
manuscript. Starting on the left of the page, we are given three
important pieces of information for each movement: its name (which
can tell us quite a lot about the detail of the movement), the
way it looks in the music text, and another version of each movement
using a sort of staff notation with triangular noteheads. One
should not be misled by the fact that Robert has sometimes given
us the version in staff notation more than once for each movement.
The remaining material in the diagram consists mostly of poorly
informed additions by later owners of the manuscript, and may
The meanings of
the symbols used in this diagrammatic explanation can be briefly
given as follows:
The single and
double oblique strokes above the note-names tell us the order
in which the notes are to be played, and which of them are to
be damped immediately (this is an important aspect of the fingering
technique). The direction of the oblique strokes (upward or downward
from left to right) tells us whether the first two notes to be
played move downward or upward. The number of oblique strokes
in each movement tells us how many of the notes in the movement
are to be damped.
More precise information
about this is given in the triangular notes. The black note-heads
are notes which are to be damped. The notes with clear (white)
heads are to be left sounding. The triangular notes are generally
staggered in such a way as to show us the order in which the strings
are to be played. It has also been established that the four different
possible positions of the triangular notes are used to tell us
which fingers strike the notes:
up, facing right thumb
stem up, facing
left index finger
stem down, facing
left middle finger
stem down, facing
right ring finger
The names of two of these movements (taked y fawd and plethiad
y bys bach) have led to the identification of the fingers which
damp the strings immediately after they have been struck. This
operates according to a system called "covering fingers",
since a string is generally damped by a different finger from
the one which struck it.
An example may
make this all a little clearer. The movement "plethiad y
bys bach" consists of three notes, with two oblique strokes
ascending to the right above them. Thus, the first two notes move
upwards (as, inevitably, does the third), and two notes are damped.
The triangular notes tell us that the strings are played by the
middle finger, the index finger and the thumb respectively. The
first two of the notes are damped; the first by the ring finger,
and the second by the little finger (which gives the movement
its name: "plethiad of the little finger"). This movement
involves all five fingers, and can be executed with economy of
effort and at speed. This is typical of the movements as a whole.
We can classify
all the movements which are symbolised by oblique strokes as "plethiadau"
("plaitings" or "weavings"), which is a good
pictorial description of what the fingers are doing. The other
major classification comes under the heading of "crychiadau"
(literally "wrinklings" or "crumplings").
These movements use a variety of different symbols, some of which
suggest at first the idea of a tremolo.
of the diagram in conjunction with the music text has led to the
conclusion that the crychiad movements are, according to
context, either single strokes with the back of the nail, or two
or more strokes backward and forward with the nail. It should
be understood, then, that this fingering technique depends on
the fingernails being grown and shaped so that the nail comes
to the top of the finger-pad, and that they are used to pluck
and strike the strings. The strings are damped with the tip of