‘For musike meueþ affecciouns’: Interpreting Harp Performance in Medieval Romance

Alana Bennett


Performances are focal points in medieval romances with musical protagonists. Whilst these performances may not necessarily be accurate representations of medieval music, such episodes in popular literature are valuable to early music practitioners because they describe the whole context of the performance. These scenes preserve a snapshot of the medieval experience of music: the physicality of the performance, the sounds created and the emotional responses to the music. The hyperbolic tendencies of popular literature are effective at communicating imagined performance contexts because of the use of language that deliberately presents and evokes extremes of emotion, involving the reader or listener in a simulacrum of musical affect. When used alongside surviving musical notation, musical treatises, accounts of performances in historical records, and iconography, these romances are, I argue, a highly valuable and informative source for medieval performance. They reveal to the modern reader how music was perceived and represented in the medieval popular imagination. This paper will examine harp performances in several music-focused romances and I will set alongside these examples my own amateur reconstructions of the performances as described.


medieval; romance; performance; harp; early music


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