Music was an important part of European medieval society, but access to it could vary considerably depending on wealth and status. Royalty and rich lords could hire musicians to play for them on demand, while the rest of society had mainly to rely on two principal sources - travelling troubadours and the Church. Religious services often included music or at least unaccompanied singing, while fairs and festivals were a popular source for secular music.
In this set we find five figures playing musical instruments, all of which are shown in our top row. Just as today instruments could vary within a particular type, and there were often only vague distinctions between some types of instrument. The medieval European might have encountered any of a wide range of instruments, some of which we would still recognise today while others have largely disappeared. The study of military history inevitably includes a wider study of human society, but civilian music is by no means a speciality of which we can boast. Nevertheless we will now attempt to identify each of the instruments to be found here (but as always are happy to receive corrections from those more expert in this field).
The first figure sadly has defeated us. He plays a long horn-type instrument with a bulge which is clearly shown in our picture. Horns of various types were common in medieval times, but exactly what this one is remains unclear. The second figure has a frame drum, which was a common single-skinned drum that can be traced back to ancient times. Figure three appears to have some sort of flute. The word 'flute' had a much wider meaning in the Middle Ages, and examples such as this, which were played horizontally, were known as 'German flutes', at least in Western Europe. The fourth figure plays a rebec, which is a stringed instrument something like the modern violin but held as shown by this figure and usually with only three strings. Actually the comparison might better be made using the term 'fiddle', because this instrument was more a favourite of the lower orders of society and not usual at Court. Finally there is a figure playing a medieval bagpipe, which is correctly modelled with only two drones, although the position of the hands should be reversed, with the right hand below the left.
These five instruments are simply exquisite models. Each and every one is beautifully delicate with every pipe or bow slender and perfectly formed, while the level of detail on the rebec is such that you can very easily make out each of the three strings. The flexible Valdemar moulds have never been put to better use than here, for every figure comes complete with absolutely no assembly required, and with no excess plastic or flash. The relatively hard plastic used for these figures is also a factor, allowing thin elements and sharp, precise detail, resulting in an amazing set of models.
Moving on to the musicians themselves, we now also include the two figures in the second row. The first appears to be singing with considerable gusto, while the second, who is in a more generic pose, seems to easily fit the role of some sort of director or conductor. All the figures are dressed in reasonable-looking clothing. They are not dressed as peasants, which is good, but instead wear long gowns and in a couple of cases a tabard. Caps of various kinds are to be seen and most have a hood of some description. Naturally the same level of sculpting care so evident in the instruments has been applied to the figures themselves, although the intricate detail is naturally limited to the faces, which are expressive and absolutely superb. The singer seems particularly long in the body but otherwise the figures look well proportioned, although they are rather tall for medieval men, even though they are not manual labourers.
A set of five musicians cannot possibly encapsulate the history of medieval European music, although we would suggest that a lute - one of the most popular of medieval instruments - would have had a strong case for inclusion here, as perhaps would a recorder. However it seems unfair to make such demands on a set which is nothing short of beautiful, and would grace any diorama of a fair or noble feast.