A musical multi-media talk

Dr Jacopo Bisagni

Instruments: double flute, duct flutes, pivana (Corsican horn flute), muse (reedpipe), bagpipes

What is medieval music? Manuscripts, paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages are full of men and women playing all kinds of instruments: but what did they play? And how? Who played music, and for whom? And what did instrumental music mean? Was it simply for entertainment, or did it have a more complex and deeper function?

These are only some of the difficult questions that we must deal with if we want to understand—and play!—the very few extant medieval pieces that were not intended for singing, but rather to be played with instruments.

In this talk and performance we shall explore this distant musical world by focussing on a single source: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Fr. 844, also know as Manuscrit du Roi or Chansonnier du Roi (‘the King’s Manuscript’, or ‘the King’s Songbook’). Indeed, while this is first and foremost a large songbook, an anonymous scribe also added to its contents eleven instrumental tunes—eight estampies and three dances—giving us a fascinating (and tantalising) glimpse of aristocratic secular music in France around the year 1300.

In addition to being played by Jacopo on flutes and bagpipes, each of these eleven pieces shall be used to address a specific question, with the help of art, literature and music treatises from the same age as the manuscript itself.


Jacopo Bisagni is a lecturer in the Classics at NUI Galway. He studied Classics, Celtic linguistics and Indo-European linguistics at the University of Pisa, Italy, and was awarded a PhD in NUI, Galway in 2008 for a thesis entitled Amrae Coluimb Chille: a Critical Edition, a revised and expanded version of which was published in 2019 by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He has taught widely in early Irish, Latin language, and historical linguistics, and his research area ranges from Celtic philology to the study of Early Medieval Irish literature (both Latin and vernacular). He has published on the terminology of music and musical instruments in Old and Middle Irish sources. His interest in medieval music and instruments includes not only research, but performance.  He plays bagpipes and various whistles and fipple flutes.