Subscribe to Scotiana's blog RSS feed in your preferred reader!

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter
    December 2021
    S M T W T F S


    Follow Me on Pinterest

    Earliest Example of Written Music Discovered in Scottish Stirling Castle

    A series of 0s, Is and IIs appear on the Stirling Head, which would have graced the ceiling of the Royal Palace| Source:

    A series of 0s, Is and IIs appear on the Stirling Head, which would have graced the ceiling of the Royal Palace| Source:

    Upon viewing a documentary on TV about the medieval harp, master carver John Donaldson sprung off his seating when he heard narrator mention that in earlier historical periods, zero’s and one’s were utilized to form music descriptives.

    This fact would explain the particular pattern of one of the oak wooden medallion-shaped that he was commissioned to duplicate and which stroke his curiosity as being different from the others with the strange 0 , | and || characters appearing in one of the circular patterns!

    Quite similar to our modern binary code, don’t you think so Mairiuna?


    This revelation led to the discovery of the earliest example of Scottish written music !

    ===> Hear it being played <===

    Stirling Castle - King Presence Chamber

    Stirling Castle - King Presence Chamber

    From the approximately 56 original  medallions that adorned the King Presence Chamber’s ceiling in Stirling Castle only 33 survived from the bedroom ceiling collapse.

    What originally stroke John Donaldson’s attention, even without having personally any musical training, is that he suspected that the symbols: 0 , | and || , had not been carved only for attractiveness.

    After in depth expert analysis these carvings revealed themselves as being the oldest  instrumental music notation from the  sixteenth century.

    Evidence found in Wales from later in the same century suggests the ancient tune discovered on the Stirling Head is part of the Celtic harp tradition.

    Carved in about 1540 for King James V and his Queen, Mary de Guise, each measuring a metre across, the Stirling Heads depict kings, queens, courtiers, imps and other mythological creatures
    as well as classical gods.

    The musical markings are not an exact score, but would have given guidance to players who then improvised – in much the same way as modern jazz and blues musicians.

    They were discovered by a woodcarver, John Donaldson, who was commissioned by Historic Scotland to create
    a series of replicas of the heads. Historic Scotland, the guardians of the castle, said Mr Donaldson noticed
    what seemed  to be a deliberate sequence of 0s, Is and IIs round the edge of head number 20, which has the
    face of a woman as its central image.


    Stirling Castle -Scotland - Wodden Medallions

    Mary Queen of Scott would have probably heard this music as it may have been specially composed for her father King James V.

    It took five years for John Donaldson to accomplish the reproduction of the oak heads, which each measure a meter.

    The original 16-century medallions feature vivid depictions of medieval kings and queens as well as mythological heroes.

    The works were unveiled by culture minister Michael Russell.

    They were commissioned by Historic Scotland as a key part of its £12m project to return the royal palace at Stirling Castle to its original Renaissance heyday.

    The ceiling of one of the most important apartments in the palace, the King’s Inner Hall will be decorated by 37 of the heads.

    ‘Wonderful experience’

    Mr Russell said: “The Stirling Heads are a remarkable part of our national heritage, sometimes referred to as Scotland’s other crown jewels.

    “John’s work in creating the replica set has been a tremendous achievement, demanding the very highest standards of artistry and craftsmanship.

    Oak wodden medallion from Stirling Castle

    Oak wodden medallion from Stirling Castle

    Listening to the music for the first time was a really emotional experience,’ says Donaldson, who last month finished the job of copying the carvings.

    He can’t believe that the scratches have changed the way experts think about 16th- century music – as the Stirling Castle carving predates the previous earliest evidence of binary
    musical notation by more than 20 years.

    This is the first time such notation has been found outside Wales – and also the earliest-known instance of ones and zeros being used at all.

    ‘As a Scot,’ says Donaldson, ‘That makes me feel chuffed.’

    There is one other question. Why do the encoded cuts appear on this particular roundel, rather than one of the 40 or so others?

    ‘It’s anybody’s guess,’ says Brown. ‘Perhaps the king or queen or some person of influence had a piece of music composed for them, or even by them, and they asked the master of works to include it.’

    But that’s for another amateur code-cracker to find out.

    Read more:

    Share this:
    Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

    Leave a Reply

    You can use these HTML tags

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.