The origins
Advances in the middle ages
Early references
The modern era



The origins

Musical instruments have developed enormously over the years and in their travels have come under many influences and undergone many modifications. Many have disappeared altogether. It is difficult to say precisely when the first bagpipe appeared, and contemporary bagpipes are the product of centuries of transformation.

The most widely accepted version of the origin of these instruments is that they evolved because they required less effort on the part of the musician by providing a reservoir of air. It is possible that they didn’t appear until the emergence of more developed cultures (Mesopotamia, Egypt and parts of Asia) where the first wind instruments appeared in which the melody is produced by a double reed, as in an oboe. It is thought that these were played by mouth and had no air sac.

Some researchers believe that it is a bagpipe(1) player that is depicted in the bas-reliefs in the Hittite palace of Eyuk. In the Jerusalem temple a bagpipe player(2) also featured among the 4,000 priestly musicians employed by King Solomon, although due to the imprecise translation of the Old Testament is impossible to be certain(3).

One of the first representations of an instrument with an air sac, the precursors of organs and bagpipes(4), is an Alexandrian statue dating from the last century before Christ depicting a seated Syrian musician playing a panpipe connected to a wineskin which he is holding under his arm, joined by a bellows which the musician is operating with his foot. In this manner the air produced by the bellows is stored and then released to play the flute.

According to Suetonius, Nero played a "choraulam et utricularium" (choraulam:flute player who plays with the choir ; utricularium: means leather bag)“wineskin flute”(5) but he doesn’t describe the instrument in any detail. The 5th century historian Procopius says it was used by the Roman army, which is perhaps how it was introduced into the British Isles(6). There is some evidence to support this theory in the bronze statue brought to Richborough (then Rutpiae) from which it appears that the Romans liked the bagpipes. Although there is no agreement over the characteristics of the instruments used during the Roman empire and we can’t be sure whether the melodic instruments were of the flute or reed variety, from this photograph of a Roman frieze there can be no doubt they were aware of double-reed instruments.

La We can tell from the spread of the Roman empire how important these instruments were to them. However, it is clear that there was a significant jump in development from the Roman "tibia utricularis" to the mediaeval bagpipes.


Advances in the middle ages

This is when we have the first clear indication that the bagpipes existed in the Iberian peninsula. With the Moorish conquest, there was contact with a new culture from which the indigenous culture adopted a great deal. There is no doubt that they were familiar with and played reed instruments but there are no actual documents that support the thesis that the Arabs introduced reed instruments to the peninsula. Some researchers claim the Visigoths(8) brought them before the Arabs and that the latter adopted them and it spread from there. Whatever the case, there is little doubt that the bagpipes are of oriental origin.

Nevertheless, others credit them to the Celts and say that the instrument disappeared after the Visigothic invasion(9). But the fact is there is still no consensus on what instruments the Celts possessed(10).

According to C. Sachs (11) the first written reference to a bagpipe occurs in an apocryphal letter written by St Jerome of the Dardanelles in the 9th century: “The music is produced by a simple leather bag with two brass tubes; the player blows into one and the sound emerges from the other.”

In the case of Catalunya, numerous references occur between the 10th and 12th centuries: instruments imported from Byzantium, Flanders and Germany; the accounts of wandering minstrels, crusaders(12) etc. In spite of the importance of the Arab influence on the peninsula, we have no strong evidence concerning the development of the bagpipe until the advent of the Catalan kings(13).

During the 11th and 12th centuries the Catalan courts strengthened their cultural and linguistic links with people living on both sides of the Pyrenees. As a result of marriages between Catalan counts and Aquitaine princesses, Catalans became the dominant force in Aquitaine. At that time Aquitaine was an important cultural nexus and the focus of a movement that had a significant ideological and spiritual influence on Catalunya: Catharism. Cathar spiritualism, with its Eastern overtones, came into conflict with the Catholic Church. It was backed by the working class, perhaps because it questioned the rights of property owners, but was also backed by the aristocracy who saw it as a brake on the power of the Church, demonstrated by the growth of monasteries and so on (14).

It was out of this environment of relative peace and social well-being that the troubadours and wandering minstrels emerged. The former were poets and the latter musicians, although the professions overlapped. They came from many backgrounds: some from the aristocracy, such as Guilhem de Peitieu, and others of humble origin, such as Guiraut de Bornelh (15). They wrote poems which were generally intended to be sung, which exalted love, fidelity and happiness, or were attacks on the status quo or, just as likely, eulogies. They played a variety of instruments, some of which they made themselves, and often acted out their stories. Some played the houses of the nobility while the less fortunate toured towns and villages. If some noble took a shine to them, they were kept on, and some were virtually kidnapped, either because they played so well or to fuel the rivalry between aristocrats(16).

Some became conduits of news, gossip and anecdotes. Little of their actual music(17) has survived and most of the poems were written without musical notation. Most of the tunes are lost, although some may have survived in the oral tradition, such as one of the songs attributed to Guiraut de Bornelh – o Borneill (1175-1220) – which strongly resembles the popular song El pare i la mare(18) .

While the wandering poets and minstrels performed for the royal families throughout the peninsula, from 1209 they were concentrated in the Pyrenees, when the Cathar supporters were driven north following decrees by Pope Innocent III.

Early references

The first references to bagpipes in the Catalan region was made by Balari i Jovany(19) who says that between 1119 and 1131 there was one Benart Bufalodre in Barcelona, from whose name it can be deduced that he played an instrument related to the bagpipe family.

Later, according to J. Amades, the bagpipe is mentioned in relation to the festival of St Dionysius, celebrated in Valencia in 1258. In the procession there were “two trumpets, two drummers and a bagpipe”.(20) In references to travelling musicians during the reign of Pope Peter III the Ceremonious (1335-1387) (21) the bagpipe is cited in numerous documents.(22)

Bagpipers in the service of the crown (23):

Ugoni de la Pelliça (1345-1353)
Guillemi Veguer (1345-1353)
Pere Castello (1345-1346 i 1349-1351)
Ffrancesch de Muntalba(24) (1345)
Paschual Ferrandez (1346-1347 i 1378-1381)
Guillem de Bonach (1347-1348 i 1352)
Johan de Paris (1348-1352 i 1354-1356)
Jaquet Tricot (1351-1381; some years are not documented )
Stefani de Tremfort (1354-1356)
Johani lo Clerch (1355-1356)
Johani lo Gornalet (1392)
Johan lo Gormandell (1392)

Johan de Mascho and Pere Seguer were hired by king Pere III to entertain with the sound of bag pipes, the young prince Joan in April 1352, when he was two years old. And two years later they made him a small bag pipe, decorated with "... de vellut vert ab senyals reyals e ab II timbres de fil d or e d argent.."

Other bagpipe players cited in various documents (25):

Abgelí lo Llong
Joan de Mascum (1343)
Tomasi de Xaumont (1372) with small bag pipe
Perrinet (1345)
Adamet (1345)
Simon d Ortega (1346)
Andreu Bonach (1346)
Pere Barart (1346)

One of the ways in which the court stayed in touch with the people was through festivals held to mark the arrival of the king or royal family in places of importance. All sorts of musical instruments were employed at these open-air festivals. The court musicians, who always had the most modern instruments, were admired by more humble fellow musicians, who looked to them to expand their repertoire, perfect their technique and learn about new types of reeds and other innovations.

During Lent, when it was forbidden to hold dances or concerts, the kings sent their minstrels to academies in Flanders and Germany in order to acquire new material, pool their knowledge with other European musicians, acquire new instruments or repair the ones they had.

To be called a minstrel had a certain cachet and when monarchs heard of a new one with a good reputation, or if they were simply tired of the ones in their employ, they exchanged them. As well as Arabs, the Catalo-Aragonese crown had at its disposal musicians from all over Europe: Castilians, English, Germans etc. In 1391 two minstrels in the service of the court, Conxe and Blasof, were sent to Germany to learn from good drummers and pipers. (26).

.Bagpipes with chanters already existed, but in sculptures there are also pipes without chanters. It is clear from the many references in literature that there were a wide variety in existence: big and small, with and without chanters and with drones of various sizes. .(27) .

On the roof of the chapel of the Casa Dalmases in C/Montcada, 20, in Barcelona there are sculptures of various angelic musicians (28) who are playing instruments dating from the era of the son of Ceremonious. The angel playing the bagpipe is suspended in mid air; with its right arm it is working a bag on a bagpipe from the medium size.

Capella Casa Dalmases
Portada del Mirador











In the "Portada del Mirador", in the "Catedral de Ciutat de Mallorca", we can see one of the first angels playing a bag pipe with chanters going down.

From the Middle Ages onwards the bagpipes maintained their status and formed an essential part of cobles (musical groups) which still exist, albeit with a different configuration, in the court, as entertainment at dances and fiestas and to accompany shepherds on their long journeys to the mountains.

The bagpipes became known, through minstrels and then through shepherds, across the land: centuries later they became the instrument of choice of beggars and peddlers, a sure sign that they had become a popular instrument.

The modern era

The introduction of other instruments into the 14th and 15th century courts, instruments with greater flexibility and scope for a much bigger repertoire, led to the decline of the bagpipe as a courtly instrument. In the 17th century, a series of socio-political and economic events(29) led to a decline in local power and reduced the Catalan aristocracy to a state of dependency on the Castilian crown. The Inquisition, the repression of popular revolt and of the guilds, led throughout the century to artistic stagnation, music included.

At the same time, perhaps in order to feel more relevant to the Castilian aristocracy, the Catalan nobility underwent a process of castilianisation on every front. But it’s interesting to note that the French aristocracy continued to cherish this type of instrument. (30).

In the 18th century Catalunya went through one of the most difficult periods in its history after the defeat of followers of Charles of Austria and the fall of Barcelona in 1714. With the ban on sardanes (traditional Catalan dances) or any sort of fiesta in church involving musical instruments, the bagpipe was demoted to the level of “street music”. All this led to the loss of most of the local popular and traditional fiestas, with the possible exception of the Valencia region. The beautiful nativity figures created by the sculptor Ramon Amadeu (1745-1821) , which are either in the keep of private collectors or the Museum of Olot, a town where he lived for 63 years after fleeing the Napoleonic forces, deserve a special mention. They are of exceptional beauty and capture perfectly the spirit of the age, even down to the instruments the shepherds play. By the middle of the 19th century, amid profound economic and social changes, from which emerged a Catalan cultural revival known as the Renaixença (Renaissance), there was a need to “modernise” music and to make it more accessible. Instruments had already evolved, by one means or another, and there were many that had developed with a long drone with metal keys, each distinct from the other, but which became known collectively as esquerrans (left-handed.) (31).

The driving force behind the change was Pep Ventura who played in a cobla of tres quartans (generally made up of one or two horns or long drones, a bagpipe, a flageolet and a drum). Ventura employed an instrument maker in Perpignan to make a modern, keyed instrument based on a bagpipe drone, capable of playing complex melodies alongside brass instruments such as the trumpet and French horn and the double bass, which at first encountered some resistance from the cobles.


For a variety of reasons the bagpipe more or less disappeared from Catalunya during the 20th century and the tradition almost died out with the death in 1965 of the person considered the last piper of Catalunya(32).

Competition between diferent musical instruments, also happened in Europe.

For a variety of reasons the bagpipe more or less disappeared from Catalunya during the 20th century and the tradition almost died out with the death in 1965 of the person considered the last piper of Catalunya: Francesc Pasqual ( "el Tons").

In spite of its disappearance from Catalunya, we are happy to report the bagpipe’s survival in Mallorca (where it is popularly known as ses xirimies (arse flute) and, although there are small differences, it can be considered a sister to the bagpipe. (33).And, in order to boost its revival in Catalunya, we had to make a number of trips to Mallorca to appreciate its characteristics at source.

L'estàtua de la fotografia està a l'entrada de les escales d'una masia, a les rodalies de Vilafranca del Penedès, on sembla ser que tingueren un avantpasssat "sacaire". Informació facilitada per Xavier Bayer.



(1) Curt Sachs a "Historia universal de los instrumentos musicales" (pàg. 135) ho nega afirmant que representen l'ofrena d'un animal amb uns llaços que pengen.
(2) Johanes Wolf, "Historia de la música". Pàg. 16.
(3) Curt Sachs, op. cit. Pàg. 115.
(4) Ibid. Pàg. 137.
(5) Ibid. Pàg. 135.
(6) Percy A. Scho1es, "Diccionario Oxford de la música ", a la veu "gaita". Pàg. 540.
(7) Fris romà al Museu del Louvre. París. Fotografia de Jordi Tomàs
(8) L'etimologia del terme "gaita" ho pot fer pensar. Segons Coromines és una veu procedent del castellà i del galaico-portugés. Al segle VI les invasions germàniques havien portat sueus i gots al nord de la península. No seria gens estrany que donessin a un dels instruments el nom de "gaits" que en gòtic significava "cabra"
(9) F. J. Hernando Cuende, "La dulzaina". Pàg. 8.
(10) A. Buchner, "Encyclopédie des instruments de musique". Pàgs. 24 i 27. E1s trompeters celtes, que es conserven en estatuetes, mostren representacions d' instruments molt difíci1s de classificar.
(11) Curt Sachs, op. cit. Pàg. 269.
(12) Higini Anglès, "La música a Catalunya fins al segle XIII". Pàgs. 86-90.
(13) Si la re1igió musulmana hagués permès als artistes la representació d'imatges, potser hauríem sortit de dubtes, però la major part de l'art islàmic que ens ha arribat és essencialment lineal, geomètric, amb escassíssimes imatges figuratives sobre aspectes de la vida.
(14) J. M. Salrach, op. cit. Pàgs. 252-253 i 281.
(15) Toni Moreno, "Cançons de trobadors". Pàg. 73.
(16) M. C. Gómez, op. cit. Pàgs. 158-164. En diverses cartes reials, s'observa l' esmentat interès; observem aquest en concret del rei Joan I pel "ministrer" Everli: "(...) Quantes de ço que ns pregats que us enviassem Everli e sos companyons, vos responem que ns sap greu com no u podem fer car be ha un mes que ls havem enviat en Fflandes per portar esturments novells (sic) (...). Segons que 1 companyo de Ever1i, lo qual es ara tomat, nos ha dit, Ever1i s es anat ab lo Comte de Virtut ab cor de james no tomar a nostre servey, e som ne maravellats car fet havia sagrament e homenatge que tornaria, e perço li lexam e 1i donam suficientment de robes e argent en assats gran valor esperants que no vinria a menys de sa fe." Posteriorment va demanar al rei de França que intercedí s (el comte de Virtut retenia Everli en el castell de Vertus): "(...) vullats a ell scriure que per amor vostre e nostre los vulla deliurar e lexar venir a nos franquament, tot empatxament lexat (...)">
(17) H. Anglès, op. cit. Pàg. 90.
(18) [bid. Pàgs. 396-397. La cançó de Guiraut és: "No puesc sofir qu'a la dolor", cantada també per Peire Cardenal amb el nom " Ar tal puesc yeu lauzar d'amor".
(19) Joan Amades, 'La cornamusa a Catalunya ". Pàg. 4 (referència extreta dels "Orlgenes históricos de Cataluña", de Balari i Jovany).
(20) JaumeRoig, poeta del País Valencià mort el 1478, ens dóna una altra referència en el "Llibre de les dones o Spill".
"...¿ feu l'escarcella* o curt gambal? ¿ Sonau tabal o cornamusa?
També s'hi usa sonar llaüt, e lo vellut
de tripa, groc, e calçar soc
pus alt lo dret
(*) nom d'una mena de ball.
(21) H. Anglès, op. cit. Pàg. 90.
(22) M. C. Gómez i Muntané, op. cit. Pàg. 129 i seg.
(23) [bid. Pàg. 30.
(24) [bid. Ffrancesc de Muntalba seria en aquests documents un dels
primers contractats a la cort, ja que el 1339 servia com a joglar del rei de Mallorca, i podem suposar que hi devia entrar per a tocar la cornamusa.

(25) Alguns recollits per J. M. Lamaña en "Los instrumentos musicales en la España Renacentista".
(26) J. M. Lamaña, "Estudio de los instrumentos musicales en los últimos tiempos de la casa de Barcelona". Pàg. 76.
(27) "(...) Johan de Beses ab la gran xalamia e Bernardo lo Palat, ministrers seus, ab la gran cornamusa e ab lo bordo, car gran desig havem e plaer hauriem que ls hoyssem cornar (...">, de la carta de Joan I al comte de Foix, sol.1icitant-li els esmentats ministrers. M. C. Gómez, op. cit. Pàg. 168.
(28) Comentades en l'esmentat llibre de Lamaña.
(29) Alguns de tan importants com l'expulsió dels jueus i dels moriscos (aquests darrers representaven al País Valencià un terç aproximat de la població).
(30) Jean Hotteterre (a qui s'atribueix la invenció de l'oboè) era un músic al servei de la cort francesa de Lluís XIV, especialitzat en la xirimia, el qual, en entrar Lulli -el qual necessitava instruments més perfeccionats per a executar les seves composicions-, es veié obligat a modificar l'instrument afegint-hi claus metàl·liques i augmentant-ne la longitud; d'aquí vindria el seu nom (hautbois). La mussette també es va conservar tot aquest segle entre la noblesa francesa, i fins se'n construïren dotades de claus, i amb manxa que s' accionava amb el braç, segons sembla per tal d'evitar a les damisel·les el gest "vulgar" d'inflar-se les galtes.
(31) Alguns n'encarregaven els models a constructors de Barcelona. Algun constructor de Barcelona es feia posar les claus a París, o bé hi encarregava tot l'instrument .
(32) Fins i tot a les esglésies mancades d'orgue hi van entrar les cobles, i s'hi introduí de "nou" el timbre de les inxes, que durant molt temps n'havia estat absent "Miscel.lania folklórica". Pàg. 76.
(33) Les diferències estètiques, d'afinació i tímbriques són mínimes. La més notable està en el fet que al sac mallorquí (ses xirimies) només hi ha una buna sonora. Actualment alguns constructors ja hi incorporen dues o fins i tot les tres bunes sonores.