Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Oxford academic brings music to Dover Castle

An Oxford academic has played a key part in the new installation in The Great Tower at Dover Castle, which launched last weekend.

Alexandra Buckle, a junior research fellow in the Music Faculty at Oxford University, was employed by English Heritage as a music consultant for the project.

The Tower was lavished with money by Henry II to show off to pilgrims coming over from France to visit Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. He spent more money on Dover Castle than any other castle and now it has undergone a £2.45m restoration.

The new installation is full of colour and all the furniture is based on contemporary manuscript images. Last Saturday images of motifs inside the castle were projected on its 100ft walls.

Alexandra Buckle said: "This is the first time English Heritage have employed a special music consultant alongside a team of historians and it is great to see music being incorporated into the installation.

"There is a feel of theatre as one walks through the Great Tower, from the Pepper’s Ghosts (costume interpreters who are filmed and projected onto transparent material) to music playing, and voices talking. There are also two contemporary musical instruments on show and two places where music is piped through."

Visitors see a chapel as they enter the Tower and are greeted by a ‘ghost’ chaplain talking. Upstairs in the main part of the Tower is the King’s Hall and King’s Chamber. There is a musical instrument displayed there to reflect the relaxed nature of this room, made following contemporary designs.

"You can also imagine how Henry and his courtiers may have sat and listened to music or even played it," said Alexandra Buckle. "There were important developments in string playing and lyric poetry in this period (1150–1200) and it is great to see a string instrument incorporated into the scheme. At this time, there was no French or English music – the music was of the Angevin Court – and so lots of the big developments in secular music and string playing, principally begun on the continent, made their way to England. This is not surprising as Henry II was married to Eleanore of Aquitaine, a lifelong patron of the troubadours and someone who is credited with spreading the influence of the troubadours to England. Therefore we hear troubadour music in the Guest Hall downstairs, reflecting this."

There is a harp displayed in the Guest Chamber, which is sturdier than the other instrument on display and is not fixed to the table. Children are allowed to pick it up so they can engage with the era.

Alexandra Buckle said: "I am so pleased to have been involved in this scheme and hope English Heritage will continue to value the role of music in medieval society and in their new installations. Music – sacred and secular – was, after all, an indispensable part of such a building, and society, at this time."

Please also see our previous story: Medieval Royal Palace at Dover Castle to Re-open