The Heraldry of Sacred Music (Part III)

Author: Duane Galles


(Part III)

Things in the Armorial Musical Alphabet

Things, more often than persons, form part of the armorial musical alphabet. Besides musical instruments, musical notes and symbols have sometimes appeared in heraldry. With an obvious pun the Dutch Van Nooten family bore arms including a music staff with notes. Likewise, in the chief of the arms granted in 1947 to the Performing Rights Society of Britain is a music staff marked with a bass clef. Since this organization exists to help protect the right of musicians to royalties, this musical charge seems appropriate. At least one famous musician made copious use of musical symbols in his coat armour. When ennobled in 1570 by the Emperor Maximilian, Orlando di Lasso received a grant of arms including a sharp, a flat, and a natural sign. In 1690, when Biber was ennobled by Leopold I, he was given a crest consisting of a beaver holding a folded music score.

Several musical instruments have made their contributions to heraldry. The armorial musical orchestra, however, is sparer than either the symphonic orchestra or the sacred orchestra. There was a time when interpretations of Pius X's of 1903, , led some to the belief that only plainchant, polyphony in the style of Palestrina, and organ music were permitted in church. But Pius XII's 1955 encyclical, , and the II Vatican Council's constitution on the liturgy, , have made it clear that these views were erroneous. Article 116 of the constitution stated that polyphonic music was "by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations:"

But if the sacred orchestra nowadays approaches the symphonic orchestra in size, the armorial orchestra is smaller. The armorial orchestra developed before the great nineteenth century improvements in the technology of musical instruments. The upshot is that for the most part the heraldic orchestra remains much as the symphonic orchestra existed in the days of Haydn and Mozart. It includes the organ, the violin, the treble violin or violincello, the tabor or drum, the fife or flute, the hautboy, the harp, the lyre, and the bell.

Occupying a place of high esteem among the sacred instruments in the view of Vatican II was the pipe organ, which the council declared adds "wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up the spirit to God and to higher things." The organ also enjoys a respected place in heraldry. In English heraldry, in fact, it takes on two forms. As a charge on a shield a range of organ pipes is to be found. Usually, they are graded with the shortest pipes facing to the dexter or right (from the perspective of one holding the shield). Sometimes also a pair of organ pipes will be found crossed in slatire or in the form of a Saint Andrew cross. Lord Williams of Tame, for example, bore two organ pipes, crossed in saltire, between four crosses patee, all silver, on a field of blue. As one might expect, the arms of the Royal Guild of Organists include organ pipes.

The peculiarly English heraldic form of the organ is the clarion or "organ- rest." It appears as a graded range of organ pipes fixed to a base with a curved end. This highly stylized rendering of the organ has sometimes obscured its origins, and names have been ascribed to it which would have put it the sacred orchestra. Frequently the clarion occurs as a canting or punning device as in the three golden clarions on a red field borne by the Grenvilles of Glamorgan. In their case the pun is on the place, Glamorgan, from whence they sprang. Dom Wilfred Bayne also made use of clarions in the arms he designed for the Paulist Choristers of the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in New York City. They bore a silver sword with golden hilt between two golden clarions on a red field.

If the clarion is rendered in a stylized fashion, the violin is drawn naturalistically in heraldry. The violin is depicted vertically, or palewise, with the body upwards or chiefward. Clearly this is convenient in accommodating it to the shape of the shield. If the bridge should face chiefward, it is blazoned "transposed." Three Stradivarius violin bridges, each ensigned with an ancient crown, appear in the arms granted in 1977 to the Royal Philharmonic of London.

The treble violin or violincello is distinguished in heraldry, not by its sound, but by its size. The Bolognese Lironi family bears on a blue field a cello in bend sinister crossed by its bow in pale with three golden five- pointed stars or mullets in chief, all gold. The strings of both the violin and the violincello may be blazoned a color distinct from the instrument in which case it is said to be "stringed" of the distinctive color, e.g., "a violin red, stringed gold." Thus, the English Sweeting family bore three treble violins transposed argent, stringed sable, on a red field.

The harp ranked as a sacred instrument even in Old Testament times where it is frequently mentioned in the psalms of David. Playing the harp, David assuaged the troubles of King Saul and for the harp, of course, David wrote many of the psalms. Armorially, the instrument tends to resemble the simpler ancient instrument rather than today's concert harp-again because of the great technical development of the harp in the nineteenth century. The armorial harp is familiar to many in the coat of arms of Ireland-either in the "ancient" form of a golden harp on a blue field (which dates only to the time of Henry VIII) or in the modem form borne by the Irish Republic on a field of green. In an interesting combination of textures, the Fraunces family bore a silver harp on a red canton on a field of ermine. In France many families with the surname David make use of the harp in canting arms. Like the violin and the cello, the harp's strings may be separately blazoned. Such a harp is to be found in the canting arms of the Harpsfield family where a black harp with golden strings rests on a silver field.

The lyre is another stringed instrument which forms part of the armorial orchestra. It differs from the harp by its shape which has balanced S- shaped sides with the strings running from top to bottom. In the case of the harp the strings run diagonally or "bendwise." In theory the lyre is the symbol of lyric poetry, not of music, and thus forms no part of the armorial musical alphabet. Yet numerous scriptural references to it seem to have overcome the burden of its classical past, and today one does find it in armory representing music. A golden Lyre forms the crest of the Worshipful Company of Musicans of London. This guild, incorporated by royal charter in 1604, remains one of the several livery companies of guilds of London. A golden Lyre forms part of the arms of Francois Couperin (1668- 1733). Styling himself Francois Couperin de Crouilly on the title page of his two organ Masses, published in 1690, this organist of Saint Gervais in Paris was made a Knight of the Golden Spur in Rome in 1702. He bore on a blue field two silver tridents crossed in saltire between two silver stars of five points and in chief a golden sun in its glory and in base a golden Lyre. A golden Lyre on a blue field was also used in the armorial bearings designed by Dom Wilfrid Bayne for the Benedictine choir nuns of Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut. In the chief he placed three golden to recall that the Connecticut abbey is a daughter house of the ancient French abbey of Jouarre, established in the days of the Merovingian kings of France.

The tabor is an obsolete term for drum, but it has continued to do duty in heraldic parlance and enables the tabor to be useful in canting arms, as in the arms of the Tabourot family of France who bore a silver chevron between three silver drums against a black field. The tabor is represented as the sort of drum that accompanies the fife. The fife itself, as the ancestor of the flute, might also be reckoned among sacred music's contributions to armory.

The armorial hautboy differs markedly from the symphonic oboe. The armorial hautboy is depicted as a long, straight, tapering tube having a mouthpiece and opening to a bell shape. Holes at the upper end near the mouthpiece act as keys. The armorial instrument, in fact, represented several symphonic instruments of the woodwind and brass families. This is why it is sometimes blazoned "flute," "horn," or "trumpet," and these different blazons establish its usefulness in canting arms. The family of Trumpington, for example, bears three silver trumpets palewise on a red field. The Nevelles of Sussex sport two hautboys crossed in saltire between four crosses crosslets, all gold, against a red field. The Bourdon family bore three hautboys between as many cross crosslets, all gold, on a blue field.

Bells sometimes appear in orchestral music and they have long been used in church. In fact, the Church ranks them as sacramentals. Bells summon us to worship, to mourn, to rejoice, and warn us in time of danger. Formerly, the Roman pontifical even included a rite for the "baptism" during which, like babies, they were washed, anointed and given a name. Today's rite is simpler. Today a peal of bells remains integral to the popular American vision of a church building and canon lawyers have long taken the presence of a bell as evidence that a chapel ranks as a public oratory and not as a private chapel.

In heraldry, it is the bell of the campanile that is most frequently found. Depicted cylindrically with a closed head and outward curved mouth or skirt, the bell's clapper may be separately blazoned or tinctured. The Wordsworth family of England (which included the poet) bore three blue bells on a silver field. The Bavarian Kloekel family appropriately bore as canting arms ( is German for "bell") on a blue and gold vertically- divided field three bells counter-colored or stained the opposite color as the field.

Many church musicians will have seen the arms of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana, on the noted Latin-English which it published. The diocesan coat consists of a silver cross between four silver bells, charged at its center with a black and gold checkered crescent. The bells recall the arms attributed during the middle ages to the patriarchal see of Alexandria in Egypt, viz., three red bells on a silver field. The crescent comes from the arms of the Javier family whose member, Saint Francis Xavier, is titular of the Louisiana diocese's cathedral.

This, then, is the contribution of things musical to heraldry. In the last part of this series we shall look at the arms of musical armigers.


This article appeared in the Winter 1993 issue of "Sacred Music." Published by the Church Music Association of America, 548 Lafond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103.