Ritchie Blackmore: Medieval Times
GW Many guitar fans view your Seventies-era incorporation of classical themes, along with nods to medieval scales and melodies, as the foundation of the neoclassical rock movement. Have you always had an interest in medieval and Renaissance music?
BLACKMORE I got into the type of music that we’re doing now when, at the age of nine, I first heard “Greensleeves.” This choirboy sang it at school, and the song moved me so much; it took me back to another time. Ever since then, that song has remained at the back of my mind.
NIGHT I think any fan of Ritchie’s can see the reflections of that influence in a lot of the music he’s played over the years, such as his versions of “16th Century Greensleeves” with Rainbow and Deep Purple. “Temple of the King” is another great example, and there are a lot of songs wherein the Renaissance era is reflected.
BLACKMORE “Greensleeves” is a great example of the beauty of the medieval musical form, because it revolves around the harmonic structure of parallel fourths and parallel fifths, exactly the stuff you would hear being played on shawms.
NIGHT We have all of those instruments, like the cornamuse—which is the true predecessor to the oboe—and the rauschpfeife, which are both double-reed instruments, as well as the gemshorn, which is actually a cow’s horn.
GW Candice, were you playing this type of music from a young age?
NIGHT No, I’d never even heard Renaissance or medieval music before I met Ritchie. The genesis of that music’s influence on me started when I would visit Ritchie at his big, old dark Tudor house in the middle of the Connecticut woods at the beginning of our relationship, and this was the type of music he listened to at home all of the time. He had his own “minstrel’s gallery” [a balcony from which musicians can perform] up there, and that music would fill the house. For myself, I can find so much inspiration in nature itself, and this type of music strikes me as the perfect soundtrack to nature; if you were walking through the woods, this music suits that feeling so well. The same can’t be said of most of the music you’d hear when you turn on the radio today. Most modern music makes me feel annoyed, rather than feeling inspired, or melancholy, or reflective, or uplifted.
GW Do you use some of these Renaissance-era instruments on Secret Voyage?
BLACKMORE Yes, we did. I’m obsessed with instrumental Renaissance dance music, and I probably always have been. We’re talking about music from the 1400s to 1600s. After that, you start to get into early baroque and more symphonic music. At first, I would adapt all of those melodies that really thrilled me to the guitar, but later on I began to learn to play some other instruments, like the mandola, the mandocello [a member of the mandolin family with a scale longer than the mandolin] and the hurdy-gurdy.
A hurdy-gurdy is a chromatic, two-octave stringed instrument with a handle that you have to turn while you play. Turning the handle causes a rosined wheel to vibrate the strings, similar to the way a bow is used on violin, and there is a keyboard that is used to sound specific pitches, as well as a drone string, or many drone strings. A lot of people think a hurdy-gurdy has a monkey on it [laughs], but it doesn’t. I learned to play one of those, too.
My latest acquisition is the nyckelharpa. It is an instrument that comes from Sweden and works in a way similar to the hurdy-gurdy except that you have to bow the strings instead of turning a wheel. I played that instrument on the song, “The Circle,” from Secret Voyage. So while also learning more about this music that I am so fascinated by, I’m now learning to play all of these instruments that were used when this music was first performed. The only instruments I can’t relate to are the woodwind instruments, and that’s where Candi comes into the picture. Anything to do with strings, I can get into. I played the cello for about seven or eight years, so it's easy for me to relate to the nyckelharpa. It’s a bit of a strange instrument, but when it’s played properly, it resonates so much with the soul. It sounds fantastic; it’s like hearing rock and roll guitar for the first time.
I have a guy that makes my hurdy-gurdies, and I asked him what got him interested in the instrument. He said that he originally made guitars, but the first time he heard a hurdy-gurdy plugged into an amplifier, he said, “That was it! It was so breathtaking, I never made another guitar!” His name is Helmut Gotschy, and he is the chief maker of all of the German hurdy-gurdies for the medieval movement going on over there. It’s much more prevalent in Europe than it is here. If you go to a Renaissance gathering over here, they tend to simply strum Celtic music instead of offering something more representative of the era.
It was very funny when I was first learning to play the hurdy-gurdy. My producer, Pat Regan, who is very good at patching things up, said, “Just play!” I was playing so many wrong notes, I was laughing my head off. But he said, “Keep playing, keep playing!” Out of that solo, he cut it up and made it sound like I could actually play the thing. He took out all of the crap and pitched a few other things, and I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.
NIGHT You should hear him play it in concert now. It’s amazing.
BLACKMORE I’ve got a handle on it now, no pun intended.
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