A website by Barnaby Brown



There are two triplepipe traditions. The oldest and richest is in Sardinia, where a family of instruments is known as the launeddas. On this Mediterranean island, the triplepipe has enjoyed unbroken oral transmission and cultural distinction for over 2500 years.

In recent centuries, players were hired for village dances in the Campidano region every Sunday. This function died out in the 1930s, but launeddas players are still in demand for concerts and festivals throughout the island and, increasingly, overseas. Despite a substantial and dazzling repertory, the number of young virtuosi fell to dangerously low levels in the 1960s and 70s. A generation of Sardinians scarcely knew about the instrument. Fortunately, an exciting crop of young players is now changing that.

In northern Europe, a triplepipe tradition died out completely in the late Middle Ages. It was known as the cuisle in Scotland and Ireland, where it enjoyed prestige between the eighth and twelfth centuries. It appears on five elaborately-carved high crosses and grave stones, in scenes that suggest it was played by Celtic Christian monks.

The survival of a Sardinian bronze figure from 900 B.C. and the fact it remains in use and symbolises the island today, suggests that the triplepipe originated in Sardinia. It may have reached Ireland via sea-trading links or Sardinian legionaries stationed in Britain during Roman occupation.

In the thirteenth century, the triplepipe was known to stone masons in London and Devon, and to manuscript illuminators working in Canterbury, York, and Madrid. The arrival of the bagpipe may have precipitated the decline of the triplepipe outside Sardinia. It is effectively a double-chantered bagpipe, without the bag. Triplepipers use their cheeks as a reservoir, "circular breathing" to sustain a continuous sound (like didgeridoo players). The addition of a bag allowed the player to breathe normally and to play for longer periods — otherwise, these two instruments and the music that might be played on them are identical.

The revival of the northern triplepipe was initiated by John Purser in 1992. New instruments and repertoire were developed first by Hamish Moore (1993) then myself and Luciano Montisci (since 2001). In the absence of any surviving instruments or written music, this revival draws its inspiration from medieval iconography, a 1613 Welsh manuscript, and the living traditions of Sardinian launeddas and Highland pibroch.


This page first published 23 Nov 2007 Revised 30 Dec 2007
Supported by The Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama
Contact: barnaby(at) +44 (0)78 1000 1377