When Tristan took the harp it was as if made for his hands, which (as I have said) were of surpassing beauty; for they were soft and smooth, fine and slender and dazzling white as ermine. Passing them over the strings he struck up some preludes and phrases, fine, sweet, and haunting, recapturing his lays of Arthur. Then, taking his key, he adjusted pegs and strings, some up, some down, until they were to his liking. This was soon done, and Tristan, the new minstrel, began his new office with his mind full upon it. He drew his snatches and preludes, his haunting initial flourishes so sweetly from his harp and made them so melodious with lovely string music, that all came running up, one calling another. The household arrived for the most part at a run. Nor did they think that they had come too soon.
... But now Tristan was playing the opening strains of a lay on "Graland the Fair's Proud Mistress". He made such excellent sweet music on his harp in the Breton style that many a man sitting or standing there forgot his very name. Hearts and ears began to play the fool and desert their rightful paths. Thoughts found varied expression there; "Ah," they mused, "blessed be the merchant that ever sired such a noble son!" But nimbly his white fingers went dipping among the strings, scattering sweet sound till the palace was full of it. Nor was there sparing of eyes: a host of them were bent on him, following his hands.
And now this lay was ended, and the good King sent to ask him to play another. "With pleasure," said Tristan. In fine style he struck up a second lay, full of yearning like the first, about noble Thisbe of Old Babylon. He played it so beautifully and went with his music in so masterly a fashion that the harper was amazed. And at the appropriate places, sweetly and rapturously, the accomplished youth would wing his song to meet it. He sang the notes of his lay so beautifully in Breton, Welsh, Latin, and French that you could not tell which was sweeter or deserving of more praise, his harping or his singing. Much talk and discussion arose on the subject of himself and his acquirements. All were agreed that in their country they had never known such talent in one man.
Gottfried von Strassburg,Tristan, trans. by A.T. Hatto, Penguin Classics, Edinburgh, 1960, p.89-90.
PLACE: At the castle of Mark in Cornwall, England.
TIME: Middle Ages.
CIRCUMSTANCE: Tristan overwhelms Mark and his court with his proficiency on the harp and in voice.