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The rarest theorbo - Allegro by E. G. Baron played on the German Theorbo by Chris Hirst

The rarest theorbo - Allegro by E. G. Baron played on the German Theorbo by Chris Hirst

#theorbo #theorbomusic #lute #tiorba #theorbe The German theorbo is a rare instrument, with very few surviving originals or modern copies in the world. The original Italian theorbo was invented in the early 17th century, adapting a bass lute to make it more powerful and better able to accompany singers. A long extension was added to the neck to accommodate several low bass strings, which stretch from the bridge up to a second pegbox. These strings can only be played open with the right thumb, and are tuned in a scale to the key of the piece being played. Using the plain gut strings of the time, the string had to be that long to sound at such a low pitch. Later, wound strings were invented but the plain gut basses were retained on the theorbo as they ring on less and have a distinctive and powerful tone. The Italian theorbo was very popular as an accompanying instrument during the 17th century, from solo songs to large ensembles and opera. During the 18th century the Italian theorbo was still used, but in Germany the great lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686 – 1750) experimented with adapting his instruments in the early 1720s. He wanted an instrument that used the same D minor tuning as on the lute (the Italian theorbo tuning is totally different) but with the power and volume of the larger theorbo. Ernst Gottlieb Baron (1696 – 1760) who composed this Allegro mentions the German theorbo several times in his writings. Baron wrote an important lute treatise in 1727, and it seems by this time the D minor theorbo was standard in Germany, only a few years after Weiss ‘invented’ it. Baron says that the theorbo had the same tuning as the lute, but without the top (F) string, and with one or two extra bass notes. The fingerboard strings were double except for the highest string and the basses on the second pegbox single. The most important surviving instrument of this type was made by the master lute maker Sebastian Schelle in 1728. The instrument is kept in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremburg. This theorbo is very large, with a fingerboard string length of 86cm and the basses are 160cm. This is on the upper limit of scale length with the top string at D (A=415). The instrument played in the video is a copy of the Schelle theorbo, but slightly scaled down to 80cm. This was so that the top string would not be so thin, and it also offers more possibilities to play solo music. Historically, the German theorbo was mainly used for basso continuo accompaniments; Baron stated “melodies are played on the lute; the theorbo, on the other hand, was developed exclusively for accompanying”. For this reason, there are no surviving sources of solo music for the German theorbo, so the closest thing is to adapt music written for the baroque lute. This creates some problems – the theorbo lacks the top F string which is extensively used in lute music so only pieces that don’t rely too much on the F string will work. This also means that there are quicker position shifts as any notes on the F string have to be played on the next string down. Lute music is also written for an instrument with considerably shorter scale length (around 70cm) so left hand stretches can be a problem on an instrument of 80cm. Finally, the lute has octave bass strings which disguise the chromatic notes that have to be played an octave higher. This requires some adapting of the bassline at times. Italian and French players did use the theorbo for solo music, so I wanted to create some German equivalents when switching instruments to the lute in performances was not feasible. This particular Allegro by Baron fitted well because it used the high F less often. I could also incorporate the two extra bass strings effectively, in particular the deep bass F which is below the range of the Italian theorbo. It also goes to almost the highest note of the instrument. The German theorbo was the last type to emerge, it also survived later on than the other types. Several players were still using it well beyond the baroque period, such as Baron, Daube, Scheidler and Weiss’s son Johann Adolf Faustinus. The early romantic composer Weber even saw J. A. F. Weiss still performing on the theorbo in 1812 (only 2 years before his death) although at this point his activities were very limited. Please subscribe to the channel to enable us to make more videos like this. You can also find on the Quatrapuntal channel videos of Bach's BWV 998, very rarely heard on the D-minor tuned lute Bach knew because it is so challenging to play. This is the only performance video on the German baroque lute on Youtube of this incredible piece: There are also many other interesting videos featuring the mandora, another type of lute: And various others featuring the Portuguese guitar and mandolin. Facebook:
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