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The Cipher for Viola da Gamba and Lute


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Above; guitar and viol, Louis Licherie,  L’accord des Nations,1679








A little guitar, vihuela, viola, viol, and lute, history

Regarding any misperceptions (or general historical amnesia among guitarists) that there is a gap or some missing links that leave us, by the early 1800s, with 6 string guitars but no (or few) bowl-back lutes . . .

First, guitars and vihuelas are definite relatives of each other. They are one-and-the-same-thing, in fact, whether they had 4, 5, or 6 courses. Some people insist on reserving the name vihuela for the largest or 6 course instrument of circa 1500, but I see no reason for this distinction or separation of the family. The distinction is perpetuated, it seems to me, primarily on elitist grounds, i.e. which instrument we perceive to be more important, more sophisticated, more respected in aristocratic circles, which has the most surviving music written for it, which instrument is more capable of competing head-to-head with the largest of the bowl-back lutes, in other words, which makes you a bigger man to play. By 1500, all three sizes of plucked fretted fourths, 4, 5, and 6 course, coexisted side by side, and by that time you could probably already find them all in the shape of vihuela/viola bodies, as well as gittern and other bowl-back lute-style bodies. As the 16th century rolled on, the earlier gittern-lute body was abandoned entirely, and this is the main reason you have four course guitars becoming common circa 1550. i.e. like with so many other string instruments of the age, the viola-vihuela style body and construction method came to dominate. The four course guitars were simply a continuation of the four course specie that had existed for hundreds of years prior, or you could say they came back to fill a void, i.e. to maintain availability of  simpler music making machines for the masses to play, but now in viola-vihuela bodies rather than bowl-back lute and gittern bodies having four courses. In other words, four course guitars (lute-ness in four courses) weren’t new, per say, and the four course instruments c.1550 were not the first guitars, they were actually an afterthought, reintroduced after the fact, after the fact of the larger 5 and 6 course guitars, vihuelas, violas, which in turn (it could be argued) were largely after the fact of bowl-back lutes, i.e. bowl-back luteness transferred to the newer vihuela-viola body style, shape and construction technique. I actually believe that four course vihuelas were here in 1480, 1500, 1525, 1550, 1575, 1600. The main reason we perceive them as being new or reintroduced around 1550 is because the pear shaped guiterne was abandoned, and because we have surviving published, printed, music for it beginning c.1550.



below; four string bowed guitar (vihuela d’arco), late 1400’s, Valencia, Spain. I find it hard to believe that there were no four string or four course plucked vihuelas and violas existing at this same time, or that this player didn’t simply put her bow down and pluck this very same instrument. The point being, this is way before 1550, and it’s a four string vihuela, a four string guitar, albeit bowed in this picture.



Below; vihuela de arco (bowed guitar), Valencia, Madonna, late 15th century.



My gathering of the early guitar story is that circa 1250 AD there were already 4 coarse fretted instruments that were physically guitar-like and distinct from the bowl-back oud/lute varieties. The previously mentioned Cantigas de Santa Maria (c.1260 Spain) captured a large sampling of all of these instruments for us to see and consider. In the 13th century  there were distinguishing terms in use, like guitarra-moresque (Moorish Arab, assumed to be a bowl-back variety of long neck lute) and guitarra-latina (the bigger question mark). The latter is probably either the same as or precursor to the vihuelas and may or may not have been native of Europe (verses imported form the Arab Moors or Egypt, etc.). There were also instruments called citoles, played with a plectrum, fretted, 3, 4, or 5 string, their bodies assumed to have been carved from a single block of wood. Many of these can be seen carved in stone on the facades of medieval cathedrals pror to the cantigas illuminations. Some of the cantigas guitarras and earlier citoles seen in stone might be one and the same instrument.

"Vihuela de arco" is first mentioned circa 1350 by Juan Ruiz, (Archpriest of Hita), Spanish/Castilian, in his "Libro de buen amor" (The Book of Good Love). The section titled "Libro de buen amor" distinguishes vihuela de penola (played with a plectrum) from vihuela de arco (played with a bow).

The vihuelas and guitarra latina’s have a different body type from the  melon-backed Oud/lutes, the compact and comfortable flatter back and more or less figure eight (knee friendly) curves to their sides. They could have been just a simpler (i.e four coarse), easier to play subset of the Oud/Lute, a  baby Lute, essentially retrograding to an earlier state of an original Arab 4ths tuned specie of about 1000 AD (before it grew more courses) and given a “body lift”, a more comfortable shape, compromising some sound volume and music-making capacity (due to string count), but still adequate and functional. It could make music, be easier and cheaper to construct, travel easily, and be comfortable to play. And said body lifted baby lute could have evolved in either the Middle East or in Europe or both.

The vihuelas and guitars of the early and middle 1400s had four or even five courses of strings and were  tuned primarily in either all 4ths, or as 4th 3rd 4th (aka baby lute tuning). [There is a tuning described in 1540 as being the old way which reportedly was 5th 3rd 4th across four courses low to high.] We have a vihuela d’arco of five strings dated circa 1470. It's a near certainty that a 5 course vihuela de mano, viola da mano, or guitarra existed at that early date as well -- five course lutes are common by then. We also have pictures of four string bowed guitars and I believe four course waist-cut viola guitars during this same period. The later  coincide with four course lutes and gitterns.

So guitars, vihuelas, and violas, are essentially one-and the-same-thing. Bowl-back lutes and gitterns are also essentially the same things as all early guitars (vihuela, viola, whatever you want to call them). They are all related from a tuning-line perspective at least, and in the end, that’s really all that matters. Early lutes and early guitars are both tuned in 4ths, have chromatic frets, most have the 4th 3rd 4th tuning kernel, use courses of strings, (pairs of strings acting as one), and both have the four course models in their early history. Lutes and vihuela-guitars have been evolving in parallel and cross-pollenating for probably a 1000 years. As a group, they may have had 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7 strings or courses (or more on later lutes), but if they have frets and are tuned in either straight fourths or have the 4th 3rd 4th tuning kernel within, they are the same bird, same line (as far as I’m concerned, me being a guitar player generally, a player of chromatically fretted fourths-tuned string instruments, and what I do now and would then have perceived as being my family of immediately accessible, approachable, and playable instruments -- those instruments I would call mine with equal conviction and affection.

In the end, perhaps the only thing one can rely on is something like the fretboard genetics (tuning line) relationships I’ve provided here, i.e. what’s on the inside or under the hood that’s really driving the the ship, steering the coarse. The rest, the body shape game, is a wild goose chase at this point. For the purposes of the points I’m making here, it doesn’t matter that versions or instruments evolved separately in different geography’s or countries. The only thing that would matter is that they existed, and that the same ”tool” or resource was used to make music with, and that they shared that common music-making configuration – at least four courses tuned to either all 4ths or had the  “4th 3rd 4th” kernel, and had chromatic frets.









Some ancient instruments



Below: French Psalter, 9th century manuscript illumination, Stuttgart Psalter, c.830 (plucked instrument).



Below: Carolingian (French) Psalter, 9th century manuscript illumination (guitar-like)



Below; 9th century plucked instrument, Bamberg ms, Boethius-Qaudrivium, c.845ad.



Below; cithara-lyra, 9th-cent, Bible of Charles the Bald



Below; cithara-lyra, 9th-cent, Utrecht Psalter.



Below; citole, 12th-cent, 4-str, frets, rosette, Benedetto Antelami, c.1180, Baptistrym, Parma, Italy.



Below; citole, 13th-cent, portal, Cathedral of Burgos.



Below; citole-guitern, 13th-cent, Lincoln Cathedral, Enland, c.1270.



Cantigas de Santa Maria Illuminations
Guitarras and Lutes -- 1260 AD Spain



Below; close up detail of two Cantigas guitarras, 1260, Spain. Some might call these instruments citoles.



Below; Cantigas guitarras, Latina and Moresque, 1260, Spain.




Below, detail of Cantigas Guitar
This fretted instrument actually has five single strings (and not paired courses). The above image makes it appear to have only three strings. Medieval guitars had either 3, 4, or 5 single strings. We went to paired courses a short time later, sometime in the  1300’s (I gather).



Below; Cantigas guitarras Moresque, 1260 Spain



Below; Cantigas guitarras, Moresque, 1260, Spain.



Below; Cantigas Ouds, 1260 Spain



Below; Alfonso’s Book of Games lute, c.1260



Below; unidentified Portuguese medieval picture with guitar ancestor



below; unidentified medieval guitar (gittern, gitarra latina, or late citole), 13th or 14th century (believe it or not). Has trefoil tail I think, around which the string-tail-proper would have been attached by a loop of chording.



Below; guitarra-citole, Ormesby Psalter, 14th century.



below; Medieval 4 course lute or gittern: Simone Martini, detail 1312-17



Below; guiterne, Juan Oliver, 1330, Spain, Cathedral of Pampelune.



below; gittern, fresco, Cathedral Saint Julien du Mans, France, c.1325



Below; gittern, Dance, Miniature, Romaun De La Rose, c.1390-1410



Below; gittern, dancing to, late-medieval, early 1400s.



Oud-lute, 5 course, fretted, Arab music theory treatise, c.1334



below; four course Lute, 1420, Pietro di Domenico da Montepulciano



Below; lute, Melozzo De Forli, 1439-1494. I believe this one could be a flat-backed instrument, perhaps an early chitarra (Italian for gitarra-gittern type lute instruments).



below; Lute, Gerard Davis, Flemish, 1505, detail from Virgin with Child, Saints, and Angels.



below; Lutes, Bartolomeo Montagna,1498, Virgin Enthroned, Italian



below; vihuela guitar, Luca Signorelli, 1499-1502, Paradise, San Brizio, Italy



below; vihuela, viola, guitar, anon, Sardinian School, Madonna and Child c.1500, Italy



below; vihuela guitar with bent-back lute-style peg-head, Apollo, Franchinus Gaffurius, Practica Musicae, Milan, 1496.



Below; Vihuela de mano, Valencia Spain, c.1500. I believe this instrument had a single cut. Note it’s very long thin neck and sickle shaped peg box.



Below; Vihuela de mano, Sardinian school, c.1500, smooth curved indented waist and perhaps single stung as well, see the blow up following.



Below; detail of the above Sardinain vihuela, string count?



Below; Italian viola da mano, c.1510-15, fresco, Ferarra.



Below; mid 15th century five string fretted instrument, Italian, very similar in appearance to Renaissance fiddles, yet it’s extra-wide bridge tells me it’s not a fiddle (plucked), unless it too is a multi-function instrument, pluck and bow.




Above I said that most vihuelas and guitars of the mid 1400s are thought to have had only four courses of strings and were  tuned either in all 4ths, or as 4th 3rd 4th (lute kernel). Some five coursers were appearing as well. Five course bowl-back lutes had already been around for quite a while (and perhaps even six) and most definitely they were in Spain (being Moorish influenced since 8th century). Take a look at the instruments seen in the circa 1250 AD Cantigas illuminations alone.

Near the end of the 1400s, in Spain, you have a jump in the number of courses found on vihuelas and violas, from 4 and  5, to 6, and even 7 course instruments. These would appear to be newly designed hopeful substitutes or replacements for the 5, and 6 course bowl-backed lutes, the same lutes that had already spread all around Europe and the British Isles, and the same lutes for which a large body of music and song had already been composed. So for a short time at least, in Spain and Italy, these new instruments (6, and even 7 course vihuelas) appeared. I don’t know exactly how long this anomaly lasted  (6 course plucked vihuela and violas), 30 years perhaps, but not long after that you have a return to 5 and 4 course vihuelas, violas, and guitars being the norm, and  the apparent disappearance of the 6 and 7 course vihuelas. However, I contend that the six course viola survived, as bowed viola, aka viola da gamba. The six course viola and vihuela were in direct competition with the six course bowl-back lutes, having the exact same tuning. For whatever reason, the 6 and 7 course vihuelas (apparently) couldn’t compete with the bowl-back lutes, but they did find a niche to fill in the bowed arena, a niche which the bowl-back lutes could not fill, so everything worked out fine in the end. And, of course, we still had 4 and 5 course plucked vihuela-viola-guitars in any event

Viola sine arculo [or Vihuela de mano]

There is another instrument variant (and instrument name) to add to our understanding of the greater (and early) guitar family; the Spanish (Argonese) originated waiste-cut “Violaguitar, as it would be called in Italy. The instrument is very often seen plucked, but as we can see in the pictures below it certainly appears ready to be bowed (see waist cut-outs), and it is already fully formed in the exact body shape of the soon to be  Italian named viola da gamba, aka bowed viola/guitar -- which it in fact became. In other words, we do see both plucked and bowed versions of the same instrument as soon as we understand that they are essentially one and the same -- plucked viola sine arculo and bowed viola da gamba. The instruments below are called either viola sine arculo, (meaning viola without a bow), viola da mano (of thee hand), or just plain viola. In Spain they were called vihuela de mano. Notice too, the sickle shaped peg-box (for tuning pegs), a feature also visible in the earlier Cantigas guitars. This instrument appears frequently in iconography starting in the mid-late 1400s. At the time, Spain and Italy were politically, culturally, and religiously, joined at the hip. Interestingly, and further proof of the connections being made here, the word for luthier in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil (at least) is now, and was then, violero. So the makers of vihuelas, lutes, guitars, violas (plucked and bowed) were called violeros.

By now, and out of ear shot and radar of guitarists (i.e. contained within and limited to the small orbit that is the Early music community or/and small private subscription-only scholarly journals, societies, and expensive out of print musicological books) most viola da gamba historians, societies, and web sites, suggest  (if not declare) that viola da gamba are probably decedent from "some kind" of Spanish/Italian early guitar (vihuela viola). I agree -- and have agreed for quite some time but via other kinds of proofs and logics. While most VDGS's are finally making this claim (vihuela to viol) none seem to be diligently looking for nor displaying vihuela/viola iconography side-by-side with the early viola da gamba iconography, all in one place and at the same time, so we can really see the visual connections in the record between instruments. This is what I've been trying to do and show, and I believe I've now succeeded  -- to the point that it's beyond the shadow of a doubt. Again, the first step is to move away from the smooth curved peanut or figure eight shaped vihuala/viola/guitar to the more “violin” shaped vihuela-viol guitars, that is the ones with the shape waist cut-outs. From there, few years later, you add a few distinct features specific to bowing, higher and wider arched bride and the end of fretboard up off the face of the instrument (for example) add a bow, and you have the 6 string viola da gamba (viola cum arculo, meaning with bow), and the connections,  guitar-to-viol, that we’ve been looking for.




Below; Viola sine arculo / Vihuela de mano: Spanish/Italian circa 1493, Borgia Apartments, Vatican, Quadrivium, Music
fresco, by Bernadino Pinturicchio






Above, color detail:
Italian/Spainish “Viola sine Arculo” (viola without bow) aka vihuela, c.1493, Borgia apartments, the Vatican, Rome, fresco by Bernadino Pinturicchio.

 [This is the same Borgia, from Valencia Spain, who became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, bringing with him his entire court chapel, including  many violists (plucked and bowed).]

Below: super detail of the Pinturicchio plcked waist-cut Viola guitar




Vihuela de penola (= Viola de penola) 1470-80 Valencia Spain
detail, "Virgen con nino y angeles musicos", Retablo-Alterpeice, Colegiata de Xativa

Here below then is the link from the Italian “Viola” back to it’s Spanish origin -- there called “Vihuela”. Notice the two small rosette ports in the upper bouts, left and right. This is a common feature of the more figure-eight smooth-curved sided Vihuelas as well. Also notice how thin this neck is -- could be a 4 string or course instrument.



Below; enlarged detail of the above



Below, Viola with bow, compare to the above
same 4 string 10 frets bent-back lute-style peg-head
Sardinia Italy c.1500



Below; we’ll back up a minute for three of the earliest waist-cut vihuela, all being mid 1400s, Aragonese (is north eastern Spain or Iberian peninsula).















Below; new one for the collection, 9-2006. Plucked waist-cut viola. Illumination from an Italian Book of Hours dated 1483, David praying. Mighty thin ribs there ;-) Interestingly shaped butt end too. Note it’s super-wide bridge too.



Below: plucked viola, Painting by Ercole de'Roberti 1496. "Le bon augure" (The Good Omen). Again, look closely at how thin this neck is -- could be another 4 string or course instrument.






Below; vihuela de arco (bowed guitar), stone carving on Spanish Cathedral, c1510. A bow in his right hand. is indicated. The overall size, proportions, depth, and configuration of this instrument is the thing to note and compare to similar plucked viola-vihuela-guitars.



Below; another view of the same (is how I now have a date and place for this instrument and image). Thank you Ian.



Below: plucked viola, by Cristoforo Scacco, c.1500, Italian
The coronation of the Virgin



Below; waist-cut viola, Antonio-Giovanni Boltraffio, St. Sebastion, c1500, Italy



Below; viola sine arculo, unidentified but I’ll guess it at around c1485-1510, Spain or Italy. Another super-thin necked, very small bodied, waist-cut plucked viola. [update, I now have a place and date for this picture, it’s Argon, Spain, late 1400’s. Thanks again to Ian]



Below; detail of the above



Below; split-window detail portion of a large fresco, Saint Vincent enthroned with angel musicians and music-making puti (infants) left and right both playing small waist-cut vihuela-violas, Catalan (Spain), San Vincente, late 15th century. [Thanks to Alexander]



Below; left-side puto with small waist-cut vihuela-viola, Catalan, San Vincente, late 15th or early 16th century.



Below; right-side puto with small waist-cut vihuela-viola, Catalan, San Vincente, late 15th century.



Below: Six string bowed Viola (da gamba), Painting, Timoteo Viti, Italy, 1469-1525 (born/died), Madonna and child, detail.
Compare the features of this instrument with those of the previous few pictures. We can ball-park this one to around c.1500.

11-30-2004 8:20am
The image below could be the KEY! Two viola in one! Is that two bridges? one low and flat, one high wide and arched, pluck and bow, insert bowing bridge in front when desired, or just swap them around, neither is fixed. Or, could that possibly be a stick of bow rosin tucked away? What did their rosin look like? What else could that be?






11-30-2004 6:00pm
Nope, that’s not rosin ;’)

Below: blowup of bridge certainly appears to be a short, flat-topped bridge,  laying on it’s side, tucked under the strings, with tapered ends and tapered underside cuts, lots of geometry. This might be  it folks —  the smoking gun (for pluck and bow) —  and for other reasons as well. We are still investigating as of 12-3-04, but for now I can say this for sure;  the Viti viola is also, and at minimum, some kind of conversion and chop-job adaptation from a 4 or 5 string plucked instrument to a 6 stringed bowed instrument. Notice it’s very narrow neck, very narrow tail, small peg-head, outside strings hanging off the edge of the fretboard left and right, path and angles of strings from tail to bridge to nut, and more. The two bridges might be just a broken bridge, only half currently being used (which I don’t happen to think is the case), but a bridge that is still too big and ill-fitting that instrument in any event. This is a very odd specimen indeed.

Thanks to the French Federation of Viola da gamba Societies for the original image and their online database of historical viol iconography. (This is what iconography is for.)



Below; painting detail, two bridges blowup:  Timoteo Viti, Italy, c.1500, Madonna and child. Two in one, six string viola, plucked or bowed.



Below; small color detail of the real thing






Update, 12-16-04;
Turns out it is a two bridge instrument, and  Ephraim Segerman writes about the two bridge Viti viol in a manuscript draft now on the internet [titled; The developement of European Bowed Instruments up to the Baroque: a closer look. His draft, as of February 2002, can be viwed here:
Here's what Segerman has to say about it very similar to what I’ve said, and seeing the same oddity I saw (two bridges). He doesn't mention it could be a conversion of an earlier 4 or 5 string instrument (which I suspect is the case), and he's suggesting the two bridges are indicative of two styles of bowing on a single instrument rather than pluck and bow :

". . . . A 1505 painting [illustrated in Plate 52 in Woodfield op. cit.]
shows a viol with a bridge with shallow curvature parked under the strings behind a higher bridge (being used at the time) that had rather more curvature. This indicates that players exchanged bridges to play in different styles: With a higher bridge having more curvature, individual strings could be sounded separately when bowing near the bridge, and groups of strings could be sounded while bowed farther from the bridge. . . . "

Ian Woodfield's book (on early viol history) mentions the picture without commenting on the bridge oddities.

At any rate, while this separates "first discovery" from me (which wasn't the main point anyway) it confirms that at least someone writing in scholarly like fashion on the history of early bowed string instruments is of the same opinion (two bridges). Segerman also speaks matter-of-factly of the vihuela to viols connection, and even specifically singles out the "waist cut"  variant of vihuela as being key. [E. Segerman, I’m told, is one of the most prolific authors on the history of stringed instruments, has a large number of articles published in the FOMRHI journal stretching back 30 years or more, etc].



Below; a key juxtaposition, similar plucked and bowed vihuela/viola from the same period and general place.



Below; continuing in a similar vain, similar instruments, first a plucked Argonese vihuela, early 1500’s



Below; detail of the above



And here below; a series of three (from one image) showing two bowed vihuela, from Valencia or Majorca c.1500, of the same size and particulars as the above plucked instrument.



Below; details of the two vihuela de arco in the above image, left and right side.



Below; still greater detail of the above for string count.



Below; and we’ll add this one too (again), San Esteban Valencian vihuela de arco, late 1400s.



Below; vihuela de arco, five string, series of three details from a late 15th century fresco attributed to the Oslo Master, Aragon, Spain.









Below; viola-vihuela de penola, 1567, German



and again below; one of the viola da gambas from the anon fresco, anon, Ferrara Italy, c.1503, compared to the Borgia Apts plucked Viola.



Below: another plucked viola sine arculo, vihuela/viola, c.1520, Girolamo Libri, Madonna enthroned with Angels and Saints, Altarpiece, detail.






Below: Viola sine arculo, (aka, vihuela de mana), Nicolo Pisano, c1512, Italy, The Holly Virgin



Detail below: Nicolo Pisano plucked Viola/Vihuela, c.1512
So lets look closely at this. This guitar has six or seven SINGLE strings, not doubled courses like a lute. One more myth dispelled -- that guitars were double-course until the late 1700’s. The peg head looks like it’s holding only 6 dowel-pegs but we won’t make a big deal about it. The point to recognize here is that a player of a six single string violin shaped guitar with C holes, will then pick up his or her six single string bowed instrument of the identical pattern. (Compare to Raphael’s bowed Viola of 1514 further below.)



Below; waist-cut viola-vihuela, Gaudenzio Ferrari, dome of the Saronno Cathedral, 1535, Italy



Below; waist-cut vihuela-viola, Benedetto Carpaccio, detail from Coronation of the Virgin, 1537.



Below; clearer copy of the above but a fake-copy reproduction I believe.



Juan de las Roelas, Spain 1560-1625



 still another Viola: Bernardino Campi, 1570



Look familiar?
(the word familiar means like family)



Below; waist-cut viola guitar, Apollo and the Muses, Gaspar ab Avibus (Osella) or Giorgio Ghisi, 1557




Below: Painting, Japanese, 1590's: detail, "Fujo dankin-zu" [Woman playing a koto (or koto-like instrument). The instrument is actually a Viola guitar, here having five courses: four double and one single (9 tuning pegs). The instrument shown, however, could be as much as 40 years earlier in origin and construction. [In 1442, three Portuguese traders on a Chinese ship were the first Westerners to enter Japan. A short time later, in 1449, Francis Xavier, a Portuguese priest and founding member of the The Jesuits arrived in Japan. Xavier set up schools which taught many subjects including music performance. Instruments taught, included: organ, viola [guitar], trumpet, harp, and the lute.
[for Robert Coldwell’s article and complete uncropped  image;]



Our friend Timoteo Viti (from above) was one of Rapheal’s early teachers. Below is Raphael’s Viol, painted 1514, Italy, St cecilia, viol lying at the feet of the saint. [full size detail here].

Which guitarist among you
does not recognize his instrument when he sees it?






Below; just for fun, I’ll rotate Raphael’s bowed guitar for a little different perspective



Below, full painting context:

Raphael [Raffaello Sanzio]
The Ecstasy of St Cecilia, altarpiece painted in 1514 for the church of San Giovanni in Monte at Bologna, Italy.

(If that ain’t a guitar I might need to hang it up ;’)



Another key connector is a plate from Sebastian Virdung’s 1511 treatise. Note that the viola shown (Geigen, German) has no bowing bridge, has as many strings as a bowl-back lute, has lute style bridge. Pretty much everything about the lute and viola shown there identical -- excepting body shape. The shape of the Geigen, in 1511, is essentially that of  a viola sine arculo of Italy and Spain in the same time period. Oddly, there is a bow! next to a machine that looks like it's meant to be plucked. I believe this is a two-in-one illustration, space saving, reminding that there were two versions of the viola/Geigen, one plucked,  one bowed, and also reminding of the relationships involved. Everyone alive then probably knew the implied (too obvious to mention then) meanings, correlations, relationships. The drawing is making it clear that viols are a type of lute that is bowed. And that type, is  the viola/vihuela lute.

Below, Plate from Sebastian Virdung's 1511 treatise



Below; and oh my! a new addition to our collection as of 8-25-2006. This fabulous plucked vihuela with extreme waist-cuts was just recently discovered (June 22nd  2004 to be exact) contained within a large fresco hidden behind a false ceiling for 300 years in the Cathedral of Valencia (Spain). This fresco was also commissioned by our freind Rodrigo Borgia _before_ he became Pope Alexander in 1492 -- making it date from the 1480’s at least! [Note; upon further digging I've learned that the work was actually done between 1472 and 1481 -- that's REALLY early for _any_ kind of vihuela iconography! ] Stunning is the resemblance of this instrument to the above pictured bowed vihuela/viola in S.Virdung’s 1511 treatice plate! They are virtually the exact same instrument and the plucked image predates Virdung’s by 30-35 years!     Pluck and Bow Y’all ;-)

Will the real Cap-Stone image and pairing of images (linking guitars and viols) please stand up?!




Below; the stunning juxtaposition



flip for another view . . .



and a close zoom-in reveals what apear to be five thick single strings! We’ll have to see what subsequent pictures reveal, i.e. is the peg-box visible, etc. Needless to say, taking a bow to an instrument that already has single strings significantly strengthens our case. This is not the only instance of single strings I’ve seen either. The Nicolo Pisano plucked viola which we saw earlier above, for example, also has single strings. Even the two-bridge Timoteo Viti viola shown earlier has it’s plucking bridge interpretation and case strenghened if we can finally establish matter-of-factly that some if not many early viola and vihuela had single-strung coarses of strings.



Below; and another new find (8-29-06). Probably mid 16th century German, but referencing an earlier turn-of-the-century pattern and design. Nice peg-box (six strings).



Below; new to me as of 10-7-2006, a fine vihuela de arco, by Baldassare Peruzzi, 1505, Church of San Peitro, Montorio, Rome, Coronation of the Virgin, fresco. The instrument in this image, at lower left, clearifies and validates the above woodcut and the instrument and period it’s representing -- the long-necked waist-cut, bowed vihuela, smallish bodied, thin ribs, round rosette sound-hole etc.



Below, enlarged detail of Peruzzi’s, 1505 vihuela de arco, aka bowed guitar.




!  The Cap-Stone plucked Viola Vihuela Guitar Viol !
Gonesse organ 1508, France
l'orgue de Abbey Eglise Saint Pierre et Saint Paul
(see next three images)



Above, is the organ itself. The particular viola is in the lower panels, third from the left (but I believe there are similar instruments in at least half of those panels -- who wants to get more pictures for the cause?). This instrument has ALL the features and proof required, even a separate bowing-style tail piece (that’s what makes this picture so unique a plucker with that tail.)!

Below: detail 1 of the Gonesse Organ panel



Below: detail 2 of the Gonesse Organ panel.



In case it isn’t clear yet, this is the end of the story.
 It’s all wrapped up folks. Viols are Bowed Guitars ;’)
. . . Case closed . . .




And oh ya, . . . 6 months later I found the mate to the picture above, from the same organ case painted panels, the bowed version of the same instrument, and low and behold it’s a bowed guitar played on the arm, aka viola da braccio. How’s that for icing on the cake ;’) Any doubters left?



May 2006; here’s some color versions of the same (thanks RT).






Below; . . . so . . . where did those big'ol bass bowed-guitars, c.1500, come from? Out of the blue? Was there any precedence for them, any analogue, their huge size, i.e. scaling up? Only one place really, same region too, but plucked of course

Witness this big'ol plucked bass guitar (i.e. vihuela/viola), Catalan, late 1400's.



Scaling instruments up and down in size to create "consorts" of same family "voices", akin to vocal singing (bass, tenor, alto, soprano) is a feature of Renaissance instrumental music in general -- and part-written polyphony really takes off in the early Renaissance as well. Most music published from the Renaissance on might be performed with human voices or any other suitable consort of instruments, e.g. consort of recorders or viols. Single instruments capable of playing polyphonic arrangements, e.g. keyboard or lute (and vihuela/viola are also a kind of lute), might also be used. Lutes, plucked and bowed, melody or/and chords in one instrument, fretted 4ths string instruments, were extremely versitile, and extemely popular. Plucked lutes in particular were THE number one favorite instrument of the Renaissance. As far as I can tell, bowed lutes (viols, bowed guitars) were the close runner-up second.



Below; 1513, tenor viol, drawing by Hans Buldung Grien, North German.



Below; the same tenor viol used a few years later by Hans Buldung Grien in his painting Coronation of the Virgin, the Freiburg Minster alter (central panel), 1516.



Below; Polymnie (Greek. many songs, muse of sacred or heroic song or/and dancing) gravure au burin, Virgile Solis, Nuremberg, 1514-1562




The Oldest Viola Sine Arculo body (as yet)
14th cent AD (1300’s), Salamanca Spain

Vihuela de penola (or viola sine arculo), 14th cent.
Fresco de la Capilla del Aceite
Catedral Vieja da Salamanca

Plucked vihuela/viola, 1300s.
Salamanca, Old Cathedral, Capilla del Aceite.

[Lying on Spain's Northern Plateau, the province of Salamanca is situated in the Southwest corner of Castile & León on the borders with extremadura and Portugal.]
Also notice the peg head/box of the four string  Salamonca-viola-vihuela. It is very distinct, very old, and will probably link back to still older instruments, e.g. those in the 9th cent Carolingian Psalter, long rectangular shoulder mounted bass instruments, and then perhaps even the Commentarious Super Apocalypsum (lamb of God) plates c.926 AD. The later are more lute-like bodied. It would be interesting if the waist cut-outs originally evolved as a bicep (arm) or shoulder-mounted stabilizing device (hook it up over your right bicep or shoulder). Some of the Carolingain manuscript instruments also have a pole stabilizer propping up the front end of the instrument (i.e. stabilization and support were an issue.)



The Oldest Viola Sine Arculo (viola bodied vihuela guitar) [that I’ve been able to find]
14th cent AD (1300’s), Salamanca Spain



Below; color version of the Salamanca viola with full peg-box visable.






Note, it's come to my attention that the Salamanca Cathedral frescos have undergone extensive restoration in the 20th century, and that the quality of said restoration leaves much to be desired. Granting that, it's not likely that even amateur restorers would choose to paint-in, fabricate, waist cut-outs where none had previously existed it makes no sense.  It’s my responsibility to mention the general restoration issues associated with these Cathedral frescos nevertheless.



Now we have another contender for oldest viola bodied guitar. This statue is from the Toledo Cathedral in Spain, most likely 15th century. Upon further inspection however, I now believe this instrument to be a bowed viola. Note the position of right hand and arm, out in the air. It should have a bow. Also note the S holes, not unheard of but rare for a plucker.



Below; another early vihuela de arco, stone carving on a Spanish cathedral (that’s all the ID I have on it so far).



Below; Ok, today is 10-6-2006. Here’s a new image and instrument to factor into our considerations. This is 1473, an alter in Colmar France (Church of St. Martin), done by an artist of German extraction and of Netherlandish/Flemish schooling, Martin Schongauer, Madonna of the Rose Bower (or bush or trellis). This artist is best known as being the most important print engraver prior to Albrecht Durer. The carved wooden frame of this alter appears to be original and of-the-period. There are a number of musician angels depicted wthin the frame. Note the viol player at lower right.



Below; detail of viol player at lower right.



Below, justaposition of the early Spanish Cathedral vihuela de arco and this new (to us) instrument. Both the size and playing posture, proped up or layed across the left knee and thigh, are similar. Both instruments also have C holes in the upper bouts. Both have sharp waist-cuts too (a construction feature we’re keeping track of -- for date, place, and instrument, plucked and bowed.)



Assuming this frame is original to the alter and is 1473, this instrument is a good candidate for one of the earliest known viols. The fact that it’s neither Spanish nor Italian is also worth noting of course. I still have to get a good date on that Spanish cathedral example we’re using for comparison however.

Below; yet another early viol of similar pattern, size, and playing posture. Castelsardo, c.1500 (they say, but I suspect it’s earlier), Sardinia, Retablo in the church of La Porziuncola.



Below; continuing with our current body-type theme and thread, another Sardinian early viol, c. 1500 (they say). For my money then, this grouping reveals and represents is the most common form found in the bone yard. You can add the Timoteo Viti viola and a couple others to this column as well.



Plucked viola, like this one, were lutes (for all intents and purposes), just an alternate body design and construction. And the bowed version of the viola, like Raphael's, was just that, the bowed version, bowed lute -- the same thing essentially: same body, same frets, same tuning. No matter if you play viola shaped lute or bowl-back lute, viols are your instrument -- the other half of your expressive and music making tool set. It shouldn't be either/or, it could and should be both. There are plenty of documented historical figures who were masters of both viol and lute, no surprise. When you see an old painting or etching of an Elizabethan consort, viols plus lute, every instrument in that picture is a lute. Some are bowed, some are plucked, some big, some small, some single course, some double. A guitar is a lute, it's a body-type and tuning descendant of the viola/vuhuela-lute (rather than bowl-back lute). Viols did not come from bowl-back bodied lutes (although we know they tried that too), they came from viola/vihuela bodied lutes, guitars. But they’re all still the same machine. Viols are as much guitars (vihuela/violas) as they are lutes, or as much lutes as they are guitars. So again, no matter if you play viola shaped lute, bowl-back lute, or guitar, viols are your instrument -- the other half of your expressive and music making tool set. The point is they are our other half, they belong to us, guitarists and lutenists alike. And conversely, lutes belong to viol players. We are one.

It occurs to me that the six and seven string guitars of the early 1500’s (both single and paired course vihuelas and violas), particularly the waist-cut models, and the people who played them, did not disappear at all. They jumped ship!  But not really. They morphed. They became bowed guitars and bowed guitarists instead. Think about it. Playing a single string bowed viol does not preclude nor stop you from plucking. In a way, viols give you more bang for the buck. Lutes and guitars, any plucked instrument, suffer from fast decaying notes. Viols give you sustain! We and our ancestors are the same people. When 20th century guitarists were faced with the new option of playing electric guitars, amplifiers, effects units, hence increased SUSTAIN, what happened? You know the answer. A whole new camp of players, and a whole new music -- Rock and Roll. I think this is what might have happened in the late 1400’s too. Viol consorts, and viols in conjunction with classic lutes became the stock and trade of the 1500’s and much of the 1600’s all across Europe. It never made sense to me that the vihuela guitar family suddenly de-evolved in the mid 1500’s, jumping from six courses or strings down to four (on Renaissance guitars) or five on most vihuelas. Four and five course vihuelas, Renaissance and Baroque guitars came back to fill a void (if they had ever really left at all), and to provide simpler machines for the masses to continue making music with, plucking and strumming, and singing good old songs -- while another branch of the family evolved and moved on to become bowed 5 and 6 stringers. Plucked 6 course lute, and plucked 6 course vihuela, are almost redundant. Bowed 6 string vihuela, on the other hand, is the niche that needed filling, and it was fun, rewarding, and pleasurable for guitarists to fill. The four and five course vihuela guitars of the mid 1500’s might even have revived an older body shape and contour, the smooth curved figure eight shape that preceded the waist-cut models commonly seen in the early 1400’s, and quite often having the old style leaf shaped peg box. Similar shaped instruments, plucked and bowed, all still called vihuelas, can be seen in the stone cathedral carvings from the 1200’s and 1300’s -- in Spain, France, Italy, England, Germany, etc. This is more the body shape of the famous vihuela etching of 1510 we saw earlier -- one of two images most people conjure up when they try to imagine what vihuelas were and looked like. We know now that we need to expand our bank of visual and mental image associations, and even timelines, when we hear or use the word vihuela (and viola). We need to include the waist-cut viola shaped guitars in particular.

Someone might ask; wasn't it a little limiting for a plucking lutenist/violist/guitarist to play things on the viol when you can't bow neighboring strings simultaneously, i.e play chords, that’s half the fun? Good question. To that I ‘d answer; ah! but you can bow chords, and they did bow chords. The radius of a 6 string viol's bridge is much less than that of a violin, but/and the bow hair is also looser than on a violin. The bow hold is (sometimes) different than violin, it's palm up and you can actually control the tension of the bow hair with your fingers. You can most certainly bow three adjacent strings: any triad in any inversion, any sus chord, any 7th chord with dropped 5th (makes three tones on three adjacent strings), any power 5th or 4th (trine). You can also rake across many or even all six in a deliberate slower arc. You can arpeggiate, and you can pluck! Besides, as any guitarist knows, judiciously inserted bowed double-stops, harmonic intervals, are very often all the "chord" required ;’). Although they did and you can bow chords, viols were most often played in parts, like a string quartet. Viol consorts were the first string quartets, the first chamber music a full 250 years before Haydn! It’s not an exaggeration to say that Renaissance and Baroque bowed guitars laid the foundation of later “classical” 18th century European bowed string music. Go out and buy everything you can by the Fretwork viol consort, Paolo Pandolfo, and Jordi Savall. You'll hear everything from intricate part music, to chords bowed on a single viol, to virtuoso solo viol playing. Everything from church-like compositions, to jigs and other dances, and even the seeds of later large symphonies. Groups of viols plus plucked lute comprised at least one form of  dance band of the aristocracy at least. All of the surviving lute dances, dances having names like pavan and gilliard for example, were played on lutes and viols in ensemble, i.e. a band, a band of guitar family instruments. Again, Elizabethan paintings prove this if nothing else. Not to fear. You would not be loosing out in the bargain if you decided to take up the bow.  Besides, you can still pick up your dedicated plucked lute or guitar any time you want (and they did). You'll have more, of everything, not less. More tools, more expressive and creative potential, more music, more fun.

When Jimmy Page bowed his electric guitar, did he suddenly cease being a guitar player? Of course not. Bowing is just one way to play the instrument. The bottom line here is that any time you see a viol player in any painting from the 1400’s to the 1780’s, you are looking at a guitarist playing his six string guitar, his viola (da gamba). As you go through the pages of this section with all of it’s early iconography, notice the huge number of viols that were lap-held like the guitars they truly are. Gamba means leg in Italian. Viola da gambas are violas (plucked or bowed) played resting on your leg not between your legs necessarily (as they later came to be played and term then came to be generally associated and defined). When I get the time I’ll post my collection of viols played kneeling on one knee (as if to serenade a lover, propose marriage, or bow to Their Majesties).

In discussing this with a colleague, referring to Raphael's Viol, he said "From what is there it looks like a "normal" bowed viol to me". I replied; I think that's precisely the point. Raphael's viol is the earliest best true 6 string viol I've ever seen in the iconography. It's also, coincidentally, the most guitar-like, and the most "viola sine arculo" like (being it's plucked viola/vihuela counterpart and most direct sibling, the key link and genesis point of the six string viol which took the world by storm). It's the refinements in Raphaels machine, distinct from Viti's for example, that best illustrate and mark the point at which critical mass was reached, the needed point of perfection that made it special enough to survive and spread like wildfire across Europe.

I'm also thinking that if people are wanting a good model for a plucked viola/vihuela of  1500-15, Raphael's viol might be the best they'll ever find (for a deeper ribbed version at least). They are the same machine essentially. I'm beginning to think it was this shape in particular, this viola/vihuela, that went to 6 and 7 course (and single string  as well), not the peanut or smooth curved vihuelas we usually imagine. This is the one, I suspect, that was going head-to-head and toe-to-toe with classic bowl-back lutes, 5 and then 6 course, a near replacement, almost redundant substitute. I'm also thinking that it's redundancy (in 6 course) is why it apparently disappeared around 1530 (?), yet continued as waist-cut 4 and 5 coursers for another hundred years or so. But the point is, the six course waist-cut viola didn't disappear. It became the 6 sting viola da gamba that we came to know and love. The bowed version, "viola cum arculo" (with bow) survived to change the world. The six course plucked version was redundant to classic lutes so it faded away (apparently). It didn’t need to compete any more (with bowl-back lutes), it found something even better to do ;’)

Regarding both the shape, the number of strings, and the design and engineering refinements visible up close in the Raphael's viol, the features that produced the distinct sound of viols, which vocality made and secured it’s popularity across Europe, the minimum defining features are these three at least:

- end of the fretboard up off the sounding board (top vibrates freely)
- no sound post to dampen the top vibrations
- thin light construction

some other requirements are:
- thin, light, high, wide, radiused bridge with small footprint
- separate tail (also up off the sounding board)
- raduised fretboard
- six strings (the final state, but 4 and 5 string viols, large and small, were also common)

the machine should work, fundamentally, if at least those features and requirements are met (canting the neck back came later and helps lower the action and increase downward pressure on the bridge, more angle). In the end you have to have a sounding board and instrument that really vibrates freely. Beyond that, the specifics of body shapes and contours (later seen in other countries and dates), are more or less window dressing, fashion -- they will have some effect, but the instrument won't work at all, you won't achieve the defining distinctive sound, without meeting some minimum requirements first.

By the way, it turns out that St. Cecilia is the patron Saint of music, musicians, singers, and poets! How utterly poetic, that she, via Raphaels painting, is the keeper of the key. (guitars to viols.) Her province and domain is the Muse of Music generally. Lovely ;’)   [maybe it was inevitable and about time that our paths should cross he not-so-modestly thinks aloud. Nice to meet you dear. Hope we’ve served well.]




While we’re at it, here’s some of what Ian Woodfield had to say about the Viti viol, in his book “Early History of the Viol” (Cambridge University Press, 1984/1986) it links nicely to our story in general;

. . .  "Further North, Urbino was also receptive to the new Spanish instruments. Under the rule of the Montefeltro family the Duchy of Urbino had become one of the most important cultural centers in the Papal States.  In 1502, however, the city fell to Cesare Borgia's army after a surprise attack during his campaign to subdue dissident elements in the Papal States.  It is surely no coincidence that the viol first appeared in the art of Urbino about the time of the Borgia occupation. Timoteo Viti, for example, included a viol in one of his earliest commissions in that city, a painting of the Madonna and Child completed before c1505 (Plate 52). Vasare singled out Viti's young viol player for special praise: 'there is a little child angel sitting on the ground who plays the viol with a truly angelic grace and childlike simplicity' ('dove è un Angeletto sedente in terra, che suona la viola con grazie veramente angelica e con semplicità fanciullesca').  The continuing popularity of the viol at the court in Urbino is attested to by Castiglione, whose Il Libro del Cortegiano,a wonderfully evocative, if idealized, record of the life at a Renaissance court, was largely based on his experiences at Urbino.”

I'll point out the greater convergence of all three key players in our story via Woodfield's account. Woodfield says;

. . . " It is surely no coincidence that the viol first appeared in the art of Urbino about the time of the Borgia occupation . .  "

  • Timoteo Viti was from Urbino
  • Raphael was also from Urbino (lived under the same roof with Viti for a time)
  • Borgia was the Valencian Pope who commissioned the Vatican Borgia apartment frescos which contain that key plucked viola, circa 1493 -- Borgia having brought his entire court chapel with him from Valencia to Rome in 1492, including his "violists".

I love it when a plan comes together ;').  I actually think the evolution was well under way before Borgia enters the picture, both in Spain and Italy, but there's some kind of crescendo circa 1500. In 1502 was also the "Toledo Summit", Spanish/Flemish, major cultural exchange and competition among kingdoms, and no doubt a very probable route for viola da gamba/vihuela d'arco technology to travel north fast (if it wasn't there already).

liner notes from Orland Consort CD
"An encounter between two powerful dynasties.

The Orlando Consort revisits a fascinating meeting between two musical cultures. During his 1502 ceremonial visit to Toledo (Spain), Philip the Fair of Burgundy, and his Royal hosts, Ferdinand and Isabella, vied to display the artistic achievements of their respective realms. Music was central to all the festivities: solemn celebrations, worship, courtly banquets, dances and chivalric entertainments."

Another likely cross-pollination event is when Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, was sent to the court of England in 1501 to marry Henry's older brother, Arthur, then the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. Ultimately, Catherine married Henry VIII instead, in 1509.



below; viols and lute (and possibly a violin), one form of Elizabethan dance band, mid-late 1500’s, anon.
I imagine you’ll find the phrase possibly a violin a little strange, i.e. what else could it possibly be? Part of the upcoming coverage will address that very notion, that of small viols played on the arm, or da braccio.



below; viols and lute, Elizabethan dance band, mid-late 1500’s. anon



Here too, (and even more so than in the previous picture) I believe the smaller instrument at the far left, the one played on the arm, is actually a 5 string viol played ba braccio, not a violin. The bass and tenor instruments are most definitely viols, bowed guitars, and I do believe the smallest one is too, i.e. a viola sized or alto viol, thin ribs and all, and played on the arm. Even the shapes, decoration, sound holes, and peg-heads of these three bowed instruments appear to indicate they were of a set. At any rate, there are at minimum three guitar family instruments in that band, and it’s very likely they all are.




[Back to our story]

For the greater part of the 1500s then, and the 1600s, and right through to the mid 1700s,  the vihuela guitars across Europe, including Renaissance and Baroque guitars, were 4 and then 5 course instruments (plus a six courser in the first part of the 1500s), and they were tuned like guitars, that is, the tuning common to all in the greater guitar line, the pattern of 4ths and a central 3rd. The 5 course vihuelas of 1510 and the 5 course guitars of 1710 were like our modern 6 string guitars without their lowest pitched string, the same tuning , the same chord voicings, etc.

Up until the early mid 1600s, the lutes had maintained their 4ths and mid-3rd tuning across six courses, and late renaissance lutes that had any additional lower courses, 7 or 8 courses in total typically, retained the 4ths relationship to the lower strings. Up to this stage then, the lutes, theorbos, violas, vihuelas, viols, and guitars, shared their original 4ths and 3rd tuning commonality. After that, some of the lutes went their own separate way. The Baroque lute, having as many as 11 courses or even 13 at the end, and used to play complex solo compositions, went through a period of experimental tunings, finally coming to settle on open D minor tuning across it’s main six courses (low to high): D F A D F A. The new intervalic tuning pattern had thus become (low to high for the six main courses):
4th, m3rd, M3rd, 4th, m3rd.
Diationic bass strings were then added below and thumb-plucked as needed. In terms of spellings, that would look something like this for an 11 course instrument:
(C D E F G) A D F A D F

[for Baroque Lute see Roman Turovsky’s site at
for comprehensive lute and theorbo history see David Van Edwards site.]

This then is where we say goodbye to one branch of the lute family in terms of their historical relationship and direct kinship, by tuning, to the greater guitar family. However, most of the large Theorbo and Chittarone lutes, playing basso continuo accompaniment and in ensemble (verses solo), retained the original classical lute tuning for the fretted strings (being single strung, not double courses). Large theorbo’s, used in orchestras, lasted right through to the mid 1700’s . At this point in the game, lets say 1650, we are left with some classic lutes, all theorbos, the five and six string viols (still using their original Vihuela or Renaissance lute tuning), and the 5 course Baroque guitars. In the late 1600s the 7 string bass Viola da gamba appeared, in France, said to have been developed by Ms Columbe. The seventh string on bass viol was again and still in a 4th relationship to the pervious lowest string. So some bowl-back lutes, all Viols, all Theorbos, and all 5 course Baroque Guitars are still in 4ths with a mid or near-mid 3rd -- and many of the Baroque lutes have head for the hills so to speak (with D minor tuning). There was lots of music composed on and for Baroque lute in D minor tuning (before the lutes finally gave up the ghost entirely in the mid 1700s). For your shopping list, get the CD’s of German Baroque Lute composer Sylvius Leopold Weiss performed by Robert Barto, the Lute Sonatas. Absolutely stunning solo lute -- the pinnacle of the art.



below; Theorbo or Chitarrone, Bellerofonte Castaldi with his tiorba from his Capricci a Due Stromenti, Modena, 1622.
(most retained classic lute tuning across the main fretted strings, single not double course).
There’s a large article on Theorbos and Chitarrone authored by Robert Spencer at Van Edward’s site as well. The following is one paragraph from that article . . .

Tiorba [writes Spencer]
“. . .The word tiorba first appears in print, to my knowledge, in 1598, when John Florio included it in his Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes. Some modern books quote its inclusion in the 1544 inventory of the Accademia Filarmonica, Verona, though I suspect Una tiorba was added at the end of the century. (Short of going to Verona and examining the manuscript I can see no way of resolving my doubts.) Certainly there seems to be no musical need for a tiorba until at least the mid-1570s, when the Camerata were experimenting with their nuove musiche. Mersenne (1637) says that it was invented in Florence 'thirty or forty years ago' by le Bardella, i.e. Antonio Naldi, whom Caccini also praised for his continuo realizations.10 From c.1600 the tiorba was considered synonymous with the chitarrone. It is named in printed music from 1600 until the 18th century. Solo music in tablature was printed by Meli in 1614, 1620; and by Castaldi in 1622. This latter book contains a portrait of Castaldi playing his tiorba, which is seen to be single-strung and to have a single rose in the soundboard, a possible distinction from the chitarrone also depicted by Praetorius (1620) . . .”



Thoerbo reproduction (by Fretworks)



below; theorbo, Reni Guido,1626, Coronation of the Virgin



below; theorbo and guitar (same family, same tuning, 4ths and 3rd), 1615, Antiveduto Gramatica



Baroque Lute



Right around the time the Lutes and Viols were about to disappear (roughly the mid 1700s), the Baroque guitars had evolved to 6 course instruments from the most resent 5 course Vihuela/Guitars (which in turn had begun as 4 course vihuelas perhaps 300 years earlier). Meaning the vihuela-guitars were only now returning to (and growing up into) the  equal of the lutes of 250 years earlier (in string capacity) and even the equal of themselves in an earlier incarnation during that brief fling with 6 and 7 coarse vihuelas in Spain in the early 1500s. [From the 6 course guitars of the mid 1700s you finally loose the “courses” idea entirely and wind up with 6 single strings. Remember though, that Theorbos had already been using single string courses for a hundred years, so this is not entirely new.]

But more than that,  the vihuela/guitars, had been adding some new tricks to the game during their 300 year adolescence, and  maturation period, 1400 to 1700. They had been distinguishing themselves by innovating. They had been adding frets all along! The lutes, having had at least 5 or 6 courses consistently since 1500, had also been adding to their capacity during that same span of 300 years by adding more strings — so many strings, in the theorbos and arch-lutes for example, that the complication is almost mind boggling.

So the vihuela-guitars had taken a different route, slowly adding (back) strings (or courses) but more importantly adding more frets up the neck. Think about the facility of having a fully fretted fretboard verses one fretted only to the seventh fret. A fully fretted fretboard allows the full potential of the greater line, the genes, the chromatically fretted fourths-tuning genes) to be expressed. The pattern structure of the animal can complete itself to the octave, the octave fret, the repeat point, a whole and complete expression and fruition of the master plan (inherent in the combination of fourths tuning, chromatic frets, and the Octave, the latter being the key to music generally). So by the time, and by coincidence, that the Viols and Lutes were to be superseded or ousted from the King’s court (large orchestras) the Guitars (grown up Vihuela descendants, that had (re)started as four course baby vihuela-guitars (or perhaps even baby lutes or simple lutes) in the mid 1500’s, were in position to fill the void and take over for their gene-pool relatives, the bowl-back lutes, and a true grandparent, the viols, who’s apparent usefulness and lives were about to end.

Understand, the five course Vihuela/Guitar line had fully fretted fretboards to the 10th or 12th [octave] fret, and  accessible to the 10th at least, since the 1510’s or earlier. Bowl-back lutes, by contrast, only rarely exceeded their original 7 fret limit during that same 300 year span. Viols, bowed guitars, typically had only seven frets as well, at least the later ones did (but see the painting by Rembrandt (not that Rembrant) below, The Music Party, viol with 11 frets, other images exist too). Some of the very earliest viols, vihuela d’arco, had the same 10-12 frets as thier original plucked counter-parts (no surprise). Some frets on early vihuelas and guitars were on the actual face or sound-board and thus still less usable, but the evolution was well underway nevertheless. It just depends upon where you decide to join the body to the neck and how far back the bridge is positioned. Move the bridge forward and you have better access to the higher frets, longer neck length to body proportion. You will occasionally see this additional fretting on later lutes, meaning the old dogs were learning from the youngsters, and there was a greater shared pool of “stuff” among all of the these fretted fourths string instruments. You will also see guitar looking instruments with extra bass strings, theorboed or arch-luted in other words during these times. So again it’s all the same stuff, the same family, variations on a theme, variation of species, but all related: lutes, gitterns, theorbos, chittarones, vihuelas, violas, viols, and guitars.




Below, detail from Italian Etching, circa 1510, by Marcantonio Raimondi, vihuela de mana, 5 course, thin ribs, with 10 or 11 frets on the neck.



Below; vihuela d’arco with around 10 frets, Castelsardo, c.1500, Sardinia, Retablo in the church of La Porziuncola. The low and flat bridges of these original bowed guitars imply that bowing chords was the norm on these instruments. If you pay close attention to the images of these early instruments you’ll see that many have low flat bridges and somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 frets.



below; Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Dutch. 1626 The Music Party -- viol with 11 frets



another viol with 10 frets, French, anon, 1600s




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There are three guitars (and three guitarists, or three “violists” if you prefer) in the picture below: one plucked, and two bowed. Fresco, 1604, by Vasco Pereira Lusitano, Coronation of the Virgin, Sao Miguel island, Azores, Portugal. Originally from the Church of the Jesuit college of Ponta Delgada
If you saw the pop-quiz at the top of this page; do you think the three players seen here knew what they had in common on their fretboards?  I guarantee you they did ;’)












Index of The Cipher for fretted Viola da Gamba:










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© Copyright 2002   Roger Edward Blumberg


All  text, images, system components, devices, key terminology* and logos, on this web site are copyrighted [physically at the U.S. Library of Congress]. Reproduction in any form without written permission from the author and creator is prohibited.

[*including but not limited to: The Cipher System, The Cipher, Music Theory Cipher, The Guitarist’s Music Theory Cipher, Blumberg’s Music Theory Cipher for Guitar, Cipher Formula, The Five Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fourth Calculation Line, The Seven Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fifth Calculation Line, Fretboard Navigator, Counting Grids, The Pattern of Unisons and Octaves, Rooting-Center, The Fifth String Pattern Shift, The Third String Pattern Shift, Commonsense String Numbering Order.]

Thank you.

© Copyright 2002   Roger E. Blumberg












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