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Introductions To The Instruments In The Band

By The Fourth Best Banjo Player In Rochdale

Having read Norman Warwick´s review recently I was intrigued by his reference to The Theorbo, one of the instruments in the line up at the concert he was reviewing. It is a rarely seen instrument in the UK and in South Korea where I live it is hardly ever heard.

It is in fact a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck that houses the second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box with a flat top, typically with one or three sound holes decorated with rosettes. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with the right hand while “fretting” (pressing down) the strings with the left hand.

The Theorbo is related to the liuto attiorbato, the French théorbe des pièces, the archlute, the German baroque lute, and the angélique (or angelica). A theorbo differs from a regular lute in its so-called re-entrant tuning in which the first two strings are tuned an octave lower. The theorbo was used during the Baroque music era (1600–1750) to play basso continuo accompaniment parts (as part of the basso continuo group, which often included harpsichord, pipe organ and bass instruments), and also as a solo instrument. It has a range similar to that of a cello.

The Italian theorbo first arrived in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century, but an alternate design based on the English two-headed lute, designed by Jaques Gaultier, soon became more popular. English theorbos were generally tuned in G and double strung throughout, with only the first course in reentrant tuning. Theorbos tuned in G were much better suited to flat keys, and so many English songs or consort pieces that involved theorbo were written in flat keys that would be very difficult to play on a theorbo in A. By the eighteenth century, the theorbo had fallen out of fashion in England due to its large size and low pitch. It was replaced by the arch-lute.

A Tutor For Theorbo by Francesca Torelli is the only book I am aware of that references the instrument in any detail.

This methodology is for anyone with musical training and at least some experience with a plucked stringed instrument who might wish to take up studying the theorbo. It is also for lutenists and theorbists of any level who wish to improve their playing.

Whilst it is also possible to begin one’s musical life playing the theorbo, it is generally preferable (particularly for children) to begin by playing plucked stringed instrument of smaller dimensions.

During the period of time in which the theorbo was commonly used, the 1600s, no practical methods, in a form we might recognise as such today, were written. Among the various manuscripts written for this instrument and compiled during the Baroque era, there are some that contain musical examples that are useful for the study of the instrument (passaggi, cadences, chords and melodic progressions). However, these writings, which are anonymous, contain many errors, and sometimes do not approach the subject more systematically. Furthermore, the musical material contained in these manuscripts is not relevant, and so they cannot be used as study methods for the theorbo as they stand. Apart from these, there is also a certain number of texts on basso continuo playing from the 1600s which are specifically for the theorbo.

Since the beginning of the 20th century a number of practical method techniqes for the lute have been published, but none for the theorbo. This may be justified by the fact that the repertoire for solo lute is much more extensive, but at the same time it is also true that theorbo music has very different characteristics. An autonomous approach to technique, repertoire and basso continuo playing is therefore required.

This is, therefore, the first-published practical playing method for the theorbo.

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