This week John Pringle finished the first viol of our planned four-viol consort. The viol arrived this week and will be paired with the two prototype viols John made over the last few years. John will next work on a bass for the consort.
This first viol, with a 59 cm string length, will serve at the dessus for our consort. As shown in the photo below, it is quite a bit larger than our prototype treble.
Gaspard Duiffoprugcar [Tieffenbrucker] was a member of a German family of instrument builders from the village of Tieffenbruck, near Roßhaupten in Bavaria.1For more on Duiffoprugcar see Henry Coutagne, Gaspard Duiffoproucart et des luthiers lyonnais du XVIe siècle (Paris: Fischbacher, 1893). In 1810, Choren and Fayolle, in their Dictionnaire historique des musiciens artistes et amateurs, provided a biographical portrait of Duiffoprugcar’s early career in France:
DUIFFOPRUGCAR, (Gaspard), famous luthier, born in the Tyrol region of Italy toward the end of the fifteenth century. After traveling to Germany, he came to settle in Bologna in the first years of the sixteenth century. François I, King of France, having come to this city in 1515 to establish a charter with Pope Leo X, heard of Duiffoprugcar’s superior talents and made such advantageous offers to this artist as to convince him to come and settle in Paris; the latter accepted them. It appears that the plan of the French monarch was to have the instruments necessary for the service of his chambre and his chapel made in a manner worthy of his age and of his magnificence. It further seems that the cloudy climate of the capital did not suit this artist as he asked for and obtained permission to retire to Lyons, where he probably ended his career. He was still there in 1520.2Al. Choron and F. Fayolle, Dictionnaire historique des musiciens artistes et amateurs, morts ou vivans, qui se sont illustrés en une partie quelconque de la musique et des arts qui y sont relatifs, tels que compositeurs, ecrivains didactiques, théoriciens, poëtes, acteurs lyriques, chanteurs, instrumentistes, luthiers, facteurs, graveurs, imprimeurs de musique, etc. ; avec des renseignemens sur les théâtres, conservatoires, et autres établissemens dont cet art est l’objet. Précédé d’un sommaire de l’histoire de la musique, vol. 1 (Paris: Valade and Lenormant, 1810), 194–95: “DUIFFOPRUGCAR, (Gaspard), célèbre luthier, né dans le Tyrol Italien vers la fin du quinzième siècle, après avoir voyagé en Allemagne, vint se fixer à Bologne dans les premières années du seizième siècle, François I, roi de France, étant venu en cette ville, en 1515, pour établir le concordat avec le pape Léon X, entend parler des talens supérieurs de Duiffoprugcar, fit des offres si avantageuses à cet artiste pour le déterminer à venir s’établir à Paris, que ce dernier les accepta. Il paraît que le dessein du monarque français était de faire fabriquer les instrumens nécessaires au service de sa chambre et de sa chapelle d’un manière digne de son siècle et de sa magnificence. Il paraît encore que le climat nébuleux de la capitale ne convenant point à cet artiste, il demanda et obtint la permission de se retirer à Lyon, où, probablement, il termina sa carrière, il y était encore en 1520.”
No definitive evidence has yet to surface connecting Duiffoprugcar’s relocation to France to overtures from King François I; as was typical in the nineteenth century, Choren and Fayolle do not provide citations. François I certainly met Pope Leo X in Bologna in 1515. During this sojourn the French king recruited Leonardo da Vinci, who lived in France until his death in 1519. As I will discuss below, another branch of the Duiffoprugcar family had a workshop in Bologna, so Garpard Duiffoprugcar’s relocation to this city would have been a logical choice.
It is tempting to imagine musicians at the French court performing on instruments made by Duiffoprugcar. French court records list two musicians as viol players beginning in 1529. Pierre D’Auxerre is documented in payment records as a multi-instrumentalist, including as a performer on viols, for the French court between 1529 and 1572. Jehan Bellac, another court musician who performed on viols among other instruments, likewise appears in court documents between 1529 and 1560.3For documentation of these and other musicians who played viol at the French court in the sixteenth century, see https://thefrenchconsortproject.com/payment-records-for-viol-players-at-the-french-court/ It was only after Duiffoprugcar relocated to France that the French court began to employ these two joüeurs de violle. We lack definitive evidence of who made viols for the French court or where the court acquired them, but mounting evidence points to the transfer of the viol from Italy to France.4See, for example, our Timeline of Viols in Sixteenth-Century France. https://thefrenchconsortproject.com/timeline-of-viols-in-sixteenth-century-france/ Perhaps Duiffoprugcar was a central agent in this transfer.
Duiffoprugcar settled in Lyons in 1533 and became a naturalized French subject in 1558. King Henri II issued “Lettres de naturalité pour Gaspard Dieffenbruger” from Paris in January 1558. The “Lettres de naturalité” begin:
Henri, by the grace of God, King of France, to all present and to come, health. Knowing that we received the humble supplication of our dear and well-loved Caspar Dieffenbruger (German, lute maker, native of Fressin, imperial city in Germany) containing that it has been a long time since he left the place of his birth to come to live in our city of Lyons, where he is at present residing with firm and entire deliberation to live there and to end his days under our obedience and as our true and natural subject if our good pleasure is to hold and receive . . . 5Archives départementales du Rhône, B, Livre du roi, fol. 43.2 and following, 1532–1550: “Henri par la grâce de Dieu, roy de France, à tous présents et advenir, salut. Scavoir faisons nous avoir receu humble supplicacion de nostre cher et bien amé Caspar Dieffenbruger, alleman, faiseur de lutz, natif de Fressin, ville impérialle en Allemaigne, contenant qu’il y a ja longtemps qu’il a laissé ledict lieu de sa nativité pour venir se habiter en nostre ville de Lyon où il est à présent résidant avec ferme et entière délibéracion de y vivre et finir ses jours soulz nostre obéissance et comme notre vrai et naturel subjest si nostre bon plaisir est pour tel tenir et recepvoir . . .”
While evidence is lacking to connect Duiffoprugcar to François I, the fact that Henri II, the second son and successor of François I, referred to him as “dear and well-loved” suggests a royal connection to the Duiffoprugcar workshop and approbation of Duiffoprugcar’s talents as a luthier.
Pierre Woeiriot de Bouzey engraved the following portrait of Duiffoprugcar in 1565, six years before his death.
Among the cluttered pile of string instruments depicted in his portrait is at least one five-string viol with turned-out corners—a distinctive feature on many French Renaissance viols—in the lower right of the image. A colored version of this engraving survives in the front of a manuscript lutebook owned by Philipp Hainhofer (1578–1647), a diplomat, political correspondent, and art collector from Augsburg. Hainhofer is known today for his curation of his own Kunstschränke (curiosity cabinets) and for acquiring objects for the Kunstkammer (art room or curiosity cabinet) of humanist nobles. These curiosity cabinets often included collections of musical instruments and chests of viols.6See chapter 4 of Rebecca Cypess, Curious and Modern Inventions Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo’s Italy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). The lute manuscript, today held in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, was assembled in Augsburg around 1604.
It is possible that Duiffoprugcar became acquainted with five-string viols before he permanently relocated to Lyons. Both German and French sources describe five-string viols, albeit with different tuning systems. In Martin Agricola’s treatise Musica Instrumentalis deudsch (first published in 1529), he presents fretted “grossen Geigen” with either five or six strings tuned in fourths with a third.7Martin Agricola, Musica instrumentalis deudsch, ynn welcher begriffen ist, wie man nach dem Gesange auff mancherley Pfeiffen lernen sol, auch wie auff die Orgel, Harffen, Lauten, Geigen, vnd allerley Instrument vnd Seytenspiel, nach der rechtgegründten Tabelthur sey abzusetzen (Wittenberg: G. Rhaw, 1529). After multiple reprints, Agricola released an extensively revised edition of his treatise in 1545. In it he introduces the “grosse welsche geigen” (large foreign, i.e. Italian, geigen), a family of instruments that has frets with four or five strings tuned in fourths with a third.8Martin Agricola, Musica instrumentalis deudsch, ynn welcher begriffen ist, wie man nach dem Gesange auff mancherley Pfeiffen lernen sol, auch wie auff die Orgel, Harffen, Lauten, Geigen, vnd allerley Instrument vnd Seytenspiel, nach der rechtgegründten Tabelthur sey abzusetzen (Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1545). Hans Gerle, in his Musica Teutsch auff die grossen und kleinen geygen (German Music for Large and Small Geygen) first published in 1532, likewise claims that the fretted “grossen Geygen” (i.e. viols), have five or six strings tuned in fourths with a third.9Hans Gerle, Musica Teusch/auff die grossen und kleinen Geygen/ auch Lautten/ welchermaßen die mit grundt und Art jrer Composicion/auß dem gesang in die Tabulatur zu ordnen vnd zu setzen ist/sampt verborgener Applicacion vnd Kunst/darin ein ytlicher Liebhaber und anfenger berürtes Instrument so darzu naigung dregt an ein sunderlichen Meyster mensurlich durch Tegliche Ubung leychtlich kumen kann […] (Nürnberg: Hieronymus Formschneider, 1532) 2nd ed. 1537; 3rd ed., 1546. Gerle included a woodcut depicting both a five-string viol and a six-string viol.10For more on these and other sixteenth-century German treatises, see Bettina Hoffmann, The Viola da Gamba (London: Routledge, 2018), 90–97.
Intabulations for five-string viols, which survive in these German sources and which existed in a now-lost French source, reflect the popularity of amateur consort playing by the middle of the sixteenth century. Following his introductory treatise on how to play viols, Gerle includes intabulations (in German lute tablature) of German Tenorieder and Psalm settings for consorts of four viols. Like Claude Gervaise, who intabulated ten chansons for viol consort using French lute tablature (and also presented the same chansons in mensural notation) in hislost Premier livre de violle contenant dix chansons (Paris, c. 1547; 2nd. ed. 1554), Gerle intabulated examples from genres that appealed to bourgeois amateur musicking. Both Gerle and Gervaise published tutors aimed at helping the amateur public quickly get up to speed with playing consort music socially. By presenting the four-part settings in tablature instead of in mensural notation, both authors allowed amateur musicians to skirt hours of instruction in music theory and in learning how to read mensural notation. Gerle responded to changing tastes of bourgeois consumers in his 1546 publication Musica und Tabulatur auff die Instrume[n]t der kleinen und grossen Geygen auch Lautten; he intabulated French chansons.11Hans Gerle, Musica und Tabulatur auff die Instrume[n]t der kleinen und grossen Geygen auch Lautten: welcher massen die mit grundt und art irer Composition aus dem Gesang in die Tabulatur zu ordnen und zu setzen ist (Nürnberg: J. Formschneyder, 1546). In 1523 or 1524, a Bavarian of the merchant class named Jorg Weltzell also intabulated, among other pieces like dances and the the “Cum sancto spiritu” from Josquin’s Missa De Beata Virgine, German Tenorlieder (again using German lute tablature) in a notebook.12Jorg Weltzell, “Mathematik- und tabulaturbuch des Jorg Weltzell” (1523–1524) Universitätsbibliotek Munich, 4° Cod. ms. 718. Full text accessible online: https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/24888/ For more on this manuscript see Ian Woodfield, The Early History of the Viol (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 111–115. Bettina Hoffman decodes his tunings (fourths with a third), which are identical to Gerle’s tunings.13Bettina Hoffmann, The Viola da Gamba (London: Routledge, 2018), 120–121. Again Weltzell’s manuscript preserves intabulations of consort music of four-part songs suitable for bourgeois musicking.
Gaspard Duiffoprugcar was living in Lyons when the Huguenot Lyonnais composer Philibert Jambe de Fer (1515–1566) published his L’Épitome musical des tons, sons et accordz, es voix humaines, fleustes d’Alleman, flesustes à neuf trous, violes, & violons (1556). In the chapter about violes, he asserts that it was “an instrument played by gentlemen, merchants, and other men of virtue.”14Philibert Jambe de Fer, L’Épitome musical (Lyons: 1556), 62: “Nous appellons violes c’elles desquelles les gentilz hommes, marchantz, & autres gens de vertuz passent leur temps.” Once again the amateur status of the instrument is affirmed. With his shop in Lyons and a renowned family name of lute and viol builders, Duiffoprugcar would have been poised to sell five-string viols to the bourgeois “men of virtue” described by Jambe de Fer. Perhaps the viol with ornate marquetry depicted in Jambe de Fer’s treatise was modeled after one of the renowned luthier’s instruments.
Although five-string viols were tuned differently in Germany and in France, Gaspard Duiffoprugcar presents a point of intersection between the two traditions of performing on five-string viols in amateur consort playing.
The Duiffoprugcar workshop in Lyons also maintained strong ties to an Italian branch of this family of luthiers and instrument wholesalers. Due in part to the propensity of family members to name their sons after themselves and in part to an incomplete historical record, the family lineage has been the topic of much scholarly debate and confusion. The elder Ulrich (I) [Odorico, Rigo] Tieffenbrucker (d. before 1560) established the Italian branch in Venice and Bologna. Ulrich (I) had three sons: Magno (I), Ulrich (II) [Odorico, Rigo), and Jacob.15For more on the Venetian branch of the family, see Stefano Pio, “The Tieffenbrucker family and its collaborators,” in Viol and Lute Makers, Venice, 1490–1630, ed. by Stefano Pio, 262–343 (Venice: Venice Research, 2011); Giulo M. Ongaro, “The Tieffenbruckers and the Business of Lute-Making in Sixteenth-Century Venice,” The Galpin Society Journal 44 (1991): 46–54. Ulrich (II) Tieffenbrucker was described as a “lute maker” in a 1567 document and had an instrument workshop in Venice called all’Albero verde (The Green Tree). Magno (I) had a workshop named all’Aquila negra (The Black Eagle) in Venice and produced three sons: Magno (II), Moisé, and Abraam. After the death of Magno (I), his two sons Magno (II) and Moisé ran The Black Eagle workshop.
The two brothers bought Abraam out of the family business because he seems to have been equally poorly suited at handling his personal finances as he was talented at attracting legal trouble. Although all three brothers were accused of Lutheran heresy by a servant in 1565, they were not subjected to any consequences at that time. Abraam, however, was again accused of Lutheran heresy by the Inquisition in 1575, and witnesses stated that he travelled regularly to “French lands” carrying several hundred ducats worth of lutes. This time Abraam was accused by the family of the painter Domenico Misani of marrying and abandoning Misani’s daughter. He appears to have went into hiding, and a Father Inquisitor charged with locating Abraam corresponded to the court of Venice in a letter about the matter:
With the great secrecy and diligence of which I am capable and in response to the orders given to me by your honor, I have looked and looked for Abraam lautarao but never found him. It is true, however, that 19 or 20 days ago someone alerted me of the presence of a lute player, not a maker, who trades lutes with Lyons and transports five or six hundred scudi of them there at a time. His name is Simonetto, a small and false man, and from what I hear he does not have a good reputation with regards to his faith. It could be him, the one about whom you have written me, having changed his name. In my opinion it would be better that you not only write his name, as you already did, but his features, where he comes from, and if he has family and where, because that is how we will find information about him. If he is the one you are looking for, we can arrest him on his way back from Lyons. I write this offering from my heart and I send back the [??] of your holiness according to your orders. Vicenza, August 6, 1575.16Quoted in Stefano Pio, “The Tieffenbrucker family and its collaborators,” in Viol and Lute Makers of Venice 1490–1630, ed. Stefano Pio (Venice: Venice Research, 2012), 278–279: “Con quella maggior segretezza et diligenza a me possible conforme alla comissione datami da lei per due sue amorevolissime, è stato cercato et ricercato Abraham lautaro, né mai è stato ritrovato, è vero però che 19 o 20 giorni sono si passati di qui da quando son avisato uno che suona di liuto, no fa liuti, ma che fa mercantie et porta a Lione liuti per cinque et seicento scudi per volta, il cui nome è Simonetto uomo picciolo contrafatto et per quanto sento, non di troppa buona fama intorna alla fede, et potria esser questo, di cui ella mi scrive, et che si fosse mutato il nome, poi al mio giudizio sarà ben fatto che non solamente mi scriva il nome come ha scritto per tra adesso, ma anco le fatezze sue, di che paese è, et se qui ha famiglia, o dove, perché per tal via si potrà meglio venir all’intento suo, et se questo sopradetto fusse quello che si cerca, nel ritorno suo, che egli farà da Lione, si potrà esseguirgli contro: in questo mentre m’offerisco di cuore, et gli rimando la [?] de i SS Clarizzimi secondo l’ordine suo. Vicenza lì 6 agosto 1575.”
Relying on this letter and other documentary evidence, Stefano Pio has argued that Abraam was using the identity of Simonetto, which he appropriated from the deceased trader of lutes known as Simone of Vicenza or Simone Cerdonis. While living, this Simone was both a commercial partner and a friend of the Tieffenbrucker family. According to Pio’s argument, then, Simonetto/Abraam was avoiding Venice by exporting lutes by land routes from Vincenza to Lyons, where he had family connections through his uncle Gaspard’s shop. Although Gaspard Duiffoprugcar had died in Lyons in 1571, his son Johann [Jean] continued to operate the workshop in Lyons from his father’s death until at least 1585.17Ian Harwood and Giulio Ongaro, “Tieffenbrucker” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 3 Jan. 2021. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.27940 Another of Gaspard’s sons, also named Gaspard, moved to Paris upon the death of his father and established a workshop on rue Pot-de-Feu. If the two branches of the family maintained a working relationship, then it is probable that the Duiffoprugcars living in France imported instruments (or wholesale parts) from their Italian relatives and sold them in their shops.18For the most complete family tree of the Venetian branch of the Duiffoprugcar luthiers, see Stefano Toffolo and Maria Pia Pedani, “Una famiglia di liutai tedeschi a Venezia: i Tieffenbrucker,” Il Fronimo XIII (1985): 56–62.
Pio has further discovered two Brescian documents that provide evidence suggesting that Simonetto/Abraam, while en route from Vicenza to Lyons, stopped in Brescia to purchase bowed string instruments from Gasparo da Salò. Both documents identify Simone dal Liuto as purchaser of two violins from Gasparo da Salò in 1580, five years after the letter between a Father Inquisitor and the court of Venice.19Stefano Pio, “The Tieffenbrucker family and its collaborators,” in Viol and Lute Makers of Venice 1490–1630, ed. Stefano Pio (Venice: Venice Research, 2012), 277–283. Gasparo da Salò further lamented in 1588 that “my business does not go to France as usual” (. . . per non andar l’arte mia nella Franza secundo il solito . . .) suggesting that the death of Simone dal Liuto around 1580 interrupted this trade route of instruments between Brescia and France.20Stefano Pio, “The Tieffenbrucker family and its collaborators,” in Viol and Lute Makers of Venice 1490–1630, ed. Stefano Pio (Venice: Venice Research, 2012), 282–83. If it is true that Abraam Tieffenbrucker, in hiding from the Inquisition, adopted the name of his deceased lute-playing friend Simone dal Liuto, and if it is true that Abraam was the purchaser of bowed string instruments from the shop of Gasparo da Salò, then it is likely that Gaspard Duiffoprugcar (and after his death, his sons) sold Venetian lutes and Brescian bowed instruments in France. In a future blog post I will provide an overview of the extensive evidence of the circulation of Italian bowed string instruments in sixteenth-century France, but for now it will suffice to point out that inventories made after the death of Parisian facteurs d’instruments in the 1580s prove that Brescian bowed string instruments, especially violins, and Venetian lutes were sold in France.21For two examples, see: 01 October 1587 Inventory after death of Claude Denis, facteur d’instruments: Archives nationales, Minutier central des notaires de Paris, Document XXII; 11 October 1589 Inventory after death of Robert Denis le jeune, facteur d’instruments: Archives nationales, Minutier central des notaires de Paris, Document XXIII. Comparing their appraised values to the values provided for domestic instruments in these inventories suggests that Italian stringed instruments were highly prized in sixteenth-century France.
The Peter Tourin/Thomas MacCracken list of extant historical viols lists twelve surviving viols attributed to Gasparo da Salò. The attribution of some of these instruments has been disputed. While many of these viols are hourglass- or guitar-shaped instruments, several are instruments with turned-out corners, like most depictions of French Renaissance viols.22For another instrument with turned-out corners attributed to da Salò, see the tenor or lyra viol in the cité de la musique collection https://collectionsdumusee.philharmoniedeparis.fr/doc/MUSEE/0161773 Other Brescian instrument builders of the sixteenth-century also produced viols with turned-out corners (See this previous blog post about Micheli viols). The instrument attributed to Gasparo da Salò in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University (pictured below), for example, has turned-out corners.
John Pringle made technical drawings of this instrument in 1979. It has a carved central integral bass bar and lacks a soundpost plate, suggesting it did not originally have a soundpost. The soundholes are reminiscent of those on a five-string French viol depicted by Jacques Cellier for Françoys Merlin sometime between 1583 and 1585:
Françoys Merlin was the controlleur général of house of the recently deceased Marie-Élizabeth of France, the daughter of Charles IX.
While many lutes attributed to the Tieffenbrucker family survive, only three viols attributed to Gaspard Duiffoprugcar have survived, and all three have been discredited. One of these instruments is known as the “Plan de Paris,” or “Map of Paris,” viol, which is today part of the collection of the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Brussels.
The “Plan de Paris” viol was purchased by Victor Mahillon for the collection of the Brussels Conservatoire from a M. Depret of Nice in 1889. Luthier and restorer Shem Mackey, in a recent article in Early Music, has offered convincing evidence that “the shape and construction details of this viol place it firmly in the second half of the 1600s and within the French/English style of making.” He further argued that “There is no doubt that the greater portion of this viol was made by Michel Colichon.”23Shem Mackey, “The ‘Plan de Paris’: who made this viol?,” Early Music 47 no. 4 (2019): 479–97. Despite his attribution, Mackey concedes that “The general layout and design of this pegbox would suggest that it may have originally belonged to a five-string viol.”24Shem Mackey, “The ‘Plan de Paris’: who made this viol?,” Early Music 47 no. 4 (2019): 481.
The two other viols attributed to Duiffoprugcar also both have similar elaborate ornamentation. One of these instruments in the Hague and the other in a private collection.
Mackey argues that while “the similarity of the marquetry and carvings might suggest a similar origin,” “the same cannot be said of the instruments themselves.” He posits the existence of now-lost additional decorated viols and asks: “Is it likely that all three were acquired and/or constructed with a view to creating a set of instruments united through decoration, using them as a canvas?”25Shem Mackey, “The ‘Plan de Paris’: who made this viol?,” Early Music 47 no. 4 (2019): 494.
Are any parts of any of these viols therefore related in any way to Gaspard Duiffoprugcar? At this time it remains impossible to state with certainty. The “Plan de Paris” viol includes a handwritten inscription on the back: “This viola da gamba was made by Duiffoprugcar in Paris in 1515 and belonged to François I. By Dr. de Chox de Fayolle. 1830” followed by the signature of the nineteenth-century French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume.26Shem Mackey, “The ‘Plan de Paris’: who made this viol?,” Early Music 47 no. 4 (2019): 479: “Cette Viole da Gambe faite par Duiffoprugcar à Paris en 1515 a appartenu à François premier. Par la Dre de Chox de Fayolle. 1830” The inscription in pencil is difficult to read today and Mackey relies on an exhibition catalog. I believe it more likely reads “Drs. Choren and Fayolle,” the authors of the nineteenth-century dictionary entry on Duiffoprugcar that began this essay. It became fashionable in the nineteenth century for French luthiers like Vuillaume to put false labels in violins reading “Gaspard Duiffoprugcar,” some of whom even carved a scroll in his likeness based on the bearded engraving produced in the sixteenth century. While none of these three viols are examples of the craftsmanship of Duiffoprugcar, perhaps the originally five-string peg-box of the “Plan de Paris” viol was repurposed by Michel Colichon sometime between c. 1683 and 1693 from a dilapidated viol by Duiffoprugcar. Mackay, while creating an eloquent argument for Collichon’s involvement in the construction of this viol, still admits that the instrument is “without question, a composite.”27Shem Mackey, “The ‘Plan de Paris’: who made this viol?,” Early Music 47 no. 4 (2019): 479. While the answers we seek elude us, they nevertheless remain important modes of inquiry. These three viols are the only extant viols that were at one point attributed to Gaspard Duiffoprugcar. If any of their parts were created by Duiffoprugcar, they would represent the only surviving components of historical viols created in sixteenth-century France. Then again, perhaps these “French” viols were imported Italian instruments made by a Bavarian family network.
In his Harmonie universelle, contenant la théorie et la pratique de la musique (Paris, 1636), Marin Mersenne reproduced the woodcut of a five-string viol from Jambe de Fer’s L’Épitome musical des tons, sons et accordz, es voix humaines, fleustes d’Alleman, flesustes à neuf trous, violes, & violons (Lyons, 1556) and noted that this was a kind of viol that was used in the past.
Mersenne provides tuning only for the viol designed to play the bas voice. He then presents an image of a six-string viol and explains that this is the viol that can be constructed in a variety of sizes, up to seven or eight feet in length, and is currently used in France.
Using Mersenne as the authority, scholars have therefore concluded that the five-string fourths-tuned instruments were no longer in use by 1636.
Studies of the history of the viol and surveys of French treatises that mention viols have largely overlooked, however, an important manuscript treatise written by Pierre Trichet in Bordeaux sometime between 1631 and 1638. The manuscript is today in the Bibliothèque Saint Geneviève in Paris (ms. 1070). François Lesure published an edition with an introduction of Trichet’s treatise: Pierre Trichet, Traité des instruments de musique (vers 1640), edited by François Lesure. (Neuilly-sur-Seine: Société de musique d’autrefois, 1957; Reprint Minkoff, 1978). Trichet was a bibliophile who exchanged letters relating to organological issues with Marin Mersenne.1Some of Trichet’s library today resides in the Bibliothèque de Bordeaux. Trichet exchanged two letters with Mersenne in 1631. In the first letter he suggests that he had received a letter from Mersenne dated to 15 October the previous year. See Paul Tannery, Cornelis de Waard, and René Pintard, eds., Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, religieux minime, vol. 3 (Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1946), 1–9 and 156–159. In the second letter, Trichet discusses the l’ame (soul, i.e. the soundpost) of the viol. He published an inventory of the contents of his cabinet de curiosité (curiosity cabinet) in both Latin and French in 1635.2Pierre Trichet, Synopsis rerum variarum tam naturalium quam artificialium, quae in Musaeo Petri Tricheti Burdigalae reperiuntur. Denombrement de diverses et curieuses choses du Cabinet de Pierre Trichet Bourdelois ([Bordeaux]: n. p., 1635) and Dénombrement de diverses et curieuses choses du cabinet de Pierre Trichet, bourdelois ([Bordeaux]: n. p., 1635). His published inventory claims that Trichet owned a library of some 4000 volumes, 4400 engraved portraits, 400 antique medals, and a collection of musical instruments. At the time Trichet created his inventory, he owned around twenty instruments, including “une basse-contre de viole.”
Trichet’s manuscript treatise Le traité des instruments (c. 1640) was never published, likely a result of the appearance of Mersenne’s more comprehensive and scientific publication on music. In his treatise, Trichet explains the etymology of the names of instruments and discusses their description and their use. Although his discussion of the viole spans only four folio pages, the penultimate paragraph contains valuable information suggesting the continued use of French five-string viols tuned in fourths:
Before finishing this chapter it is necessary to explain the tuning of viols, both separated and conjoined to make a consort. It will therefore be noted that the strings of viols having five strings always by fourths. As for those with six strings, ascending their tuning consists of two fourths; afterwards we make a major third, and then two other fourths, which should always be understood as the distance that there is from one string to the other struck open. As for the tuning that the viols must have with each other, we must first assume that the basse-contre agrees according to the precepts that I have just deduced, then we will tune with the chanterelle the second string of the viol [performing the] taille by putting it in unison.3François Lesure, “Le Traité des instruments de musique de Pierre Trichet” Annales musicologues, Moyen-âge et renaissance 4 (1956): 127: “Avant finir ce chapitre il convient expliquer l’accord des violes tant séparées que conjointes pour faire concert. On remarquera donc que les chordes de chasque viole ayant cinq rangs se montent toujours de quatre en quatre ; quant a celles de six rangs se montent leur accord consiste en deux quartes: par après l’on fait faire une tierce majeure, et puis deux autres quartes, ce qui se doit toujours entendre de la distance qu’il y a d’une corde a l’autre frappée a l’ouvert. Quant à l’accord que doivent avoir les violes entre elles, il faut premièrement suppose que la basse-contre soit bien d’accord selon les préceptes que je viens de desduire, puis l’on accordera avec sa chanterelle la seconde chorde de la viole de la taille en la mettant à l’unisson.”
Trichet therefore confirms the continued use of five-string viols tuned in fourths in France as late as 1640. He suggests that they coexisted alongside six-string viols tuned like a lute. While, in the eyes of modern scholarship at least, Mersenne effectively killed off these instruments by referring to them as something “used in the past,” Trichet offers important evidence for their continued use. Perhaps in fashionable Paris, where Mersenne resided, the five-string French viols had become passé. In Bordeaux and likely other provincial urban centers, however, amateur musicians, like Trichet, assuredly would not have discarded their instruments, especially expensive sets of viols meant for performing as consorts, once the Italian/English six-string viols began to replace them. If these five-string viols continued to be played well into the seventeenth century, then we must reassess our historiography and begin to rethink what repertory they might have performed during the first half of the seventeenth century.
John Pringle has been hard at work making a second prototype based on our new research. He is using this prototype—a treble—to experiment with body design and table construction. Since we are not using a soundpost-bassbar system, John Pringle has decided on a central spine on the table, a solution found in a wide variety of Renaissance viols. Our goal was to use what we learned by studying the Brescian Micheli viols and to combine this knowledge with French iconographical evidence. After extensive discussion, we decided the most realistic representation of viols in French iconography was made by Jacques Cellier (c. 1585):
John Pringle first made a drawing of this instrument:
He next used the drawing to build the prototype. The body of this prototype is now finished and awaiting setup:
We are excited to hear how it sounds and begin conducting experiments with the instrument soon! For comparison, here are some of the Micheli viols from Brescia, which were discussed in a previous blog post:
The Micheli instruments have more “violinsitic” features, which is logical because both father and son, like most Brescian luthiers at the time, made both viol– and violin–family instruments. We are still learning and experimenting with this prototype and no decisions have been made definitively at this time.
Prototype Bow by Coen Engelhard
We are working with Coen Engelhard to develop a set of consort bows for the French Consort Project. He has sent us a sample, which so far has worked wonderfully with our first prototype instrument. This size bow is appropriate for the middle voices (dessus and haute contre) of our consort. We will be commissioning a complete set of four bows from him for our finished consort.
26 June 2020 Addendum:
John Pringle finished varnishing and setting up our second prototype:
One of the most daunting challenges in reconstructing a consort of Renaissance French viols is the lack of extant instruments that can be analyzed. While iconography and treatises are both crucial sources for understanding these instruments, taken together they still leave many questions unresolved. Besides questions surrounding the internal construction of the viols, one pertinent issue is the body shape. For example, the images of viols produced in Philibert Jambe de Fer’s treatise in 1556, on Robert Ballard’s frontispieces beginning in 1565 (and continuing into the first decades of the seventeenth century), in the livret for the Ballet comique de la Reine in 1582, and in drawings by Jacques Cellier for Françoys Merlin’s Recherches de plusieurs singularités (c. 1585), and in other sources all consistently depict viols with turned out corners typical of violin-family instruments. In his retrospective musings on the history of the viol, Jean Rousseau similarly claimed of French viols from this period: “The shape of this viol strongly resembles that of the basse de violon.” This evidence suggests that turned out corners were a distinctive feature on many French Renaissance viols.
Although no such viol with outwardly turned corners survives from France, surviving sixteenth-century instruments from Italy can offer organological insights. Sixteenth-century Venetian viols with forward sloping upper bouts, such as those made by Antonio Ciciliano and Francesco Linarol, and Brescian hourglass- or guitar-shaped viols, such as those by Gasparo da Salo and Zanetto de Michaeli, have been copied by luthiers and performed on by professional consorts. Fretwork, for example, has recorded an album on copies of the Francesco Linarol housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Luthier Henner Harders reconstructed their consort by enlarging and reducing the size of the original to create a string length of about 50 cm for two tenor instruments tuned in A, about 73 cm for a bass tuned in D, and about 92 cm for a bass tuned in A.
Henner Harders has also made consorts of these Venetian viols for the Music Academies in Bremen and Leipzig. Luthier Ray Nurse had previously made an extensive study of Renaissance instruments in European museums and copied a consort of the hourglass- or guitar-shaped Brescian viols. The Nota Bene viol consort, comprised of Joanna Blendulf, Wendy Gillespie, Sarah Mead, and Emily Walhout, recently raised money to purchase the scattered copies made by Ray Nurse and is now actively performing on these instruments.
Before he stopped producing new instruments Ray Nurse was generous enough to share his drawings and notes on these viols with me. Because of the variability of bridge placement possible on viols without soundposts, string length can never determined with certainty. Ray believed, however, that body length probably corresponded closely to the original string length. For the hourglass-shaped viols, he recorded body lengths of 53cm, 63 cm, 76 cm, and 90 cm, body lengths that corresponds remarkably close to the string lengths that Henner Harders chose to use in his reconstructed Venetian viol consort.
Another shape of Brescian viol, one with fluting on the edges of the tops and turned out violinistic corners, has only recently received close attention by luthiers and musicians. Surviving viols produced by Zanetto Micheli (c. 1489–1560) and his son Pellegrino Micheli (ca. 1520–ca. 1606) reflect some of the same characteristic body shapes as those instruments that appear in French Renaissance iconography. They therefore might offer some clues to internal and external construction of French viols. Federico Löwenberger and after his passing his son Alessandro Löwenberg have recently copied a consort of Micheli viols for Randall Cook and the Schola Cantorum in Basel. They copied a “bass” viol by Pellegrino De Micheli that they claim is “an original instrument owned by a noble Italian family since it was bought by their ancestors directly from the craftsman.” Strung in all gut and without a soundpost/bassbar system, their copy of this instrument has a 74.5 cm string length. They have shrunk the proportions of this instrument to what they are calling a “tenor” with a string length of 62 cm and enlarged the proportions to what they are calling a “G-violone” with a string length of 93 cm. These string lengths are again close in range to those consorts of Brescian viols made by Ray Nurse and of Venetian viols made Henner Harders. All of these experiments with reconstructing Italian Renaissance viols are “low” consorts (using modern terminology, with instruments corresponding in size to a violone (in G or A) for the bass voice, two “bass viols” for the middle voices, and a “tenor viol” performing the highest voice) of large instruments played at the high pitch (circa 466 Hz) common in the northern parts of Italy that were under the influence of Venice.
Several other instruments by the two Micheli luthiers survive and, due to their close visual similarities to French iconographical sources, they warrant closer inspection. The Cité de la musique in Paris has two instruments labeled as products of Micheli craftsmanship. The first, according to the museum made by Zanetto de Micheli di Montichiaro in 1547, is probably a misidentified instrument from a later craftsmen. The second, attributed to Pellegrino di Zanetto and dated to around 1550, is currently setup as a four-string “contrabasse de viole.” With a table of 160 cm, this instrument was probably a large violone originally made with 5 or 6 strings.
The second extant specimen is a bass viola da gamba made by “Zanetto de’ Micheli da Montichiaro” housed in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota. This instrument was converted to a four-string violoncello in the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Ray Nurse made a technical drawing of this instrument, which has a body length is 63.5 cm.
A third surviving viol made by Pellegrino Micheli survives in the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation in Riga, Latvia. The most ornate of the surviving instruments, it includes florid ornaments on the back and ribs and is topped with an elaborate carved scroll featuring Orpheus playing his lyre while seated in a leafy grove. Unfortunately drawings and measurements are not available for this instrument at this time, so photos will have to suffice.
All surviving specimens of viols built by the Micheli family of luthiers are large instruments reflecting body/string lengths of a “low” Renaissance consort.
At a minimum the viols built by the Micheli family are consistent with the shape of the French viols as depicted in iconography. Studying the Micheli viols has been a revelation for both John Pringle and myself as we believe that they provide a key to unlocking many of the unresolved mysteries of the French viols we plan to reconstruct. For example, we tuned our prototype, with a string 70 cm, as a “bas” instrument in “E” (c’ g d A E), but, in light of the measurements from Venetian and Brescian viols, it now seems that this instrument should serve as a middle voice (haute-contre or taille) in our consort and should be tuned in “B” (g’ d’ a e B). In general, studying reconstructions of Italian Renaissance viol consorts suggests that our viols too should be larger than we had planned with the prototype. I have long sought clarity about the size of the French instruments, particularly because French iconography consistently portrays large instruments relative to the body size of the musicians:
Iconography, though, can be deceiving: artists could choose to prioritize aesthetics over physics, cherubs (and other heavenly or angelic beings) and mythological creatures are not always rendered as accurate representations of historical fleshly bodies, and adult Europeans were smaller in stature in the sixteenth century. When combining the iconographical evidence with organlogical, however, we can feel confident that we are approaching a reconstruction of instruments like those that were used in sixteenth-century France. Additionally, these Micheli viols, without a soundpost/bassbar system, have deeper ribs than our prototype and all have a back that is bent (canted) like the “classical” viol shape. After researching and discussing these instruments, we have agreed that we should use their size, shape, and construction as models for our French consort.
The fact that the French instruments visually resemble these Brescian viols is likely not coincidental. My research has suggested that at least some of the viols and viol players at the French court were imported from Italy in the sixteenth century. This migration was in part due to the 1533 marriage of Catherine de’ Medici to Henri II. I will explore this migration in detail in a future article, but for now I have been piecing together a timeline of the appearance of viols in sixteenth-century France. To whet your appetite as I prepare further research on this topic, the following Valois tapestry depicts three large viols performing at a ball held by Catherine de’ Medici in 1573 at the Tuileries.
Dr. Romey presented a paper entitled “The French Renaissance Viol Consort: Reevaluating the Sources and Reclaiming the Music” at the International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Thought at Sam Houston State University from 4–6 April 2013. During the paper he displayed the first prototype made by John Pringle. His spoken paper has been published as part of the conference proceedings, which are now available:
John Romey, “The French Renaissance Viol Consort: Reevaluating the Sources and Reclaiming the Music,” in News from the Raven: Essays from Sam Houston State University on Medieval and Renaissance Thought, ed. Darci N. Hill (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 317–38.
I am happy to announce that our first prototype has been built! I will be taking the prototype of the first bass to accompany my talk on the project at the Sam Houston State International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Thought from 3–4 April 2013. Many thanks to John Pringle for all of his hard work and dedication in getting this first instrument completed! First photos of the bass below.
The project has been silent for a while but that has not been for lack of progress behind the scenes. I am happy to report that John Pringle has begun reconstructing the first viol for the consort. I will present my first paper on this project at the International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Thought at Sam Houston State University between 4–6 April 2013. There is a possibility that the first viol will be on display to accompany the paper. I also will be working to update the Iconography section of this site in the coming weeks with newly discovered images.
Our website has launched! Check back for news regarding the reconstruction of the consort, upcoming lectures and events, and more!
We are very excited to have some excellent musicians on board with the project! We are in the process of applying for grants to reconstruct four viols with luthier John Pringle. We will begin development of our first viol later this summer.
We have also launched our official Facebook and Twitter pages. Click on the links at the top of any page to like or follow us and stay informed about developments in our project.