Instruments and Instrumental Music

  October 18, 2021   Read time 3 min
Instruments and Instrumental Music
The 16th century inherited from its predecessors a bewildering variety of instruments, most of which it continued to use, pending the time when experience should determine which contained the largest artistic possibilities.

The keyboard instruments - the organ, clavichord, harpsichord and their relatives - stood in a class by themselves, having obvious capacity for concerted effects. The remaining forms were small and portable, representing the standard stringed, wind and percussive groups. These were utilized .variously, and the artistic importance of some of them, especially the lute and the viol, were nlore and more perceived.

Virdung's Musica getutscht (1511) is an invaJuable source on this sub.. ject near the opening of the century, giving both descriptions and woodcuts. His list includes, besides the keyboard instruments (omitting the harpsichord proper), in the stringed group, the lyra (hurdy-gurdy), two forms of lute, two viols (tenor and bass), harp, psaltery, hackbrett (dulcimer) and trurnscheit (nun's-fiddle); in the wind group, the schahney and bornbarde (oboes), several varieties of flute or recorder, zinken, cromornes and other horns, bagpipes, trumpet, clarion and trombone ; and among percussives, drums and some nondescript forms. Other similar sources are Agricola's Musica instrul1zcntalis (1528) and, about a century after Virdung, Pratorius' Syntagma musicum (1615-9), which latter is the most elaborate of all.

The lute was the characteristic instrument of the period, since it gave opportunity for concerted effects and for variety of force and color. Much pains were taken with its construction. All kinds of music were arranged for it, most musicians sought proficiency in playing it, and socially it was more fashionable than any other instrument. That it contributed powerfully to the awakening of a taste for true instrumental composition is obvious, but its mechanical limitations were such that gradually it was supplanted by the viol, though it continued in some vogue till the 18th century.

Its essential features were an oval or pear-shaped body, flat in front and vaulted behind, strengthened within by a soundpost under the bridge and by one or more longitudinal soundbars, the belly being pierced by J -3 carefully shaped and located soundholes and bearing the bridge (usually placed obliquely and to one side) to which the lower ends of the strings were fastened; a neck of varying width and length, with a fretted fingerboard, and a head, either flat, curved or bent sharply back, containing the tuning-pegs; usually about 13 strings of gut or wire, of which the uppermost or chanterelle was . single, but the others tuned in pairs, the lower pairs being sometimes carried off at the side of the fingerboard and used without stopping. The customary sizes varied greatly, from the little , chiterna,' with but 4 strings, up to the big 'theorbo,' 'archlute' and 'chitarrone', all properly with a double or extended neck and head and 20-24 strings. The accordatura or method of 'tuning varied somewhat, with a range of 3-4 octaves or even more. The tone, produced by twanging with the finger-tips, was incisive and slightly nasal, but was capable of fine gradations in skillful hands. Dexterous players got good FIG. 54. - Italian Lute. effects in melodies with accompaniment, in chordsequences and even in polyphonic passages. (The modern derivatives of the lute are the guitar and the mandolin, the latter most resembling it in shape.)

The viol was not yet as much valued as the lute, chiefly because incapable of concerted effects, but its unique singingtone was appreciated and its possibilities were being diligently studied. Late in the century several varieties had become distinct, including the true violin.. Brescia and Cremona in Lombardy were already the headquarters of the best manufacture. But the full development of viol music was delayed until the 17th century.

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