Thursday, February 04, 2010

An Anglo Saxon Lyre

Here is a video of an unusual instrument. This lyre is a copy of the Sutton Hoo Lyre.

Here is some more information about Anglo Saxon Lyres.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Tromba Marina (Trumpet Marine)

"I cannot help but laugh at this unearthly instrument" -Heinrich Glarean

The trumpet marine isn't very trumpetlike in appearance. It's a long instrument with only one string. It's not even blown like a trumpet, yet it sounds kind like a trumpet. This neat trick is accomplished by playing the harmonics of the string, similar to the way a bugle or natural horn plays notes from the harmonic series. It also has a loosely fitted, buzzing bridge. This gives the trumpet marine an unexpected, brassy sound.

See Tromba for additional information and sound samples.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Lady with a Theorbo by John Michael Wright (from the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio)

The Theorbo is a type of lute with a long neck extension and two pegboxes. It was developed in the late sixteenth century to provide an extended bass range and a loud sound, especially for accompanying singers and other instrumentalists. It was sometimes paired with a small pipe organ for the performance of basso continuo. The theorbo is also called the chitarrone.

See also:

Daniel Zapica plays Kapsberger on the Theorbo

The Theorbo Information Page

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Very Ancient Flutes Found in Germany

Archaeologists say they have discovered the world's oldest undisputed musical instruments, four flutes made from vulture bone and mammoth tusks. They are estimated to be around 35,000 to 40,000 years old and were found in a cave in southwestern Germany.

The flutes made of mammoth ivory are a bit of a surprise, due to the difficulties of working the material. Bird bone is a much easier material to use for making flutes.

This is just another example of the evidence which shows that early modern humans in Europe during the last ice age were artistically expressive. This is shown by cave paintings and other artifacts and now we know this also included music.

See also this article on the NPR website, where you can hear a recording of a replica of a vulture bone flute.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Small Gallery of Lute Artwork

The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi
Lute Painting

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger

Jester With a Lute by Frans Hals

The Lute Player by Caravaggio

Woman Playing the Lute by Johannes Mijtens

Die fünf Sinne by Lubin Baugin

The above pictures are all believed to be in the public domain.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Quick Links About Unusual Instruments

Here are just a few items that caught my attention lately.

Visit the Symphonic House.
Play the virtual Hapi drum. (Just click the notes to play.)
See The Saw Lady.
Take a tour of this collection of unusual instruments.
Read about Five Intriguingly Unique Musical Instruments.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Unusual Keyboard Layouts

The modern piano keyboard, with twelve keys per octave, has become so commonplace that we aren't used to seeing alternative versions. The modern keyboard is simple and efficient, but it is far from the only possibility. Imagine practicing scales on this keyboard with thirty-six keys per octave, spread over two manuals.


The above picture is a modern version of Nicolo Vicentino's sixteenth century extended meantone harpsichord, the archicembalo. It is just one example of the various keyboards that had more than twelve keys per octave, so the performer could choose intervals that were more purely tuned for the key he was playing in. (Our modern twelve tone equal temperament uses equally spaced intervals that are different from purely tuned intervals to make it easier to modulate from key to key.)

This tradition has continued to the present. Computers and electronic keyboards make it easier to experiment in microtonal(anything other than twelve tone equal temperament) tunings, ranging from the historical to the exotic to the highly experimental. Alternate keyboard layouts for acoustic instruments also continue to be made as can be seen in the following pictures.

22 Key per Octave Just Intonation Harpsichord

Enharmonic Pipe Organ

See also:

The Instrument Gallery page at H-Pi Instruments
My microtonal music blog

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bach's Forgotten Horn, the Lituus

What in the world is a lituus? Apparently, it's an instrument, but we don't have any surviving examples of it. We don't even have any pictures of it. About all we know is that Johann Sebastian Back called for two of them in his cantata, “O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht”. Well, that isn't good enough for some people. The lituus has been recreated with the help of some advanced software. Click here to read the story and to hear the lituus in performance.