Lirone... or lira da gamba ...
 Lira da gamba  



The authenticity of surviving originals and it's reconstruction as a continuo playing instrument

Nowadays is in instrument called "lirone" very popular amoung viol players and it seems that everybody plays on it but nobody own one (or a real one) since most of the time is lira da gamba confused with lirone: there are two different instruments.


Beeing my first language Italian I can tell that the name lirone is synonymus of a larger instrument like violone, chitarrone etc. If somebody plays on a tenor viol will not call it violone and if somebody is using to produce music a renaissance tenor lute will not call it chitarrone. But a tenor sized instrument with a string length of about 54-55 cm is nowadays called LIRONE - for most viol players seems to be the term lira da gamba not enough fascionable... lirone sounds like something more poetical ; and still more: it's known that Renaissance instruments were of larger size than baroque. By the way Praetorius in his Syntagma Musicum tell us that Italian lyra "is constructed in the fashion of a bass viol, except that the body and the neck are rather broather because of the great number of strings... The lyra is capable to play any music at all - madrigals or whatever,chromatic or diatonic; it has a most beautiful sound."

A spontaneous question comes already from the authenticity of nowadays Renaissance bowed instruments: since from 16th century almost anything has survived - some instruments from Gasparo da Salò, but several of them seems not to be original - we can announce with big pleasure that the Museum of Leipzig own not one but 3 lirones or similar: one lirone da spalla and 2 lira da gamba. Those instruments are nowadays considered the real original and historical instrument to make a copy of them.We don't have any document providing informations about that the two surviving instruments from Museum in Leipzig have ever been a lirone but just a 6-string viola da gamba (if original !) later converted in cello. On the other side we can proove that those instruments were converted in lira da gamba a century ago. The three instruments in question are:

no. 780: Lirone da braccio from Ventura di Francesco Linarolo, In Venetia. 1577 . According to Georg Kinsky - responsible of the Musikhistorisches Museum von Wilhelm Heyer in Cöln is the mentioned lira the only one historical instrument from the collection "(Originalinstrument); ein Unicum und das historisch wertvollste Streichinstrument des Museums". (pag. 115 ,Kleiner Katalog der Sammlung Alter Musikinstrumente, Cöln 1913); Also for Dr. Paul Rubardt is this instrument the only one original "(Nr.780) ein Originalinstrument und als solches ein Unicum!" ( pag. 17, Führer durch das Musikinstrumenten-Museum der Karl-Marx-Universität Leipzig)

no. 782 : Lira da gamba from Antonius Brensius Bonon. 1592. According to G. Kinsky is the instrument rubuilt in lira from a cello and that the tailpiece, fingerboard, neck and pegbox are later work " Das vorlieg. Instrument war ehemals zu einem Violoncello umgearbeit; Saitenhalter, Griffbrett, Hals und Wirbelkasten mußten daher ergänzt werden." ( pag. 419, Musikhistorisches Museum von Wilhelm Heyer in Cöln, Katalog von Georg Kinsky,Cöln 1912)

no. 783: Lira da gamba from D. Francesco q. Gaspar da Sa-/lò, in Brescia. According again to Kinsky is this instrument build in the same way and with the same characteristic as the previous mentioned instrument from A. Brensius " Bauart und Ausstattung des Instrument zeigen dieselben Characteristika wie die vorhergehende 'lira da gamba' von Antonio Brensio" and still that the tailpiece and pegbox are like that from no.782 modern work with nice carving in late Renaissance style " Saitenhalter und Wirbelkasten sind, da die Lyra ebenso wie No. 782 zu einem Violoncello umgearbeit war, moderne Ergänzung und mit hübschen Schnitzereien im Spätrenaissance-Stil verziert." (pag.419). René Vannes says that the this instrument seems to be made by Antonio Brensio because the building is so similar "Cet instrument semble avoir étè costruit par Antonio Brensio de Bologne tant la facture est semblable." (Dictionnarie Universel del Luthiers, Bruxelles 1951)

Both of the above mentioned instrument are made in exactly same way. It looks like that both of makers kept a strong relationship and were in strict contact and when the first one made a lirone, for sure Antonius Brensius (XVI century in Bologna), send immediately the drawing to Francesco Bertolotti (1565 - between 1615 and 1624) who lived in Brescia.

Francesco is the first son of more known brescian maker Gasparo Bertolotti known as Gasparo da Salò and for those who cannot read latin (a lot of lirone makers are nowadays rebuilding the no. 783 lirone as made by Gasparo and players do it the same ) has the letter q. on the label the meaning of quondam which means already... Francesco, son of Gaparo and not opposite. Both instruments have 13 strings (11 on the fingerboard and 2 drones) and flat belly. Both of them have pegs one close to the other: if you turn one peg you cannot turn the other. Of course for the private collection and later museum is probably that enough.

It's very curious that till about 10 years ago the only one real lirone was considered the instrument from Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna made in Padova by Vendelinus Tieffenbrucker but recently considered fake both instrument and label "Gefälschte Lira da gamba "(pag. 58, Imke David, Die sechzehn Saiten der italienische Lira da gamba, 1999) and for this reason put aside; on the other side is in the same book considered real lira da gamba the instrument labelled Gasparo da Salò "Abb. 23 Lira da gamba/ Gasparo da Salo zugeschrieben, Brescia ca.1612" (pag. 55) How can be that original since Gasparo da Salò alredy died the 14/4/1609 !

The above mentioned instruments (no. 782 and no. 783) are at the present moment part of the Misikinstrumentenmuseum der Universität Leipzig in Germany. Both of them are coming from a personal collection of musical instruments owned by Paul de Wit (Maastricht 1852- Leipzig 1925), a Dutchman whos career should be a wine trade. His love for music (cello player and also gamba in cello-way with end pin) bring him to Leipzig where he founded a periodical - Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau - of his own devoted to musical instrument manufacture. De Wit start to collect instrument all over Europe and because of poor conditions of many of them set up himself a reapir workshop. Here the collected instruments were put into playing conditions by his father-in-low Herman Seyffarth (1846 - 1933). Liepzig is the place where the two lirones were built for sure not in Bologna nor in Brescia.

How could an instrument like those from Leipzig support a pressure of 13-14 strings which has to be calculated on about 100 kg. Those instruments have both a flat belly which is comparing to an arched one (like an ordinary bowed instrument) much more fragile. Supposing that the instrument has to keep the above mentioned tension (and even without soundpost) which means that has to be made very strong and thick. That's what most of makers nowadys doing and the result is a very quiet lirone which has usually a sound like a real mosquito (even with very high tuning) . That's not what this instrument should be.

..."chi suona lirone, deue tirare l'arcate lunghe, chiare, e sonore"... who plays a lirone have to use long bowing, clear and strong sounding (Agostino Agazzari, Del sonare sopra 'l basso, Siena 1607) which confirms that lirone is a sounding instrument not just sonething to be used for recording next to the mic just to have special effect: that's unfortunately today's use of the instrument.

Having a look to the State's Archive in Venice we can easly see that lirone was owned by several noble and also ordinary Venician citizen in the ealy 16th century Italy. So we can know from the inventory that in 10.06.1529 Ms. TIRETTA Lucietta di Gerolamo dott. e nobile tarvisino have "quatro lironi, cinque viole di piú sorte..." four lirones, five viols of different sizes and still in 26.01.1533 that Mr. CARAVELLO Vincenzo owns " do liron zoè instrumenti de sonar" two lirones namely instrument to play, in 03.09.1540 Mr. SEREN Marco Aurelio owns "uno lauto picolo et uno liron cum la sua vazina de cuoro" une small lute and one lirone with leather's case.

Also the bow should be much longer than an ordinary viol bow from snakewood which kills all overtones and the effect which is increased by sympathetic vibrations of the strings. "la Lira in se stessa ama l'arco longo, acciò si possa lireggiare meglio" the lira need to have a long bow to play it in a better way. (Francesco Rognoni, Selva di varii passaggi, Milano 1620). For this reason has to be the lirone built without soundpost.

Being myself an indipendent builder of historical instruments I always prefer to go straight to the source rather than listening others and/or copy instruments that are without any historical base or even worse since they have been made a century ago. Unfortunately talking about the lira family instruments we are still very far to use them in the correct way. About those instruments we are still more than 100 years behind since even at the beginning of the 20th century nobody would call lirone a small lira da gamba and also Francesco was not Gaparo.

How clever was Paul de Wit with making such fake instruments and how good was his business with reselling them.



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