Greetings! I have some lovely early music for you on this final Sunday of February—which means of course, that the month of duets on Early Music Sunday is drawing to a close.
Our final duet is quite intriguing, & that’s one reason I had no qualms about posting a piece that was posted not that long ago in solo performance, namely Kapsberger’s “Toccata Arpeggiata.” We had the pleasure of listening to David Tayler’s version of it as a theorbo solo back in mid January, & I’d refer people who are interested in background on Kapsberger & the piece itself to that post. What I’d like to focus on in today’s text portion is one of the instruments in this duet performance, because it’s unusual even in early music circles.
The instrument is the lirone, the bass member of the lira family of instruments, hence related to the (slightly better known?) lira da braccio, which is a descendant of the medieval vielle, a proto-violin. The lira da braccio is held on the shoulder, not exactly in the way a modern violinist holds her/his instrument, but in the ballpark. According to Wikipedia, the lira da braccio “was used by Italian poet-musicians in court in the 15th and 16th centuries to accompany their improvised recitations of lyric and narrative poetry.” Again according to Wikipedia, the lirone was devloped in the 16th century as a bass version, to be used in continuo playing, & played “da gamba”—held between the knees like a cello or viola da gamba. The lirone could have as many as 16 gut strings!
In today’s video, the lirone is being played by Lucas Guimaraes Peres, a Brazilian native who re-located to the European continent to pursue his interest in early music. I do note that his website doesn’t list any performances since 2007, & there is very little information about him online. In Wikipedia’s article on the lirone, it notes that there are very few musicians who play the instrument, & he is not one of the “notable performers” cited in the article.
The theorbo is played by master lutenist Eric Bellocq, whose website is here (in an English version), & who also has the YouTube channel MMEBellocq, where you can find some other excellent early music performances, & some fun items as well—such as a snippet of bossa nova on the Renaissance lute!
This recording is from a performance at Souvigny in October 2006. It’s a beautiful piece of music beautifully rendered—enjoy!
Just as there aren't many lirone players, there aren't many images of the instrument. The image above is from Wiki Commons, is derived from a German postage stamp, & is marked by Wiki Commons as being in the public domain. Image links to its source.