New sound of viola da gamba debuts at Early Music Festival

Musicroom November 11, 2011 0

The Greenwich International Early Music Festival is to debut the first proper sound of a viola da gamba in more than 300 years.

All recreations of the instrument have been using the wrong type of wood, it has emerged, presenting an entirely different sound to what the original would have sounded like.

Early music instrument maker Shem Mackey discovered after studying the earliest version of the viol that it was in fact made of a timber called Cedrela odorata, which today is used to make cigar boxes, the Guardian reported.

All other attempts to make modern versions of the instrument have believed the original was made out of mahogany.

“The more I looked at it, the less it looked to me like mahogany, but I thought I must be going mad. I took hundreds of photographs showing the grain in microscopic detail, and when I got back to my own workshop compared them to every piece of timber I could lay hands on,” Mr Mackey told the news provider.

It will be performed at the festival at the Old Royal Naval College in London by Ibrahim Aziz. He will play pieces by Marin Marais and Christopher Simpson that were specially composed for the instrument.

The earliest version of the seven-string viol is displayed at the Musée de la Musique in Paris. It is in pieces, although all of the sections still survive. Made in 1683, it is regarded as an important instrument in the development of French baroque music.

According to Mr Mackey, the instrument sounds like a flute when the higher notes are played. It has also been built as an exact replica to the 17th century Michel Colichon version.

Quite different from the violin family, the viola da gamba are tuned in fourths, similar to the six-string guitar.