The word tiorba first appears in print, to my knowledge, in 1598, when John Florio included it in his Italian-English dictionary, A Worlde of Wordes. Some modern books quote its inclusion in the 1544 inventory of the Accademia Filarmonica, Verona, though I suspect Una tiorba was added at the end of the century. (Short of going to Verona and examining the manuscript I can see no way of resolving my doubts.) Certainly there seems to be no musical need for a tiorba until at least the mid-1570s, when the Camerata were experimenting with their nuove musiche. Mersenne (1637) says that it was invented in Florence 'thirty or forty years ago' by le Bardella,9 i.e. Antonio Naldi, whom Caccini also praised for his continuo realizations.10 From c.1600 the tiorba was considered synonymous with the chitarrone. It is named in printed music from 1600 until the 18th century. Solo music in tablature was printed by Meli in 1614, 1620; and by Castaldi in 1622. This latter book contains a portrait of Castaldi (Fig. 4) playing his tiorba, which is seen to be single-strung and to have a single rose in the soundboard, a possible distinction from the chitarrone also depicted by Praetorius (1620).
Figs 4, 5 & 6
Left: Bellerofonte Castaldi with his tiorba from his Capricci a Due Stromenti (Modena, 1622)P 28v
Centre: Tiorba (? or chitarrone) by Wendelio Venere (Padua, 1611) overall length 140cm; 4' 71/8. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, no. SAM 43.
Right: Geronimo Valeriani, lutenist to the Duke of Modena by Lodovico Lana (l597-1646). Photo courtesy of Sotheby, Parkc Bernet & Co.
Detail from A Musical Company by Gysbert van der Kuyl (d. 1673,). Photo courtesy of Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co.
He added the correction that his engraving of a tuorbe (Fig. 16) should be called arciliuto, and that the tiorbe was larger and single-strung. Castaldi wrote duets for the tiorba to play with the tiorbino, tuned an octave higher; and in 1645 was printed the anonymous Conserto Vaga for 11-course tiorba, liuto and chitarrino. Both these works were written out in tablature.
Detail from Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, holding a theorbo (c. 1620) attributed to John dc Critz (1555-1641). Penshurst Place, Kent.
In the well-known portrait (c. l620) of Mary Sidney (Fig, 8) she is holding a 13-course single-strung theorbo closely rcsembling that illustrated by Praetorius. Walter Porter's Madrigales (1652) call for Theorbos', followed by Child's (1639) and Wilson's (1657) Psalms, A number of manuscript collections of songs with tablature for theorbo have also survived.20 In 1652 John Playford printed the first of his collections of Ayres 'to sing to the Theorbo'. Almost every song book until the end of the century called for the 'theorbo' or 'theorbo-lute.21 Samuel Pepys the diarist played the theorbo, calling it interchangeably 'theorbo' or lute'. On 9 October 1661 he wrote,'put my theorbo out to be mended'. On 25 October, saw my lute, which is now almost done, it being to have a new neck to it and to be made to double strings'. On 28 October, my Theorbo done ..., and costs me 26s. to the altering. But he now tells me it is as good a lute as any is in England, and is worth well £10. On the subject of value, theorbos cost about £15 right through the l7th Century.22 Pepys wrote on 15 November 1667, 'we did play, he [Pelham Humfrey, lately returned from France] on the theorbo, Mr Caesar on his French lute, and I on the viol, but made but mean musique, nor do I see that this Frenchman' do so much wonders on the theorbo'.
Thomas Mace (1676) gave instructions for playing solo and continuo on a theorbo tuned thus:
At least 7 courses were on the fingerboard. He added that some players lower the second course an octave if the theorbo is very large, and that smaller theorbos should be tuned a tone higher, in A.23
The theorbo half ofThe Lute Dyphone. T. Mace, Musick's Monument (London. 1676) p 32.
His engraving (Fig. 9) of The Lute Dyphone shows the distinctive pegbox peculiar to some English theorbos, which allowed basses to increase in length as they lowered in pitch. I know of no surviving instrument of this type, but see Lady with a theorbo (Frontispiece) painted by J. M. Wright c.1680. This theorbo seems to have 11 courses, of which 4 are unstopped. All are double, except the first. James Talbot (c. 1700) gave this tuning for an 'English Double Theorboe':
and this tuning for an 'English Single Theorboe':
He said both could have either 9 or 10 frets on the neck, and gave many variants of octave or unison double-stringing.24
Returning to music for the theorbo, about 1650 John Wilson wrote out solos in every key for a 12 course instrument with only the first course tuned to the lower octave. Of the tablature song accompaniments in the same manuscript, 36 indicate a theorbo tuned in G, and only 5 in A.25 Perhaps Henry Lawes was referring to the outlandish keys of the solos when he wrote:
That thou hast gone, in Musick, unknown wayes,
Hast cut a path where there was none before,
Like Magellan traced an unknown shore.26
Thomas Mace printed a long Fancy-Praelude, or Voluntary; Sufficient Alone to make a Good Hand, Fit for All manner of Play, or Use. About the mid 1680s the theorbo was gradually replaced for song accompaniment by the harpsichord, probably because it could not cope as well with the new melodic importance given to the bass by composers like Purcell. The advertisement which appeared in the Flying Post of 8 February 1701--J. Hare offers for sale 'a large Consort Theorbo Lute"27 ---was perhaps indicative of the disuse into which the theorbo had fallen. However, in 1707 Walsh printed A Complete Method for ... Thorough Bass upon ... Thaorbo-Lute, by ... Godfrey Keller, though in a later edition 'Theorbo-Lute was replaced by 'Arch Lute'. In the same year Francesco Conti played 'upon his Great Theorbo' in London.28 Handel wrote parts for teorba or theorba in his London productions of Giulio Cesare (1724), Partenope (1730), Esther (1752), and Saul (1739).
One silent musical use of the theorbo was recorded in the Burvell Lute Tutor (c.1660-72): in a Consort one beates it [time] with the motion of the necke of the Theorbo, and every one must have the eye upon it and follow in playing his motion and keepe the same time with the other players.29
The théorbe (tuorbe) was probably introduced into France c.1650 by Nicholas Hautman (Fig. 11), who died in 1663.30
Nicolas Hautman (d. 1663), engraving by Samuel Bernard (1615-87).
There is mention of its use in Mauduit's concerts of c. 1610,31 but then nothing until Mersenne (1637). Presumably the théorbe was rare in France at that time because Mersenne's well-known picture (Fig. 16) is in fact of an arciliuto, as he took pains to point out later in the book. In the text he described the Tuorbe Pratiqué à Rome as having 14 courses singly strung in A, with the first two courses tuned down an octave. In 1647 Constantijn Huygens sent the manuscript of his Pathodia Sacra et Profana to Ballard the printer in Paris. The songs then had a tablature accompaniment for theorbo, but Ballard persuaded Huygens to replace this with a figured bass that could be used by keyboard players.32 Presumably there were few theorbists in France then. Part of his own theorbo can be seen in a portrait of Huygens dated 1627 (Fig. 12)
Detail of Constantijn Huygens (1627) by Thomas de Keyser (1596/7-1667). London, National Gallery, no. 212.
From 1660 a number of continuo tutors were printed.33 In 1668 B. de Bacilly had printed his Trois Livres d'airs with a figured bass 'pour le Theorbe'. Six important tablature manuscripts of solo music survive for théorbe.34 This solo music may have heen played on a smaller instrument than that used for continuo. Talbot gave details of two sizes of French Theorbo.35 First was the normal accompanying instrument, tuned as Mersenne's, to which were attached the names Crevecoeur and Dupre, who supplied Talbot with his information and instruments to measure. Unfortunately he gave no measurements for this theorbo, but we do know that in 1703 a 'Mr Dupre, Lute Master has set up a School ... [in LondonJ where he teaches to play ... the Theorbo in Consort', and there was benefit concert for him the following year.36 A 12 course instrument of this type is shown in Puget's painting of 1687 (see cover). Of the fingered courses the first is single, and six are double in unison. The five diapasons are doubled at the octave. The second of Talbot's instruments is called lesser French Theorbo for Lessons' and he gave a tuning a 4th higher than that for playing thorough-bass:
He added that a French Theorboe may have 10 Frets' and that Crevecoeur told him that the 'Fr. single [strungl Theorboe ... [isj Fitter for Thorough Bass than Arch Lute, its Trebles being neither below the voice nor Instrs in Consort, as Arch Lute'. I confess I can make little sense of this, since the archlute was tuned only one tone lower than the thorough-bass theorbo, and its first rwo courses were not lowered the octave, Perhaps Crevecoeur was recommending the lesser French theorbo (tuned in D) for continuo work, and Talbot failed to grasp the distinction. Or, more likely, he has muddled the reason for preferring the theorbo. In 1701 Sauveur gave the standard A tuning for a 14 course Theorbe, the first two courses down the octave, adding that pour les Pièces (solos) the theorbe should have 10 frets, but only 9 pour jouer la Basse continüe.37 On further reflection I think the instrument in Watteau's Charmes de la Vie, c.1719 (Early Music, April 1976, p. 166) is probably a théorbe pour les pièces. In 1716 De Visée printed many of his theorbe pieces en partition, dessus et Basse for harpsichord or violin and bass-viol, because he said so few could read tablature.38 In the same year Campion the theorbist called tablature pernicieuse in his Traité d'Accompagnement.39
Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
9 M. Mersenne, Seconde Partie de lHarmonie Universelle: Livre septiesme des instrumens (Paris, 1637), P 77: Page 45 & 46 &c j'ay nomme la seconde figure à main droit Tuorbe, que les Italiens appellent Arciliuto, & qui doit plustost estre appellé Luth a double manche, parce qu'outre que le Tiorbe est beacoup plus grand, il n'a qu'une chorde à chaque rang, & n'y a que trente ou quarante ans que le Bardella linuenta à Florence. Back
17 Maldon, Essex. Plume's Library, pocket book no. 25, f.92V: Inigo Jones first br. ye Theorbo in. Engl. circa an 605. at Dover it w. thought sm Engn br, fro Pop. cuntris to destr. ye K & He & it sent up to Cn. Tabl'. Back
20 a. London, B.L. E.g. 2015 ?c 1650). Songs with 11-course theorbo tuned in both A and G: 7th course fingered.
30 S.de Brossard, Dictionaire de Musique (Paris, 1703). Theorbo: . . . depuis environ 50 ou 60 ans succedé au Luth pour jouer les basses-Continües. . . On prétend que cest le Sieur Hotteman . . . qui en a été LInventeur en France. Back
33 a. N. Fleury, Methode pour apprendre . . .le Theorbe (PARIS, 1660); facsimile ed, Minkoff (Geneva, 1972). 14-course théorbe in A.
34 a. New York. Pierpoint Morgan MS. 17,524. Tablature for 14-course théorbe, by Hurel.
38 R. De Visée, Piéces de Theorbe et de Luth, mises en partition, dessus et Basse (Paris, 1716). Avertissement . . . le nombre de ceux qui entendent la tablature est si petit. . . le but de cette impression est le clavesin, la viole et le violin. . . . Back
39 F. Campion, Traité dAccompagnement, op.2 (Paris 1716), p 24. Je dirae ici que lusage de la Tablature dabc, est pernicieuse pour ceux qui veulent fair quelques progrés sur le Théorbe. . . . He also noted on p 7, Il y a une manièretoute particulière de faire ces octaves sur le Théorbe . . . qui est linvention de seu M.de Maltot mon Predecesseur en lAcademie Royale de Musique. Back