lutes with two heads

1. The Two-headed lute

H M Sorgh
Fig 19
Detail from The Lute-Player (1661) by Hendrik Martensz Sorgh (1611-70). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, no. 2213.

The type of lute shown in the illustration (Fig. 19) is sometimes called a theorboed-lute or theorbo-lute. I think this is mistaken. Mace (1676) made it clear that his theorbo-lute was synonymous with his theorbo63 (Fig. 7) not a different insuument. The other half of his Lute Dyphone he called French lute' (Fig. 20) and on p 50 referred to its ‘two heads'.

Mace French lute
Fig 20
The French Lute (with two heads) half of The Lute Dyphone. T. Mace’s Musick’s Monument (London, 1676) p 32

Mace's 'Flat-French' tuning can be deduced by reading p 50, 83, 115, and 190;

Mace’s Flat-French tuning

Thc Burwell Lute Tutor reads 'English Gaultier ...hath caused twoe heads to be made to the Lute. All England hath accepted that Augmentation, and Fraunce at first; but soon after that alteracon hath beene condemned by all the french Masters who are returned to theire own fashion.'64

Jaques Gaultier
Fig 21
Detail of Jacques Gaultier, engraving (c. 1630-33) by Jan Lievens.
We have reversed the print left to right because the original engraving shows the lute with the bass strings on the treble side.

The engraving (Fig.21) of Jacques 'English’ Gaultier, made by Jan Lievens c, 1630-33, shows him holding a two-headed lute.
James Talbot (c.1700) called this type of lute 'English Two Headed Lute' and noted many details about it.65 ‘It has four small Nutts bearing off obliquely (as Theorboe) which carry each two single strings viz 1 bass and its octave string.... The 8 Basses have tbeir upper head lying straight as the Theorboe: the 15 Trebles have the (lower) head bearing back as the Fench Lute of which this seems to be an improvement.' He gave this tuning:

Mace’s French lute tuning

Notice the short stopped string-length, making it quite obvious that the instrument is intended for solo music, The large number of paintings which depict the two headed lute indicate its wide popularity, but very few instruments have survived, and none of these looks wholly convincing:66 some could havc been renecked less than a century ago to sell to collectors.

2. The German baroque lute (? or theorbo)

Schelle baroque lute
Fig 22
German baroque lute (? or theorbo) by Sebastian Schelle (Nuremberg, 1721) Overall length 118cm: 3'10 1/2". Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, no. MIR 902

It is difficult to decide whether the type of lute shown in the illustration (Fig. 22) should be called a lute or a theorbo. Whatever its name, I'm sure it was strung in the normal D minor tuning used for solo music:

D minor tuning

So the lutenist could play solo music on this instrument, But, did he?

The French lute at the end of the 17th century had 11 courses, tuned as above down to the 11th course, with the pegs housed in a single peg-box. Such an instrument. can be seen in the portrait (c 1690) of Charles Mouton.67 When the centre of lute activity shifced from France to Germany towards the end of the century, the new composers wrote for a 13-course instrument, Many existing 11-course lutes were adapted by the addition of a bass rider to house the four extra pegs, or new instruments were made incorporating this second peg-box.68 About the same time a new design was evolved (as in Fig, 22), which gave greater length to the five lowest courses. The earliest instrument of this form that I have noted is dated 1692.69 I have called it the German baroque lute in order to distinguish it from the 11-course French lute and because it appears to have been developed in Leipzig to play German music. There is no historical justification for this, but it seems desirable to have a distinguishing name for ease of reference. An argument in favour of considering these instruments theorbos is that the basses would ring on too long for solo music, whereas this added resonance would be lost in an ensemble. Secondly, Baron (1727) said that: Today the theorbo (Paduanischen Theorben) commonly has the new lute tuning, which our own lute still has, because it was too rnuch trouble for the lutenist to have to suddenly rethink everything when he picked up the old theorbo. Today the theorboes also have double courses except for the basses which are stretched freely to the second peg-bsx, From this Herr Mattheson can see first that the theorbo and lute have never differed except with respect to their size and range, and secondly that tbe lute, because of its delicacy, serves well in trios or other chamber music with few participants. Thr theorbo because of its power, serves best in groups of thirty to forty musicians, as in churches and operas.’70 Already we see arguments here for considering the instrument under discussion a lute. The basses are double, and Schelle himself did make theorbos of traditional l7th-century design with single basses,71 though the string-length of 88.0 cm would have precluded the D minor tuning suggested by Baron. And the long basses would not have been overbearing if they were on the ‘lute’ Baron mentions for the new style of ‘trios or other chamber music'. In fact the length would have been nccessary to supply the volume required by the new extrovert 'galant' style employed in solo music.

Another piece of evidence should be considered.

Adam Falkenhagen
Fig 23
Adam Falkenhagen (1697-c.1765), engraving (c. 1755) from the life by J. W. Stör of Nuremberg

I think it more likely that Falkenhagen would have wished to be depicted as a soloist rather than as an accompanist. His music paper is ruled with six lines for solo tablature, not five lines for continuo bass. A portrait of Christian Gottlieb Scheidlcr dated 1811_1372 Shows him playing a similar instrument.

Perhaps it will be possible to categorize these instruments definitely lutes or theorbos after further discussion, but I take comfort from Praetorius who said when considering the theorbo: 'Since constant changes take place in these various matters, nothing very definite may be stated about them here.'73


I am grateful to Dr Patrick Corran for supplying me with a translation by Miss Karen Viton pf Caps XXVIII and XXXIIII (f.n. 2); to David Nutter for drawing my attention to Conclusioni nel suono dell’ organo (f.n. 37).


Agazzaru, A. 1606 Letter printed in A. Banchieri, Conclusioni nel Suono dell’ organo, op. 20 (Bologna, 1609), p 68-70

Castaldi, B. 1622 Capricci a Due Strumenti (Modena)

Cazzati, M. 1653 Messa e Salmi, op. 14 (Venice)
1656 Sonate a Due Violini col . . . l’Organo et . . . Tiorba, op. 18 (Venice)

Child, W. 1639 The First Set of Psalms . . . with . . . Theorbo (London)

Conserto 1645 Anon Concerto Vago . . . con Liuto Tiorba et Chitarrino (Rome)

Corradi, F. 1616 Le Stravaganza d’Amore . . . Chitarrone (Venice)

Fontana, G. B. 1641 Sonate . . . per . . . Violino et . . . Chitarrone

Giannocelli, B. 1650 Il Liuto (Venice)

Kapsberger, G. G. 1604 Libro Primo . . . di Chitarrone (Venice)
1610 Libro Primo di Villanelle . . . con . . . Chitarrone (Rome)
1612 Libro Primo di Arie Passegiate . . . con . . . Chitarrone (Rome)
1616 Libro Secondo . . . di Chitarrone (Rome)
1619 Libro Terzo di Villanelle . . . con . . . Chitarrone (Rome)
1626 Libro Terzo . . . di Chitarrone (Rome)
1640 Libro Quarto . . . di Chitarrone (Rome)

Laurenzi, F. 1641 Concerti . . . con Chitarrone (Venice)

Mace, T. 1676 Musick’s Monument (London)

Meli, P. P. 1614 Intavolatura di Liuto Attiorbato, Libro 2o (Venice)
1616 Intavolatura di Liuto Attiorbato, Libro 3o (Venice)
1616 Intavolatura di Liuto Attiorbato, Libro 4o (Venice)
1620 Intavolatura di Liuto Attiorbato e di Tiorba, Libro 5o (Venice)

Mersenne, M. 1637 Seconde Partie de L’Harmonie Universelle (Paris)

Notari, A. 1613 Prime Musiche Nuove . . . con la Tiorba (London)

Piccinini, A. 1623 Intavolatura di Liuto e di Chitarrone, Libro 1o (Bologna)
1639 Intavolatura di Liuto [Libro 2o (Bologna)

Pittoni, G. 1669 Intavolatura di Tiorba, op. 1o Sonate da Chiesa (Bologna)
Intavolatura di Tiorba, op. 2o Sonate da Camera (Bologna)

Praetorius, M. 1619 Syntagma Musicum, Tomus 2: De Organographia (Wolfenbüttel)
1620 Theatrum Instrumentorum (Wolfenbüttel)

Rossi, S. 1600 Il Primo Libro de Madrigali a 5 con . . . Chitarrone (Venice)

Saracini, C. 1614 Le Musiche [Libro 1o] (Venice)

Wilson, J. 1657 Psalterium Carolinum . . . set to . . . Theorbo (London)

Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
Part One
Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
Part Two
Chitarrone, Theorbo & Archlute
Part Three
Facsimile version


63 Mace, op. cit., p 207. Back

64 op. cit., f68. Back

65 Prynne, op. cit., pp 55-7. Back

66 a. Luzern-Treibschen. Wagner Museum. no. 2. lute by M. Tieffenbrucker, 1610. see Pohlmann. op. cit., p 297.

b. The Hague, Gemeentmseum. no. Ec. 556-1933 lute by P. Massainin, 1570. Photo in A. Baines. European and American Musical Instruments (London, 1966) no. 172. Neither a. nor b. have the basses stepped as shown in 17th-century paintings.

c. Leipzig. Musikinstrumentenmuseum der Karl Marx Univ. no. 494. ivory lute renecked with two heads. Back

67 by F de Troy, engraved by G Edelinck, illustrated in Early Music, October 1975, p 354. Back

68 Leipzig. Musikinstrumentenmuseum der Karl Marx Univ. no. 497. ‘Thomas Edlinger’ Augsburg, before 8 Oct. 1690, when he died. lute with 2x1, 9x2 stopped strings measuring 77.8cm. 2x2 basses housed in bass rider, 82.2cm. Back

69 Nuremburg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, no. M1 245 ‘Martin Hoffmann . . . Leipzig 1692’, 2x1, 6x2 stopped strings measuring 69.5cm. 5x2 basses measuring 97.5cm. Back

70 Baron op. cit., pp 71, 110. Back

71 Nuremburg, collection F Hellwig. Theorba by Sebastian Schelle of Nuremburg, 1728, with 7 double stopped courses measuring 88.0cm. and 8 single basses of 163.0cm. The soundboard measures 67.8x40.5cm. and has a single rose. Back

72 by Johann Xeller. In Frankfurt a. M. Historischen Museum. illustrated in W Tappert. Sang und klang aus alter zeit (Berlin, 1906). Back

73 Praetorius (1619), op. cit. Back

Arciliuto player c. 1720
Arciliuto player (c. 1720) North Italian School. Photo courtesy of Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd.