7. VIDEO: Goess Theorbo MS 29v/12v/37v

Three pieces in …well, what key shall we call it? On a large Italian theorbo it would be fingered for the key of G, but on a smaller French theorbo it is the key of C…but…at 392 pitch it comes out as Bb! I must admit to being in two or three minds about this whole naming thing.

I imagine most players of the smaller instrument had a larger one too for continuo playing, and would “just pretend” the keys are the same if the fingering is the same. It makes life easier, and if you are not accompanying anyone, what’s the problem? So G it is.

There is an assumption that the smaller théorbe was never used for accompanying, only solos, but was this really the case? If a singer popped around to your 17th-century Parisian apartment for a glass of Pernod and a blether, and after a drink or two decided a song would not go amiss, would you not accompany her on the only lute in your room, a théorbe de pièces? Surely any self-respecting theorbist or luthiste of the day would improvise with the instrument to hand?

If that is the case, then identifying the fingering with the actual agreed name it sounds at would make sense. So, these three pieces are in C! We’ll set aside the modern problem of 392 pitch! C it is!

I will now have to learn to play figured bass for the pitch of this instrument….always something to keep me busy!

Just a word in general about my videos and sound files: I regard myself an amateur in the truest if old-fashioned sense of the word: I love the music, but do not make a living from performing or making CDs. I’m an explorer, and every performance is only a snapshot of how I was playing at any given moment in time. These are not “final statements” of interpretation, so tomorrow I might play them very differently. And yes, I make mistakes – it’s very authentic to do so! Let’s not assume every amateur in 17th-century Paris was a virtuoso…then we are on safer ground 🙂 But mostly I do this for enjoyment, and am happy to share my findings.

PS You can download the Goess Theorbo Manuscript from HERE.

Rob MacKillop
South Queensferry
April, 20121