Two lutes in one

16 Apr

The theorbo in action

One of the beauties of travel is that you sometimes stumble into things that there’s not a even a whisper of a chance you would have ever done under normal circumstances. Like, say, attend an after-hours concert at an archaeological museum on a whim.

I was browsing through the museum in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, when a woman stopped me to tell me that there was going to be a free concert after the museum closed. It was almost time for the show to start, and everything else was closing anyway, so why not?

The premise was rather nice: they took the small and entirely Italian audience through five rooms of the museum, explained some of the pieces, then explained and played pieces of music that were thematically related. At least, that seemed to be the gist – it was all in Italian and I only picked up words like “contrast” every now and then.

The definite highlight was two pieces played on the theorbo (tiorba in Italian), which is basically a bass lute grafted onto a regular lute. From what I can tell online, they’re not usually quite as big as this one – this guy must have a very roomy apartment to practice in – but they do usually have 14 strings or more. I’m not a musician, but I know that takes a lot of skill to manage that much at once. Even better, these things have been around since the 1600’s, which means that the concept of double-necked instruments was around way before heavy metal!


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