Music,  Research

Esoteric strings

Last week I talked about the Regency pianofortes I saw at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Here are a few more intriguing items from their collection of musical instruments.

violadamoreMy daughters play violin, so they were wondering about this. It looks like a violin or viola but instead of the usual four strings, it has twelve! It turns out it’s a viola d’amore, which can have twelve or fourteen strings. The top set are played in similar fashion to a regular violin or viola; the lower set vibrates sympathetically.

The viola d’amore was popular in the Baroque period. It probably wasn’t played much during the Regency, except perhaps at Concerts of Ancient Music put on by the London Concert Society (1776-1848).

Here’s the Vivaldi Concerto for viola d’amore and lute with soloists Enrico Onofri and Luca Pianca. The viola d’amore comes in at about 1:10. I love this performance!

lyreguitarThis beautiful instrument is a lyre guitar, circa 1810, clearly showing the classical influence popular during the Regency. The plaque dismissively calls it a “fad” but a Regency heroine could definitely have played one. In this video, John Doan provides a history of the instrument, illustrated with some period portraits. At around 2:50 you can hear him play.

ditalharpThis instrument was labeled the dital harp, circa 1820. I’ve also seen it called a harp/lute. This is another instrument that could have been played by a Regency lady. I was able to find this charming video of Sarah Deere-Jones singing a popular Regency song, “The Last Rose of Summer”, in Regency garb, and accompanying herself with a Regency era harp/lute. Enjoy!

Did any of you know about these instruments before? Do you have any favorite unusual instruments?


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Isobel Carr
9 years ago

Since I grew up doing a lot of Medieval and Renaissance re-enacting, I’ve always wanted to play the lute (though clearly not enough to actually go buy one, LOL!).

Gail Eastwood
9 years ago

Given the Regency fascination with ancient times, these hybrid instruments make sense. And they are pretty fascinating themselves, not to mention inventive . Thanks so much for finding the videos so we can hear as well as see them, Elena. Great post!

P.S. to Isobel –SCA? Me too.

Lesley A.
Lesley A.
9 years ago

Beautiful post, Elena! I have always loved classical music and enjoy learning about music history as well. The videos were informative and inspiring! My heroine might one day pick up a lyre guitar! You’ve also given me some good writing music for NaNoWriMo!

Thanks for sharing the wonderful music!

Louisa Cornell
9 years ago

Fantastic post, Elena! And while the guitars may have been a fad during the Regency many young ladies learned to play and there were broadsheets published noting songs performed with guitar accompaniment.

Louisa Cornell
9 years ago
Reply to  Elena Greene

That is a distinct possibility, Elena. I will let you know as I am doing more research on the musical education of young ladies during the Regency in the hope I might be asked to give my workshop at the next Beau Monde Mini Conference.


[…] to the MFA – she didn’t, but if you haven’t read her posts on Regency Pianos and Esoteric Strings, you […]

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