During the Renaissance and Baroque period there was a large variety of plucked instruments, from the small cittern to lutes with voluminous sound boxes. In Florence, one instrument in particular had a special status, namely the chitarrone. In the Florentine Camerata of Count Giovanni de’ Bardi between 1573 and 1587, singers and poets came together for discussion and music making. Whilst there, they also developed a new singing style, the recitative, in which the text was central. The chitarrone was the instrument of choice to accompany these monodic songs. From the 1600s, the term chitarrone was replaced by “theorbo”.
A striking feature of the instrument is its long neck with bass strings. This allowed the music to be performed with a wide range of tones and the instrument’s repertoire could be expanded. As a result, theorbo players were soon promoted from accompanists to soloists. With their versatile instrument – in the musical sense that is, it being a large, clumsy hazard on a stage – virtuosi were able to display all their skills. Famous specialists on the theorbo (and lute) at that time were Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580-1649) and Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651).
Castaldi spent most of his life in Modena and Venice. He could make ends meet with income from his estate and could spend his time freely on the arts. He must have been a colourful, free-spirited figure. His work for the theorbo is some of the most flamboyant of his time, with lively rhythms, imitative counterpoint and frequently scattered dissonances. Cecchina corrente is a movement from the collection Capricci a 2 stromenti cioè tiorba e tiorbino e per sonar solo varie sorti di balli e fantasticarie (Modena, 1622), which he illustrated with his own engravings.
The most famous and productive of the lute virtuosi was Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger. This son of an Austrian colonel and nobleman was likely born in Venice and followed his musical career in Italy also. As early as 1605, he lived in Rome where he organised academies, known as the Wonders of Rome. Not only did he write music for his own instrument, but he also composed villanelles, madrigals, motets and veritable musical spectacles for the papal circles. For over thirty years, he was in the service of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII. He was a central figure in the development of the theorbo as a solo instrument. His playing style was notable for its passages with arpeggios, unusual rhythms and ornamentations.
Adriaan Lauwers also plays music for Baroque guitar by other Italian and Spanish composers.
The Italian Giovanni Paolo Foscarini (fl. 1627-1649) was the star among guitarists and performed in Brussels, Paris, Rome and Venice. His nickname ‘Il Furioso’ suggests that he did not just play naive melodies in order to lull the high society to sleep. He published five volumes for the ‘chitarra spagnola’.
Francisco Guerau (1649-1722) and Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739) were equally important when it came to Spanish guitar music. Guerau’s collection Poema harmónico compuesto de varias cifras por el temple de la guitarra española (1694) contains 27 compositions and an interesting explanation of ornamentation on the guitar. They are mainly sober ‘passacalles’, a dance in triple time on a repeated bass.
Little biographical detail is known about Santiago de Murcia, but fortunately several manuscripts of his have survived as they number amongst some of the best compositions for Baroque guitar. Cifras selectas de guitarra (1722) is a manuscript with detailed fingerings. The folios mainly contain variations on Spanish dances such as the ‘jácara’ and ‘canario’.
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Domenico Pellegrini (d. na 1682). Ricercata per la E
Giovanni Paolo Foscarini (fl. 1629-47). Corrente con la sua variatione
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651). Toccata arpeggiata
Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580-1649). Cecchina corrente
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger. Capona – Canario
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger. Felici gl’animi
Francisco Guerau (1649-1722). Pasacalles de primo tono
Francisco Guerau / Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739). Jacaras por la E
Santiago de Murcia. Canarios por la C
Adriaan Lauwers / voice, theorbo, Baroque guitar
The Belgian guitarist, lutenist and theorbo player Adriaan Lauwers studied classical guitar with Aram Van Ballaert at the Kunsthumaniora van de Lemmensinstituut. He then continued his guitar studies at the conservatories of Mons and Liège. His interest in music and history guided him towards early music, the lute and the theorbo, where Floris de Rycker initially set him on his path. He is currently studying lute and theorbo with Rolf Lislevand at the Conservatory of Lyon.
In recent years he has taken numerous master classes with Hopkinson Smith, Paul O’Dette, Vincent Dumestre, Russel Davis and Roberto Aussel. He has also played with ensembles such as Les Surprises.