The tiorbino: an unrecognised instrument type built by harpsichord makers with possible evidence for a surviving instrument


Part 1 - The archival evidence[1]

By Francesco Nocerino

Recent work both in the Neapolitan archives and elsewhere has uncovered numerous documents which provide yet more new evidence to confirm the role of Naples as an important centre for the production of musical instruments during the period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.[2] My research, especially that carried out in the archives of the Banco di Napoli, has drawn my attention to a large number of documents dealing with an instrument called a tiorbino (sometimes spelled either teorbino or tiorbina). The major    ity of the archival documents indicates that this instrument was especially common during the second half of the seventeenth century but then quickly went into disuse.

            Until now the term tiorbino has generally been understood to mean a small octave tiorbo or theorbo: in other words, a plucked instrument similar to the theorbo but smaller and therefore at a higher pitch. As far as is known to the author the collection of music in the Capricci a due stromenti cioe Tiorba e Tiorbino, (Modena: 1622) by Bellerofonte Castaldi (1580-1649) is the only example of printed music which mentions this instrument specifically (see Figure 1). As can be seen here this music is in lute tablature and is therefore clearly intended for plucked strung instruments of the lute family. It is not intended for a keyboard instrument but for instruments of the lute family and, in this case, for the theorbo and the tiorbino ie. the theorbo and a small theorbo.


Figure 1. First page of the ‘Capriccio di battaglia a due stromenti’ by Bellerofonte Castaldi, from his Capricci a due stromenti cioè Tiorba e tiorbino, (Modena: 1622).


            A possible second meaning is that the term tiorbino might refer to a harpsichord stop. This use is documented in the Inventario di diverse sorti d’instrumenti musicali in proprio del Serenissimo Sig. Principe Ferdinando di Toscana compiled for Ferdinando in Florence in 1700.[3] In this inventory a harpsichord by Girolamo Zenti is mentioned a tre registri, cioè due principali unisoni e tiorbino, […]’ – (with three registers, that is two principal unison registers and a tiorbino).[4] Here exactly what is meant by a register is ambiguous. Does the author of the inventory really mean 3 rows of jacks each plucking its own set of strings or does he simply mean that the instrument had the usual 2 rows of jacks and sets of strings but with a buff stop operating on one set of strings? In the latter case the tiorbino register would be the usual buff stop (called the lute stop in German and Italian) consisting of a set of cloth or soft leather pads touching the strings near the nut. Also mentioned in the same document is another harpsichord by Giuseppe Mondini (who came originally from Imola in Romagna) ‘a tre registri cioè due principali e tiorbino unisoni […]’ – (with three registers, of which two are principal registers plus a tiorbino all at unison [8'] pitch).[5] Here again the meaning of three ‘registers’ is ambiguous and the possibility that one of the registers might refer to a buff stop cannot be excluded.

            But, among the archives referring to the activity of Neapolitan harpsichord makers, and especially in those of the seventeenth century, payments in favour of Gioseppe de Simone have been found for a ‘tiorbino a levatora di cascia’ (a tiorbino with an outer case), and another one in favour of the well-known Onofrio Guarracino, for a ‘teorbino con tastiatura d’avolio’ (a tiorbino with an ivory keyboard) and one more in favour of Antonio Sabbatino, for a tiorbino ‘et duoi[sic] registri’ (with two stops).[6] In this case it is clear and unambiguous that an instrument type known as a tiorbino is referred to and that the reference is it is not simply to an extra buff or lute stop (or, in this case, a tiorbino stop) on an otherwise normal metal-strung harpsichord.

            Among these bills of payment there are also references to tiorbini made by the Neapolitan harpsichord makers Salvatore Sanchez, Gaetano Carotenuto and, finally, in a declaration signed by a notary and dated 1724, there is also a mention of a tiorbino ‘ad ottava stesa con cassa di legname’ (with a chromatic bass octave and with a wooden outer case) sold and delivered by Salvatore Sanges [sic] and Gaetano Baldassarro, who may be a pupil of Sanges.[7] A number of further new discoveries of heretofore unpublished documents also testifies to the presence of tiorbini in the workshops of the Neapolitan harpsichord builders Angelo Faenza, Gaspare Sabbatino, Francesco Andreassi e Fabrizio Mucciardi.[8]

            A survey of the archival documents for the inventories of property which were compiled at the time of death of the owners has proved particularly fruitful. For example, among the archives of central and southern Italy there is mention of an unfinished tiorbinetto in the shop of the Sicilian harpsichord maker Carlo Grimaldi and a tiorbina[sic] in the workshop of the Roman Giovanni Pietro Polizzino.[9]

            In all of these documents, the tiorbino is always mentioned in relation to the activities of a harpsichord maker and is described with characteristics compatible with those of a plucked keyboard instrument.

            The will and testament of the singer Don Giovanni Battista Merolla clarifies the character of the instrument. Here we read of a tiorbino and a ‘minicordo’ (probably a small clavichord), ‘con li loro piedi’ (with their stands) left to the students of the Conservatorio di S. Onofrio in Naples. Also we read that the Governors of the Conservatory declare to have received these instruments, and they are carefully specified: ‘uno spinetto e uno minicordo remasti In casa di detto quondam Don Giovanni Battista cioe detto spinetto collo piede e il minicordo senza piede’. (A spinet (or virginal) and a clavichord left in the house of the said late Don Giovanni Battista, the said spinet (or virginal) with its stand and the clavichord with no stand).[10]

            Therefore it seems that the term tiorbino was used interchangeably to describe an instrument that could have a stand and that, at least as far as its dimensions and structure are concerned, this instrument was very similar to a spinet or a virginal. Furthermore in a letter dated 1624 and signed by Count Fabio Carandini-Ferrari in the same archive, we are informed of the purchase in Rome of a tiorbino ‘incassato[sic]’, an adjective that could be interpreted to mean ‘con cassa levatora (with an outer case).[11] Indeed we have found a pictorial representation published in Rome of a tiorbino which suggests a third meaning of the term. This is found in an engraving of Michele Todini’s galleria armonica,[12] in Filippo Bonanni’s work[13] which illustrates a group of mechanised instruments each separated from one another but connected together invisibly using a complicated mechanism so that they can all be played by one musician at a single central keyboard. The engraving shows, placed near the wall with each on its own stand, a series of three instruments all of which are unmistakably keyboard instruments.


Figure 2. Galleria Armonica in the Palazzo Verospi in Rome from Filippo Bonanni, Gabinetto armonico pieno d'istromenti sonori, (Roma: 1676), Plate XXXIII.


            Todini himself describes the picture thus: ‘Sono posti tre strumenti da penna; una Spinettina all’ottava alta, un Spinettone, & un Tiorbino, nella facciata dirimpetto à quello che suona (Three quilled instruments are placed therein; an octave spinet, a spinettone and a tiorbino, facing towards the person who plays it).[14]

            Another illustration of the Michael Todini’s galleria armonica also exists in the Phonurgia nova published by Attanasio Kircher.[15] However, Todini himself considers that the illustration is not reliable because ‘chi n'hà fatto il disegno non ha veduto l'originale (the person who made the drawing had never seen the original).[16] Despite this unfavourable judgment however, the three keyboard instruments are also recognizable in this engraving and each is on its own individual stand in front of ‘quello che suona’ (he who is playing) (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Galleria Armonica of Todini from Athanasius Kircher, Phonurgia nova, (Kempten: 1673), p.168.


            As a result of the examination of the Todini’s description in his Dichiaratione della galleria armonica, along with the image published there and the information in the newly-discovered documents mentioned above, it seems possible to identify the tiorbino as a keyboard instrument belonging to the harpsichord family. But if it is assumed that the tiorbino was made by competent and reputable harpsichord makers, then some questions follow, especially about the stability and construction of such an instrument.[17] The documents seen so far, mainly Neapolitan and Roman in origin, indicate that there were problems with the tuning stability of the tiorbino. This disadvantage required continuous attention on the part of the maker. The following quotation wherein the buyer makes an agreement with the maker illustrates this problem: altrimente non l'haverria comprato, di darli dieci carlini l'anno et lui lo tenerà sempre accomodato et accordato facendoci tutto quello ci bisognerà ogni volta che lo chiamerà

(otherwise [the buyer] will not buy it, by giving an [additional] 10 carlini a year and he will maintain it regulated and tuned, and doing whatever is necessary every time [the buyer] asks).[18]

In this case the buyer imposes as a condition of the sale of the tiorbino its regulation and tuning on request, and that this will cost 10 carlinos per year. This is equivalent to 1 ducat and therefore to a tenth of the total cost of the instrument.

            In another example, the buyer even decides the price, but: ‘con patto che detto Teorbino in termine di giorni 20 da 13 corrente fusse qualche motivo, non havesse o non tenesse l'accordio detto Salvatore sia obligato accomodarlo a sue spese ove a caso non potesse riuscire ne debbia fare un altro a sua sodisfazione’ (according to this agreement if, within a period of 20 days of the 13th [of this month], the said tiorbino for whatever reason, does not hold or maintain its tuning, then the said Salvatore [= the harpsichord maker] is obliged at his own expense to make another [tiorbino] to his [the buyer’s] satisfaction.[19]

This time the buyer imposes the condition that if, for whatever reason within a period of 20 days from the consignment, the tiorbino does not maintain its tuning, then the harpsichord builder must repair it and, should he not succeed, then he must build a new tiorbino at his own expense.

            The additional complexity of the work involved on the part of the harpsichord builder is further revealed in another document which indicates the additional cost (exactly double) involved in the tuning of a tiorbino compared to the tuning of a harpsichord with 3 registers: ‘per accordo del tiorbino docati 4, e docati 2 per l’accordo del cembalo a tre registri’ (4 ducats for the tuning of the tiorbino and 2 ducats for the tuning of the harpsicord with three registers).[20]

            The difficulty implied by these documents of maintaining the tuning and regulation of the tiorbino strongly suggests that it was an instrument fitted with gut strings. The fact that the problem of instability was common to many different makers all of whom were competent and reputable suggests that the problem did not arise because of design-related problems so that the stringing material is the only feature that could give rise to this tuning instability. We already know of historical gut-strung keyboard instruments such as the lute-harpsichord and the theorbo-harpsichord.[21] Unfortunately, there are no recognised surviving gut-strung harpsichords and indeed we know very little about the gut-strung harpsichord either in Italy or north of the Alps.

            An interesting additional note is to be found in the will of the Bergamo painter Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677), who leaves a ‘spinetta tiorbata’ to the young Dorotea Baschenis who is described as being ‘of little virtue’:

Di più lascia alla detta Dorothea […] la spinetta tiorbata, li violini, il basso, e tiorba, acciò se ne possa valere e ne ha libera patrona’.[22] (I further leave to the said Dorothea the spinetta tiorbata, the violins, the bass [viol?] and the theorbo, in order that she can use them freely as the person with full title to them.)

            It is useful to note that in the Agliardi Triptych (see Figure 4), Baschenis carried out a self-portrait of himself in the act of playing a virginal on the edge of which there is the signature ‘Evaristus/Baschenis/Bergomi/f ’. However, for the moment at least, it is not possible to confirm the suggestive hypothesis that this is the instrument mentioned in the Baschenis will.

            A specific reference to Italian keyboard instruments with gut strings can be found in the work of Valdrighi who, in his note on Farini, stated to be an Italian builder active in 1620, writes: ‘Le corde de’ cembali del FARINI erano di minugie’ [23] (the strings of the harpsichords made by Farini were of gut).

            However, returning to the use of gut strings in the tiorbino, it does not seem a coincidence that in Naples and Rome, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was in fact a significant production of gut strings.[24] Moreover Mersenne, in his Harmonie Universelle, says that the strings ‘of gut are not as suitable as those of brass because they change their pitch too easily in wet or dry weather and are not as uniform or equal in every part as those of metal’.[25] The use of gut strings on the tiorbino would have involved continuous maintenance in tuning, quilling, voicing and re-stringing the instrument. All these considerations justify and explain the buyers’ worries which are repeatedly found in the Neapolitan documents.

            As for the shape, the tiorbino might have looked similar to a small virginal, or better like a bentside spinet, as one can see in Bonanni’s drawings. Its dimensions had to be rather small and it would have had a rather light structure in order to qualify for the term ‘tiorbino’. (In the Italian language the suffix ‘-ino’ is frequently used as a diminutive). Even if the number of documents found up to this point is insufficient to make a judgement about the characteristics of a tiorbino on the basis of the valuations (or better the sale prices) made for them, I feel that it is useful, at least as far as their dimensions are concerned, to note that a new tiorbino would always cost much less than a harpsichord made by the same maker and this suggests therefore that the tiorbino was considerably smaller than a normal harpsichord.


Figure 4. The Galleria Armonica in the Palazzo Verospi in Rome (detail), from Filippo Bonanni, Gabinetto armonico pieno d'istromenti sonori, (Roma: 1676), Plate XXXIII


            As for the sound of the tiorbino, the instrument most probably would have had a very sweet and delicate sound. Being strung in gut, the overtone structure of the instrument would be that forming a series of almost perfect harmonics because of the flexible nature of the gut itself. Acoustical theory shows that a tense flexible string forms a series of overtones which are a close approximation to the natural harmoinic series. Such a series of accurate harmonics is perceived by the ear as having a musically pleasing or sweet sound.  The low mass of the gut would produce a rather weak sound, however, compared to the sound of an instrument with much heavier metal stringing.  The sound would have a strong attack with a rapid decay and little sustaining power. The impression would be of a more powerful tone, however, because all of the energy and sound would be concentrated in the intial attack so that the instrument would be perfectly audible even though it had virtually no sustainging power.

            The etymology of the word ‘tiorbino’ used in the context of a keyboard instrument, certainly draws its origins from the homonymous instrument identifiable as a small theorbo.[26] It seems very likely therefore that the name derives from its unusual stringing with gut.

            Finally, the use of two registers on Antonio Sabbatino’s tiorbino[27] seems to be perfectly compatible with the rarely-found references to the gut-strung harpsichords, among which we mention the J.C. Fleischer lute- and theorbo-harpsichords, with two and three stops respectively. Also notwithstanding the extended period (from 1671 to 1733) during which archival documents mentioning the tiorbino have been found and further in spite of the fact that they were made by such capable harpsichord builders as Guarracino, Sabbatino and Carotenuto, the tiorbino does not seem to have been a great success, perhaps because of the necessity of such specialised, expensive, frequent and complex maintenance. Probably already fallen into disuse by the second half of the eighteenth century, the tiorbino was then quickly forgotten. The only surviving traces are now found in the recently-discovered documents. This therefore takes research into the field of historical harpsichord makers into new frontiers.

            In concluding this study we hope that it may stimulate new interest in the tiorbino and the discovery of further new documents which deal with it. This, together with the re-examination of known documentary sources, could shed new light on the knowledge about the tiorbino and generally increase our knowledge of Italian harpsichord makers. It is clear even from the study carried out here that the names of many new harpsichord builders have been discovered working throughout Italy but especially in Naples. It seems certain that further study will yield yet more names to add to this list.


Documentary appendices

Use has been made in the transcription of the following documents of a few abbreviations in common useage. Notes or interpolations made by me are placed between square brackets. Some of the printed documents have been completely translated into English but, to avoid the translation of the complex and tortuous legal and financial technical language of the original unpublished documents, only an English resume of some of these has been given here. I would like to express my thanks to Grant O’Brien for his translation of the whole of Part 1 of this paper.


1.      Un Cimbalo di Girolamo Zenti, non levatoro di cassa, a tre registri, cioè due principali unisoni e tiorbino, con fondo di abeto e rosa nel mezzo traforata e dorata, con fascie per di fuora tinte a imitazione di marmo rosso e bianco, con striscie nere all’estremità e per di dentro tinto di nero, con il corniciame dorato, con suo leggio simile, e sua tastatura di bossolo et ebano con cinque spezzati nei neri di mezzo che comincia in gisolreut ottava stesa e finisce in cisolfaut con n. cinquanta nove tasti tra bianchi neri e spezzati, e nella fascia davanti vi sta scritto / a lettere d’oro con alcuni rabeschi: Hyeronimus de Zentis Romanus faciebat in civitate Holmie, anno Domini 1653. lungo braccia quattro e soldi nove, largo nel davanti braccia uno e soldi dieci, con sua contro cassa di abeto pura, e sua coperta di cuoio rosso foderata di taffettà verde orlata di nastrino d’oro’. (Florence: Archivio di Stato, Guardaroba mediceo, n.1117, anno 1700, c. 3).’[28]

A harpsichord by Girolamo Zenti, not removable from its outer case, with three registers, that is two principal unison registers and a tiorbino. The soundboard is of fir[29] with an incised and gilt rosette in its middle. The case sides are painted in imitation of red and white marble with black stripes painted around the edges and on the inside. The mouldings are gilt as is the music desk. The keyboard is in boxwood and ebony with 5 split keys in the central part of the compass. It has a compass from G1 without a short octave to c3 with 59 keys including the naturals and accidentals with all of the split keys.[30] Written in gold lettering with a few arabesques on the nameboard at the front is: Hyeronimus de Zentis Romanus faciebat in civitate Holmie, anno Domini 1653 [Hieronymus de Zentis the Roman made (this harpsichord) in the city of Stockholm, AD 1653]. The length is 4 braccia and 9 soldi [2453mm] and the width at the front is 1 braccio and 10 soldi [827mm].[31] It has an external carrying case of fir with a lid of red leather and lined [on the inside] with taffeta trimmed with a gold band.’


2.      Un Cimbalo del Prete Giuseppe Mondini, detto il Prete da Imola, levatoro di cassa, a tre registri cioè due principali e tiorbino unisoni, con fondo di abeto senza rosa, fascie e scorniciatura di cipresso con filetto d’ebano, e traversa con filetto e striscia nel mezzo d’ebano, con tastatura di bossolo et ebano che comincia in gisolfaut ottava stesa e finisce in cisolfaut, senza spezzati, con n. cinquanta tre tasti tra bianchi e neri, lungo braccia quattro e un terzo, largo nel davanti braccia uno e nove soldi, con un'inscritione incavata nel sodo davanti che dice: Joseph Mondini Imolensis MDCLXXXVIII con suo leggio di cipresso, e contro cassa di abeto pura, toppa e chiavistelli laterali, e sua coperta di cuoio giallo foderato di canavaccio e orlata di nastro filaticcio giallo’. (Florence: Archivio di Stato, Guardaroba mediceo, n.1117, anno 1700, c. 34. Cfr. Gai 1969: 11).

‘A harpsichord by the priest Giuseppe Mondini called the “Priest from Imola” with a separate outer case and 3 registers – that is with 2 principal registers and a tiorbino [all] at unison pitch. It has a soundboard of fir[32] without a rosette. The case sides and mouldings are of cypress with purfling in an ebony strip, and a jackrail also purfled with ebony and with an ebony strip down the middle. It has a keyboard of boxwood and ebony beginning at G1 and finishing at c3 with no split keys so that there are altogether 53 keys with both the naturals and accidentals.[33] It is 4⅓ braccia long (2369mm) and 1 braccio and 9 soldi (799mm) wide at the front[34]. There is an inscription on the nameboard at the front which reads: Joseph Mondini Imolensis MDCLXXXVIII. It has a music desk of cypress and an outer case of fir, a lock and bolt and a lid [covered in] yellow leather and lined with material and trimmed with a narrow strip of yellow.’


3.      A Nicolò Gratiano ducati cinque tarì 2 grana 10. E per lui a Gioseppe de Simone cimbarario detti a compimento di ducati 13.2.10, atteso gli altri ducati 8 gli ha ricevuti contanti, sono detti ducati 13.2.10 per lo prezzo d’un tiorbino a levatora di cascia per detto gioseppe vendutoli e consignatoli, quale haverà da essere d'ogni perfettione e con questo pagamento resta detto gioseppe da lui interamente sodisfatto.’ (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco delle Spirito Santo, giornale matr. 541, 11 aprile 1672, fol. 489).

(Niccolò Graziano buys a tiorbino for the price of 13½ ducats. It is by the harpsichord builder Giuseppe de Simone, has a separate outer case and must be without any possible defect.)


4.      A Don Gioseppe Cannicchio de Roggiero ducati quindeci. E per lui a mastro Onofrio Guarracino, e son’a complimento di ducati venti, atteso gli altri ducati cinque per detto complimento gli ha ricevuti contanti, quali ducati venti sono per prezzo d’un teorbino con tastiatura d’avolio a lui venduto e consignato’. (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco dello Spirito Santo, giornale matr. 534, 9 gennaio 1671, fol. 17 v).

(Giuseppe Cannicchio de Roggiero buys a tiorbino with an ivory keyboard made by the master harpsichord builder Onofrio Guarracino for 20 ducats.)


5.      ‘A don Flaminio d’Angelo ducati dieci e per lui ad Antonio Sabbatino Cimbalaro a complimento di docati trenta, atteso gl'altri gliel'ha dati de contanti per haverli comprato dal medesimo Mastro Antonio uno tiorbino et duoi registri opera sua et con questo pagamento sta intieramente sodisfatto et hanno pattizzato, altrimente non l'haverria comprato, di darli dieci carlini l’anno et lui lo tenerà sempre accomodato et accordato facendoci tutto quello ci bisognerà ogni volta che lo chiamerà.’ (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco di Spirito Santo, giornale matr. 573, 26 giugno 1676, fol. 1157).

(Flaminio d’Angelo buys a tiorbino with two registers for 30 ducats from the harpsichord builder Antonio Sabbatino, imposing as a condition of the purchase the maintenance and tuning of the instrument at the price of 10 carlinos (= 1 ducat) per year.)


6.      A Don Stefano Cavaliere ducati sette tarì 3 e per esso a Salvatore Sanchez Mastro de Cimbali a Compimento de ducati 8 che l’altri li ha ricevuti Contanti e sono per valuta di un Teorbino vendutoli come sopra per detto prezzo con patto che detto Teorbino in termine di giorni 20 da 13 corrente fusse qualche motivo, non havesse o non tenesse l'accordio detto Salvatore sia obligato accomodarlo a sue spese ove a caso non potesse riuscire ne debbia fare un altro a sua sodisfazione con firma a lui contanti.’ (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco di San Giacomo, giornale matr. 456, 14 marzo 1687, fol. 296).

(Don Stefano Cavaliere buys a tiorbino for the price of 8 ducats from the master harpsichord builder Salvatore Sanchez, imposing as a condition of the sale that if, within a period of 20 days the instrument was not in tune or did not maintain its tuning, then the harpischord builder would be obliged to repair it or to re-make a new instrument at his own expense.)


7.      “[....] Al Signor Nicola Cinname[sic] per una annata di sua provisione maturata nell’ultimo di marzo 1725 docati 6 cioè per accordo del tiorbino docati 4, e docati 2 per l’accordo del cembalo a tre registri per il Natale, e per l’ultima Settimana Santa, restando con tal pagamento sodisfatto per tutto il passato con polisa mia per il Popolo” (Naples: Archivio di Stato, Monasteri Soppressi, San Paolo Maggiore, Libro degli Esiti, 1725, esisto di aprile.
The harpsichord builder Nicola Cennamo receives 6 ducats (of which 4 were for the tuning of the tiorbino and 2 for the tuning of the harpsichord with 3 registers) as his annual salary for the tuning of the instruments of San Paolo Maggiore.

8.      A Francesco Avallone di Mario ducati quattro e per esso a Gaetano Carotenuto a compimento di ducati 5, atteso l'altri Carlini dieci l’ha ricevuti contanti et sono per prezzo d’uno Teorbino ad esso venduto et consignato, così d'accordo. Et per esso a Giovanni Battista Viva per altritanti’. (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco di San Giacomo, giornale matr. 462, 20 dicembre 1688, fol. 814).

(Francesco Avallone buys a tiorbino for the price of 5 ducats from the harpsichord maker Gaetano Carotenuto.)


9.      ‘[…] Item due organi ad ala usati. / Item ciambali diversi numero cinque non finiti di tutto punto d’ottava stesa. / Item un tiorbinetto non finito. / Item due urpicordi picciotti non finiti. / Item uno vecchio. / Item un ciambalo vecchio a due tastature. […]’ (Messina: Archivio di Stato, Notai, n. 632. cc.347r-351v., 24.4.1717[35]).

([there are:] 2 organs ‘ad ala’,[36] 2 used organs ‘ad ala’, 5 harpsichords with a full bass octave [down to C] not all of which are finished, an incomplete tiorbinetto, 2 small unfinished virginals, another old [virginal], an old harpsichord with two keyboards.)


10.  Un cimbalo a tre registri attaccato alla cassa et una cassa di cimbali / Doi cimbali attaccati alla cassa [a] doi registri, non finiti / Un appicordone a doi registri / Doi spinette et un appicordo / Doi casse di spinetta / Et una tiorbina[sic].’ (Rome: Archivio di Stato, 30 Notai Capitolini, uff.18, Notaio Franciscus Pacichellus, Testamenti, 30.10.1657[37]).

([there are:] a harpsichord with an integral case and 3 registers, a case for a harpsichord, two incomplete harpsichords with integral cases and 3 registers, a large spinet, two spinets and a virginal, two spinet cases and a tiorbina.)


11.  Il quondam Don Giovan Battista Merolla figliolo che fu del nostro Conservatorio nel suo testamento delli 2 agosto 1692 [sic] chiuso, et aperto a 30 agosto 1699 per mano de notar Antonio ferraiolo lasciò a detto Conservatorio le infrascritte robbe ut infra un quadro grande di s. Felippo neri pintato con veste sacerdotale con cornice d’ora lo stipo grande di radica de noce alla Genovese una  con la chiave vicino lo stipo di Cervinara seu pioppo due portieri de teletta de porta nova di color torchino

lo stipo grande di pioppo pintato il Tiorbino et Minicordo per uso de studiare li figlioli dette robbe se sono ricevuti in conservatorio et se li scritto ricevuta come qui aclusa.(Naples: Archivio del Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio, Libro maggiore di terze, fol.77, anno 1699)


[Folio 1 recto] ‘Legato fatto per il quondam Don Giovanni Battista merolla nel suo Testamento alli 2 agosto 1696 chiuso et aperto a 30 agosto 1699 per notar Antonio Ferraiolo de napoli.

Item lascio al Conservatorio delli figlioli de Santo Nofrio a Capuana di questa città Il quadro grande di S. Felippo neri pintato con veste sacerdotale con cornice d'oro quale si debbia porre dentro la sacrestia, lo stipo grande di radica di noce alla genovese un con le chiavi ma vacuo di dentro da ponersi parimente nella sacrestia per conservare i paramenti d’essa, uno stipo di Cervenara seu pioppo per servizio anco della sacrestia ma vacuo di dentro, due portieri i migliori di Teletta di portanova di color Torchino per uso delle due porte che sono alli versi del Altare maggiore della chiesa di detto Conservatorio, Uno stipo grande di pioppo pintato per uso di detto Conservatorio, Uno stipo grande di pioppo pintato per uso di detto Conservatorio, il Tiorbino, et il mio minicordo una [= unitamente, assieme] con li lloro piedi per uso di studiare li figlioli assignandone uno per dormitorio, quali mobili voglio siano di detto Conservatorio e Io ce li lascio per atto di gratitudine per ricompensa del molto che devo a detto Conservatorio per esser stato io uno delli alunni di detto Conservatorio et in quello Imparato quella virtù con la quale mi ho procacciato di beni’.

(Naples: Archivio del Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio, Libro maggiore III, allegato, fol.1r, anno 1699. See Di Giacomo (footnote 10) 1924: 52-54).

(Notes and relevant attached documentation in the papers of the Conservatory of Music of Sant’Onofrio a Capuana in Naples of the property left by the deceased Giovanni Battista Merolla, among which are a tiorbino and a clavichord with their stands used by the pupils [figlioli] of the Conservatory for their studies.)

[Folio 1 verso][omissis: Grazia Merolla, the sister of G. B. Merolla, was heir to the rest of his property]

Noi Tutti Governatori del Real Conservatorio di Santo Honofrio de figlioli orfani congregati dechiaramo che In esecuzione della disposizione del quondam Reverendo Don Giovanni Battista merolla fatta nel suo Testamento havemo ricevuto Tre stipi uno di noce alla Genovese un altro de Pioppo grande e un altro de pioppo di Cervinara con le loro chiave di più uno spinetto e uno minicordo remasti In casa di detto quondam Don Giovanni Battista cioe detto spinetto collo piede e il minicordo senza piede, due portieri di Teletta di portunova color torchino colli loro ferri, uno quadro grande di Santo Felippo neri vestito da sacerdote, onde per cautela de chi spetta ne facemo la presente ricevuta napoli 26 settembre 1699.

Ignatio Terra Governatore

Antonio Civitate Governatore

Gennaro Scala Governatore

Domenico Antonio Santi Governatore

(Naples: Archivio del Conservatorio di Sant’Onofrio, Libro maggiore III, allegato, fol.1t, anno 1699).

(Receipt signed by the Governors of the Conservatory in which it is specified that the spinet [now called a spinet rather than a teorbino] has its stand, but that the stand of the clavichord is lacking.).


12.  Ho inviato or ora al Duca = il tiorbino incassato, et ben accomodato in tutte le sue parti = e quantunque questi musici avisano essersi introdotto a’ questi, et simili instromenti, et anco alle arpe farvi porre le corde di oro che dicono dar maggiore dolcezza al suono = tuttavia, esso Carandini non ve l'ha fatte porre di d.° prezioso metallo, = per haver l’ordine preciso di farlo fare come l’altro, et alli med.i mastri. / Roma 10 genn. 1624.’ (Modena: Archivio di Stato, Dispacci di Fabio Carandini-Ferrari).[38]

(A letter from Count Fabio Carandini-Ferrari in which one reads of a tiorbino in its outer case which was not equipped with gold strings even though the use of such metal had been introduced [to Rome] in other instruments and even in the harp in order to give it a sweeter [or softer] sound.)


13.  Sono posti tre strumenti da penna; una Spinettina all’ottava alta, un Spinettone, & un Tiorbino, nella facciata dirimpetto à quello, che suona, situati con tale disinvoltura, che pare impossibile habbino communicatione con le machine intrinseche, non conoscendosi, né come siano le operationi, né come possino essere così stabili, facendo il suo effetto, quasi invisibilmente. Stanno detti strumenti separati l'un dall'altro, più d’un palmo, sopra suoi tavolini, col suo piede per ciascheduno, né toccano il muro, né altra cosa, che apparisca stabile’. (Michele Todini, Dichiarazione della Galleria Armonica, (Rome: 1676) 10-11.

(Three quilled instruments are placed therein; an octave spinet, a spinettone and a tiorbino, facing towards the person who plays them and situated in such a casual way that it would seem impossible that they might have any connection to the necessary machinery [used to operate them]. Without knowing that [this machinery] exists and how the instruments function the effect is created in a way that is almost invisible. The instruments stand separated from one another by more than a palmo[39] on their tables and each on its own stand. They don’t come into contact with the walls, nor anything else, and the whole thing appears [not to contain anything] movable.)


14.  A Giovanni Francesco d’Andrea ducati cinquanta e per lui al Signor Gasparro Sabbatino Mastro Cembalaro per intiero prezzo e final pagamento di due Teorbine, e proprio denaro della Duchessa di Carvizzano [sic], con dichiarazione, che detto Sabbatino resta per tal causa Intieramente soddisfatto con tal pagamento. Et per esso contanti’. (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco dello Spirito Santo, giornale matr. 1270, 18 agosto 1733, fol. 2).

(On behalf of the Duchess of Calvizzano, Giovanni Francesco d’Andrea buys 2 tiorbinos made by the Master harpsichord builder Gaspare Sabbatino for the price of 50 ducats.)


15.  ‘Declaratio pro D. Francesco de Angelis.

Die duodecimo mensis ianuarij indictionis 1724 Neapoli, constituti nella nostra presenza Gaetano Baldassarro e Salvatore Sanges di Napoli cimbalari et accordatori di cembali, e spontaneamente avanti di noi hanno dichiarato, e confessato aver ricevuto et avuto dal dottor signor Don Francesco de Angelis similmente di Napoli assente docati sette e mezzo per lo Banco dello Spirito Santo di questa Città con polisa notata fede in testa di esso signor don Francesco della data de oggi predetto giorno renunciandono con giuramento avanti di noi all'eccezzione della non numerata pecunia.

E sono detti ducati sette e mezzo per lo prezzo d’un Tiorbino ad ottava stesa con cassa di legname, da detti Salvatore, e Gaetano, venduto, e consignato al detto Signor Don Francesco nel passato mese di dicembre [fol. 6 r] del caduto anno 1723, e quantunque si fusse preso detto Tiorbino dal detto signor Don Francesco nulla di meno dichiarano detti Gaetano, e Salvatore, che ha servito per Angelo Pisani figliolo del Conservatorio de Poveri di Giesù Cristo di questa città, con che resta sempre tenuto detto Pisani à pagare detto prezzo di detto tiorbino à detto Don Francesco avendo fatto esso Don Francesco detto pagamento di suo proprio denaro per ordine dell’illustre signor marchese di Amoroso regente della Gran Corte della Vicaria avanti di chi comparvero li detti Gaetano, e Salvatore presso lo scrivano Riccetti. Stante il qual pagamento de sudetti ducati sette e mezzo essi predetti Gaetano, e Salvatore dichiarano, che restano sodisfatti da detto signor Don Francesco per detta causa, et il detto Tiorbino è stato per uso di detto Pisano, e non altrimente; E perciò spontaneamente hanno obligato se stessi loro eredi, successori, e beni tutti presenti e futuri al detto signor Don Francesco assente, et à me per esso presente sub pena dupli, medietate cum potestate capiendi consecutione precarij renuntiaverunt et iuraverunt.

Presentibus Iudice Antonio Pistone de neapoli regio ad contractus

Magnifico utriusque doctoris Hijacintho Scalese et

Magnifico Francisco Canfora de neapoli.’ (Naples: Archivio di Stato, Notai del XVII secolo, notaio Pietro Francesco Nicola Giordano, scheda 1313, prot. 44, foll. 5v-6v, 12 Gennaio 1724.)

(On behalf of the Marquis di Amoroso, Don Francesco de Angelis buys a tiorbino with a chromatic bass octave at a price of 7½ ducats from the harpsichord builders and ‘harpsichord tuners’ Gaetano Baldassarre and Salvatore Sanges. This instrument would be purchased for the exclusive use of Angelo Pisani a student at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo in Naples.)

16.  Ad Isidoro Faenza ducati ventisette 4.18½ et per esso a Francesco Andreasso per altrittanti e per esso a Fabritio Mucciardi a compimento de ducati ventotto 3.18½, atteso li restanti carlini otto per detto compimento l’ave da esso ricevuti in contanti, e detti ducati 28.3.18½ sono per il prezzo della mettà della robba vendutali dal suddetto Fabritio per la suddetta summa esistente detta robba nella bottega di cimbalaro, che si esercitava in communi tanto da esso Francesco quanto dal suddetto Fabritio, site e poste nell’imbrecciata di Santa Maria de Sette Dolori, consistente dette robbe in Cimbali e Teorbini, principiati, ed altri lavori principiati, legnami di diverse sorte per uso di Cimbalaro, accomodazioni fatti, ferri, stiglio ed ogni altro annesso e connesso a detta Arte di Cimbalaro quale suddette robbe sono state apprezzate d’ordine della Gran Corte della Vicaria da due esperti detti da loro Francesco e Fabritio, cioè il magnifico Isidoro Faienza [sic] per parte di esso suddetto Francesco ed il magnifico Gasparro Sabbatino per parte di esso suddetto Fabritio e sono state apprezzate per la somma de ducati 57.2.17½ dichiarando col presente pagamento restar il medesimo [Fabrizio] da esso intieramente soddisfatto per causa di detta mettà di robba vendutali come sopra non avendo altro da esso che pretendere per la causa suddetta. Et per esso a Tomaso Palma per altritanti.’ (Naples, Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco del Popolo, giornale matr. 1033, 24 aprile 1732, foll. 586-587).

(The harpsichord builder Francesco Andreassi collects 28.31.18½ ducats from the harpsichord builder Fabrizio Mucciardi for his workshop which they will share. The workshop contains harpsichords and tiorbini and other items already begun, diverse types of wood used in harpsichord building, tools, shelves and all of those articles necessary to the art of the harpsichord builder. The workshop is located near the  church of S. Maria dei Sette Dolori in Naples, and the valuation of the materials was carried out by order of the Gran Corte della Vicaria by the experts Gaspare Sabbatino and Isidoro Faenza.

17.  A Giacom’Antonio Cipullo ducati otto e per lui a Nicola Sardella per prezzo di un Teorbino, opra fatta dal quondam Mastro Angelo Faenza, ad esso venduto e con detto pagamento resta sodisfatto. Notata fede al 21 gennaro [sic] 1603.’ (Naples: Archivio Storico del Banco di Napoli, Banco della Pietà, giornale matr. 968, 6 febbraio 1693, fol. 9).

(Giacom’Antonio Cipullo buys a tiorbino for the price of 8 ducats from Nicola Sardella. The instrument is a work by the late master harpsichord builder Angelo Faenza.)



Part 2 - A possible surviving tiorbino: an anonymous Neapolitan spinet[40] in the Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan


Grant O’Brien


Introduction and general description of the instrument

            The Museo Teatrale alla Scala in Milan has in its collection of musical instruments a small anonymous spinet dated 1707, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04.[41] As will be shown below it was made in Naples and is probably to be identified as a tiorbino. It is unusual among Italian spinets in having two sets of jacks and two sets of strings for each note even though it is much smaller than is normal for Italian spinets. The small size (and short string lengths) means that space constraints for 4 strings between the doubled pairs of jacks all plucking into the same space are unusually severe. The instrument is clearly intended to sound at a high pitch and, as will also be shown below, was probably designed to be strung with gut strings and tuned to a pitch of R + 11, an octave and a fourth above the ‘normal’ pitch R.  (For the definition of R, see Note 62.)

            The general characteristics of the instrument are those of a typical small Italian spinet at high pitch. The case sides overlap the baseboard which is of poplar. The case sides, keywell scrolls, soundboard mouldings, and bridges are all of cypress. The soundboard is of a softwood which, judged from the width and colour gradation of the annular rings, is probably fir and not spruce. The grain of the soundboard wood runs parallel to the wrestplank and boxslide, and not to the strings and diagonal longside. The soundboard is very thin. Where it has come unglued from the back of the boxslide its thickness can be measured and is found to be only 2.1mm thick at this point. There are two soundbars running diagonally back from the rear of the boxslide to the spine in positions on either side of the rosette. There is a cypress soundboard moulding running around the inside edge of the case but there is no corresponding moulding on the wrestplank.

            The wrestplank, boxslide, balance rail and keyboard rack are all of walnut. The naturals are of bone and the sharps are of ebony-capped black-stained fruitwood. The key arcades (which, because of their plainness which does not match the sophistication of the rest of the instrument, may not be original) are also of bone. The keyframe is of poplar and the keylevers are of beech and are guided by brass pins in the rack. The jackrail is of black-stained plum with a rectangular bone inlay. The jackrail supports are of a black-stained fruitwood. The outer case and lid are of poplar and the stand is now missing.

            A general view of the instrument can be seen in Figure 5 and a plan view can be seen in Figure 8.


Figure 5 - General view with the lid open.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


This instrument is of the classic inner instrument in an outer carrying case type of construction. The inner instrument itself is finely-made and of an ingenious design but, as is often the situation, is enclosed in a somewhat crude outer carrying case. The inner instrument is of small proportions and is of typical Neapolitan construction[42] each characteristic of which will be discussed individually below. The strings are short and the layout is ingeniously designed to give a geometry with a spatial layout in which both of the strings for each note have almost the same scaling.

            The two case sides have scrolls cut in them at the ends of the keywell in the usual Italian fashion (see Figure 6).  The cheek scrolls are made of three layers of wood (the outer layer is the case-side) separated by two thin (1.2mm) layers of bone. There are two ebonised keyblocks beside the keywell scrolls which are attached to the lower side of the scrolls and to the baseboard. These keyblocks are made with a slot on their inside surface immediately above the baseboard. The keyframe which is slightly wider than the keys above it is made to slide into these slots which trap the keyframe vertically but allow it to move in and out of the instrument horizontally. The ability of the keyboard to slide in and out of the keywell like a drawer is among the many Neapolitan characteristics of this instrument.[43]





Figure 6. Drawing of the cheek scrolls and case mouldings.  On the left is the bass cheek view, and on the right the front view without the (non-original) nameboard showing the wrestplank (shaded), wrestplank support and the grey keyblock with the recessed slot in which the keyframe slides in and out.  For reasons of clarity the bass jackrail support has not been drawn in.

 Tiorbino, Naples, 1707,

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04.


            The outside of the case behind the keywell scrolls is framed by a moulding which is the same as that used at the top and the bottom of the case (see Figure 6). Unusually for an Italian instrument, the back corners of the case have this same moulding placed vertically at the edges of the surface and mitred to the horizontal case mouldings at the top and bottom. At the top of the case the inside and the outside have the same moulding, and this is topped by the usual Italian cap moulding. This cap moulding, as is normal with instruments built in the Neapolitan tradition,[44] is flush at its edges with the top part of the case mouldings immediately below it. Below and in front of the keys is a black ebonised moulded batten which runs across the front of the instrument.

            Two heavy cypress blocks glued both to the case sides and baseboard support the wrestplank at either end in recesses in the wrestplank (see Figure 7). The wrestplank and wrestplank support blocks are also nailed to the case sides and, from below, to the baseboard. The boxslide register is glued to the back of the wrestplank. The soundboard is supported from underneath by a walnut liner glued to the back of the boxslide and by poplar liners running around the rest of the inside of the case. Using a mirror and a torch, relatively little of the interior structure can be seen. However, there appears to be no internal framing other than the tall lower belly-rail of poplar attached to the baseboard just behind the keyboard.

            The jackrail is made of a fruitwood, possibly plum. The shape of the mouldings on the top edge of the jackrail is the same as that on the soundboard mouldings running around the inside of the case and the same as that on the batten below the keyboard at the case front. This suggests therefore that the jackrail is original. There is an 8mm wide band of bone and black-stained wood inlay in the middle of the jackrail. The rest of the jackrail is all stained black (ebonised). The jackrail fits into supports at either end (also of plum?) which are also ebonised and consists of two forked pieces forming a slot for the ends of the jackrail (see  Figure 12). The scrolls on the jackrail supports are upside down compared with the normal orientation found on many other Italian instruments. The original nameboard is now missing and is replaced with a modern strip of wood painted black.

            There is a small, simple parchment rosette in the soundboard (see Figure 7 and 9) consisting of a total of 4 layers of parchment. Like most other rosettes in Neapolitan instruments (see footnote 42) there is an outer part glued to the top of the soundboard and an inner part glued to the lower surface of the soundboard. The outer part of the rosette glued to the top of the soundboard consists of only two layers and is of a typical Neapolitan design. However, the central part of the rosette (also with two layers) seems too simple in its design and rather crude in execution in comparison with the outer ring. It also seems to me to be by a different hand. This central portion is probably therefore not original. The diameter of the rosette is 77mm measured roughly in the direction of the strings.


Figure 7 - Soundboard rosette.  Scale 1:1

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            As is usual in an octave spinet-type of keyboard instrument the nut is straight, but the bridge, instead of being curved, is composed of three mitred straight sections which approximate the theoretical curved shape of a bridge which produces Pythagorean scalings (see Figure 8). The mitres in the bridge occur near the notes f/f and b1/c2. Both the bridge and the nut sections are constant along their length without any tapering.

            The outer case is simply constructed and simply decorated. It is made entirely of poplar of thickness about 12mm. The direction of the grain of the baseboard wood runs parallel to the front edge of the case. The sloping keyboard cover is attached to the main part of the lid with wrought iron hinges which have been let into the surface of the wood. The lid is attached to the spine with the typical Italian lid hinge system which enables the lid to be removed. There is a wrought-iron lock attached to the keyboard cover, but on the case only the nail holes for the lock’s hasp remain.

            There was originally a system of pedal pull-downs for the bass short-octave of notes. The bottom keys from C/E to B including B (8 notes) have looped brass wires fixed to their lower surfaces. These match [I have deleted ‘to’] holes in the keyframe and the baseboard of the inner instrument and are for the cords connecting the pedal board to the keylevers. These holes are carefully made and of good workmanship and therefore are probably original. However, although there are holes for the cords in the baseboard of the inner instrument there are no corresponding holes in the baseboard of the outer case. This indicates that the pedal could only have operated when the instrument was removed from its protective outer case.

            The pedal mechanism itself has, however, now been lost.


Figure 8 - Plan view of the soundboard, registers and keyboard

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04




            Unfortunately, although there is a number of ink markings on the instrument, there is no place where the name of the maker is visible. However, as well as the figures indicating the numbers of the keys, there are also traces of ink near and under the added blocks on the tails of the top and bottom keylevers. These ink traces seem to be all that is left of the signature of the maker but are insufficient to enable the name to be read.

            The original nameboard which probably also carried the name of the maker, is now missing as mentioned above. The front of the wrestplank behind the position of the nameboard is signed: ‘Cancus G C A Titi’ (where Cancus = Canonicus?) (see Figure 9).


Figure 9 - Inscription on the wrestplank:  "Cancus G C A Titi"

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


             In addition the bass end of the lower surface of the jackrail is signed: ‘Canco Andr[ea] Titi’ (the end of the word Andrea has virtually disappeared). The treble end of the jackrail has the sign AT = Andrea Titi. It would seem from the crude way in which these signatures are written that these inscriptions were probably carried out by a former owner and have nothing whatever to do with the original maker of the instrument.

            The top c3 key is dated clearly 1707. The bottom key is also dated, but the final digit of the date is less clear.  Glued to the baseboard of the outer case is a paper label with a hand-written inscription: ‘Sigor / Cav. Achille Can[- - -] / Milano’. There is also a printed transport ticket that reads ‘ - - - Grande Veloci[tà] / da / Bologna / 472 / a _______’.

            The keylevers are numbered 1 to 45, but there is now no way of knowing if this is original. In addition to these numbers giving the order of the keys there are also gauge markings on the keys. These will be discussed further below.



Analysis of the unit of measurement used in the construction of this instrument and a determination of its centre of construction.

            The outer scantlings of the instrument including the thicknesses of the case sides are given in Table 1 below:

                                                         Length              Height           Thickness           Wood

                                      Front:           842                 - - -                    5                 cypress

                          Case left side:           95[45]            162-3                  5                 cypress

                           Angled back:           922                161-3                  5                 cypress

                        Case right side:           541                  161                    5                 cypress

                              Baseboard:                    Italian style                       14                 poplar

Soundboard to the top of the case walls: 52

Table 1. Scantling measurements in millimetres[46]

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


These measurements are, however, not those used by the original maker of the instrument who began by making the baseboard and working up from there. The original dimensions of the baseboard without case the sides are given in Table 2 below.


                                       Width along the front  -  832½mm

                                  Case depth on bass side  -  187mm

                                 Case depth on treble side  -  522mm

                                                    Angled back  -  901mm[47]

                                                  Angle at back  -  measured as 21.3º but estimated originally to have been 22º [48]

                                                      Case height  -  163mm maximum

Table 2 Dimensions of the baseboard and case height

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


The procedure for determining the unit of measurement used to construct this instrument begins with the measurements of the component sides and the angle made by the back surface of the case. Although it is now somewhat less than this because of shrinkage (see the shrinkage crack at the top of the photograph in Figure 10) the angle of the back was estimated originally to have been close to 22º. The component of the rear side perpendicular to the front is 522 - 187 = 335mm. The components of the triangle formed by the rear side therefore have lengths of 832½mm and 336mm. There is a limited number of possible measurements in once that these numbers could represent given that the size of the measurement unit has to lie somewhere within the limits of 19mm to about 30mm.  This means sthat the only ratio which gives numbers that are reasonable (ie not shorter than 19 and not longer than 30) is when the sides have lengths of 15½ once and 38 once.  The sides have a ratio of  = 0.4024, and a rctan 0.4024 = 21.92º suggesting that the angle of the back should be close to this value. The estimated original angle of 22º has a tangent of 0.4040 @ 0.4079 =  and this further suggests that the lengths of the two sides of the triangle are 15½ once and 38 once. Mathematically these would form an exact angle of 21.91º. This angle is extremely close to the measured angle of 22º, is close to the angle calculated above from the components of the tail side (= 21.92º) and well within the error of measurement. Measurement in millimetres of the lengths of the two sides constituting the components of the tail side gives an approximate estimate of the size of the oncia which can then be applied to the other measurements of the baseboard, keyboard, wrestplank, string scalings, and all of the other parts and design features of the instrument. A summary of the original measurements of the baseboard and case height in once is given in the following table:


                                                                              Measurement          Local                             Length of

                                                                                      in mm          unit                                   oncia

                                        Length along the front:            832½    =    38 once                        21.91

       Rear side component perpendicular to front:               335    =    15½ once                     21.61

                                       Treble right- hand side:               522    =    24 once                        21.75

                                           Bass left- hand side:               187    =    once                       22.00

                                                       Case height:               163    =    once                       21.73

                                                                        Total:          2039½    =    93½ once         Average:  21.823mm


Table 3. Calculation of the length of the unit of measurement used to construct this instrument.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


Figure 10 - Plan view of the baseboard seen from below.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04



These measurements are shown on the diagram in Figure 11 below where the actual measurements in mm and the measured angle of the back of the case are shown on the left, and the nominal measurements in units of the Neapolitan oncia are shown on the right. A look at a table of the units of measurement used in the various centres in Italy during the historical period shows that in Naples before 1841 the palmo, divided into 12 once, had a length of 262.01mm[49]. Hence the oncia had a length of:


Other sources also give the length of the canna with 8 palmi and 96 once in Naples as 2109.36mm[50] so that

These two results are clearly two different ways of expressing the same size of the unit of measurement in this region, and this is clearly the unit that was used in the construction of this instrument. No other centre had a unit of measurement as close in value to that found for this instrument. The error between the value found here and the value given in the tables of metrology is only 0.05%!


            This therefore strongly suggests that Naples is the centre in which this instrument was built.


Figure 11. Original baseboard measurements in mm (left)
and in units of the Neapolitan oncia =
mm (right)

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            I have been able to show that the Neapolitan stringed keyboard maker Onofrio Guarracino used his own workshop unit of measurement of about 21.63mm which is close to, but not exactly equal to, the ‘text book’ value of the oncia used in Naples.[51] Therefore, although Guarracino is known to have made instruments of this type this particular tiorbino which uses the standard Neapolitan unit of measurement and not the workshop unit of Guarracino cannot be ascribed to the latter maker. In any case Guarracino probably died in 1698 or 1699 and so it is unlikely that he would have built this instrument.[52] Neapolitan makers alive in 1707 and known to have made tiorbini[53] include Giovanni Natale Boccalari (active from 1679 to 1717)[54], Andrea Basso (born 1659 – died 1742)[55], Gaetano Carotenuto (1682 – 1709)[56], Giuseppe de Martino (1690 – 1720)[57], and Salvatore Sanchez (1687-1724)[58]. Unfortunately because of the lack of surviving instruments nothing is known of the characteristics of the work of most of these makers so that it is unfortunately not possible to ascribe this instrument to any of these makers.



The compass is C/E to c3, four octaves with a bass short octave and 45 notes. The 3-octave span of the keyboard is 510 - 512mm averaging about 511mm. The total width of the keys at the front is 658mm. The total width of keyplank onto which the natural touchplates are glued is 652mm. The length of the keylevers without their top coverings is 185mm with the balance pin line for the naturals scribed a distance of 87mm behind the front of this plank. The total width of the keywell between the fixed keyblocks is 738mm and the total distance between the carved lions is 657mm with 805mm between the keywell scrolls.

            Originally all of the keys seem to have balanced along the same line about 78mm from the front of the naturals. A piece of poor-quality walnut was added at the back of the original balance rail and the balance pins for the sharps were re-positioned in this new wood along a line in a position about 13-16mm behind the original row of balance pins. The natural keylevers were also drilled in a line along the same position, but the holes did not penetrate the new section of balance rail so the natural balance pins were not re-positioned in these holes. The balance pins are of iron of diameter 2.4mm. The fronts of the keys have undecorated flat bone arcades which, because they are atypical of usual Neapolitan practice, are probably not original.

            There are small leather-covered blocks glued to the top surface of the keylevers at the position of the jacks. Their poor workmanship suggests that they are not original. Presumably they were added to raise the non-original lead jacks (see below) to a position where they were functional and so, like the jacks, these blocks are also presumed not to be original. As discussed below in the section on the jacks and boxslides it is likely however, that there were originally blocks on the tops of the keylevers underneath the jacks. These would have been necessary to enable the rear row of jacks to be disengaged during the tuning of the front row of jacks or when changing the registration from one to two sets of strings. When the keyboard was pulled toward the player the blocks would have moved away from underneath the rear row of jacks which would then not have been raised when the keylevers were depressed. The front register of strings could have then been tuned on its own. Pushing in the keyboard would have operated the rear row of jacks and the strings operated by these could have been tuned to the strings of the first row of jacks and played together with them. This mechanism would, of course, also serve to change the registration.

            The keyframe is of poplar and the balance rail (as well as the added piece mentioned above) is of walnut. The rack is also of walnut in which the keylevers are guided at their tails by brass pins (diameter = 1.1mm) instead of flat wooden slips as is usual. As explained above, and as is usual for Neapolitan keyboard instruments, the keyframe and keyboard slide in and out of the keywell in overhanging slots in the large ebonised keyblocks at the ends of the keywell. Next to these keyblocks are two walnut carved lions which are attached to the keyframe and slide in and out of position along with the keyboard and keyframe. As well as their obvious decorative function these carved lions also serve as pommels to be used when the player wishes to move the keyboard in and out of the instrument to change the registration or for tuning. Behind the two carved lions there are two blocks which would have stood just behind the original nameboard when it was lowered into position. These blocks would then have bumped into the nameboard when the keyboard was pulled forward when disengaging the rear row of jacks as discussed in the paragraph above. These blocks would have prevented the complete withdrawal of the keyboard and the consequent interference of the rack with the jacks (unless of course the nameboard was removed completely).


Jacks, boxslide, and nut and bridge arrangement

None of the original jacks survives. There are some lead or lead/tin jacks kept with the instrument, but these are not of the correct length nor do they accurately fit the jackslots. They have an improvised quill arrangement consisting of a brass wire coiled to form a spring with one end of the spring projecting to serve as the quill. But there is no provision for an escapement mechanism when the ‘quill’ passes the string on the return of the jack, this being effected by brute force only, through the weight of the lead jack.

            The boxslide is made of walnut. It consists of strips of uniform thickness into which four channels have been cut with a fine saw (see Figure 14). These strips were glued together so that the last two slots of the previous strip aligned exactly with the first two slots of the strip being glued in place. In this way the two jacks in these slots were both operated from the same keylever. The number of strips was continued until sufficient jackslots were present. The excess material at the sides was planed away, and the excess end slots were cut off (traces of these are still visible at the ends of the present boxslide and can just be seen at the right-hand end of the boxslide in Figure 14). Because of the large width of the boxslide register the jackrail had to be made wide enough to cover all four rows of jacks and, indeed, the jackrail on this instrument is wider than normal in order to achieve this purpose.

            Both the bridge and nut are of cypress and have a very complicated cross-section. Side and plan views of the bridges can be seen in the photographs of Figure 12 and Figure 14 and a plan view drawing is given in Figure 15Figure 14 shows how the bridges are shaped and pinned so that each of the two choirs of strings can be placed at different  levels. Effectively the bridge section is a composite incorporating two bridges in one, with a moulding and set of bridge pins for each set of strings at two different levels.  The upper set of strings passes over the top of the composite bridge as is normal and the lower set of strings passes through carefully-positioned and angled holes behind the pins and moulding on the lower part of the bridge. The paired rows of jackslots, the composite bridges and a slight angling of the two choirs of strings relative to one another are all features that are necessary in order to make the system work. Figure 15 shows a drawing of the treble section shown in the photograph above but with all of the strings drawn in.[59] In this diagram the jacks for the strings at the lower level marked with an ‘L’ and those for the upper level marked with an ‘H’.


Figure 12 - The treble end of the bridge (left) and the nut (right) with the strings at two levels passing over the register and jackslots.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04




Figure 14 - Treble end of the bridges and boxslides.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            Figure 15 shows that the upper-level strings run in a direction almost parallel to the direction of the jackslots. The lower-level strings, however, are angled slightly counter clockwise relative to the jackslots. This means that the plectra of the near row of jacks for the upper level strings are positioned above the angled lower-level strings below them. The jacks for the upper-level strings must originally have been longer than the jacks for the lower-level strings so that there was therefore no chance of interference of the upper-level jacks with the lower strings. This angling of the lower-level strings does mean, however, that the quills of the jacks for the rear set of jacks plucking to the right had both the lower-level strings and the upper-level strings above them. If the movement of these jacks had been sufficiently great, then these jacks would have plucked both sets of strings which would have been tuned a whole tone apart. Clearly the movement of the jacks must have been restricted so that this did not happen. The key dip must therefore have been quite shallow and the jacks for each register must have been of differing construction. The jacks plucking the lower set of strings must have had a long extension above their tongue and damper making the upper- and lower-level jacks come into contact with the jackrail at the same moment. In this way the excursion of the rear set of lower-level jacks would not have enabled them to pluck the upper-level set of strings.[60]

            With two sets of strings this instrument would be expected to have had some method of inactivating one set of jacks for tuning as discussed above. This may have been done by using blocks on the tops of the rear ends of the keylevers and sliding the keyboard toward the player so that only the near set of jacks was operated by the keys. The two so-called ‘spinette ovali’ made by Cristofori in 1690 and 1693 and now in the Accademia in Florence and the Musikinstrumentenmueusm, Leipzig respectively are both instruments of the virginal type which have two sets of strings and encounter the same problem of disengaging one set of string while tuning the other. These instruments both have a very sophisticated arrangement of blocks to support the jacks when the keyboard is moved in and out for tuning and for changing the registration by alternating the individual 8' choirs of strings or changing to 2x8'.[61]

            Like most other Neapolitan keyboard instruments the keyboard in this tiorbino slides in and out like a drawer so a similar arrangement was clearly possible. There are non-original blocks on the tails of the keylevers, but I could find no clear evidence of the previous existence of earlier blocks. However, the present large non-original keylever blocks may well be covering over the signs left by somewhat smaller original blocks. The non-original blocks on the top and bottom keylevers also cover over what appears to be an original inscription of the maker’s signature as explained above, and they may therefore cover over the signs of the original blocks as well. The small bumper blocks positioned behind the nameboard on the supports for the carved lion figures must have been used to restrict the movement of the keyboard either when changing registration or during tuning. Their presence indicates that at least some kind of system was originally present for this purpose.

            The ability of these little instruments to change registration from playing two sets of strings to one set of strings was perhaps one of the chief advantages seen by their owners over the normal ‘spinette’ with only one set of strings.


Figure 15 - Drawing showing a detail of the treble wrestplank, boxslide, bridges and strings.  Both of the c2 and c3 strings are shown in red and the two f2 strings are shown in blue.  The jacks for the higher -level strings are marked with an ‘H’ and those for the lower level strings are marked with an ‘L’.  The horizontal holes in the bridges for the lower level strings are shown with dashed lines.

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04



String scalings, stringing materials and pitch

          The low set of strings, pinned along the inside of the bridge and nut, are intrinsically shorter than the higher set of strings pinned along the outside edges of the nut and bridge. By making the rear set of jacks, located nearer the longside, pluck the lower set of strings and by making the front jacks pluck the high set of strings, an attempt was made to use the spatial geometry and the shape of the bridges to equalise the scalings of the two string choirs . This can be seen in the diagram shown above in Figure 15 where both the upper-level and lower-level strings have been shown for f2 (coloured blue) and for c3 (coloured red). The straight-section bridges and the constant cross-section of the bridges themselves does not allow the lengths to be made exactly equal, but there is a clear attempt to make them as close to one another as possible.

            The scalings and plucking points all appear to be original:


                                                         Near row of jacks                     Far row of jacks

                                                          Upper level set of strings          Lower level set of strings

                                                         String        Plucking                  String        Plucking

                                  Note               Length          Point                    Length          Point

                                    c3                    84               45                         78               64

                                     f2                    124              40                        120              62

                                    c2                   159              48                        150              63

                                     f1                    236              44                        251              63

                                    c1                   325              53                        333              66

                                     f                    421              45                        431              64

                                     c                    584              52                        619              67

                                     F                    743              48                        745              65

                                  C(/E)                 798              57                        814              74

Table 4. String scalings in millimetres

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            In each case both of the c jacks pluck in a direction away from the player and both of the f jacks in a direction towards the player (see the drawing in Figure 15). These scalings are plotted in the graph shown in Figure 16 below.

Figure 16. The string scalings.  The values in once are given in the Neapolitan oncia = 21.93mm. 

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            Figure 16 shows that the scalings of the two sets of strings are indeed very close in value to one another depending upon the geometry of the bridge and the spatial arrangement for each note: in some cases the upper string is slightly longer than the lower string for a given note, in other cases it is the lower string that is slightly longer. A faint line has been drawn through the points on this graph that corresponds to a c2-equivalent scaling of 7¼ once or 158.3mm. This faint line passes very close to the plotted points and strongly suggests that the maker designed the string scalings based on a c2 scaling of 7¼ once (or a c1 scaling of 14½ once).

            The surviving strings, both those of brass and those of iron, are of very soft materials and are probably quite old. The hitchpin loops of a few of the strings are nicely made but most are rather untidy and of amateurish workmanship. In many cases the strings leave the tuning pins off the top of the coils or off the middle rather than off the bottom as they should. There are several tidy tuning pin coils, but all of these belong to strings of diameter 0.24-0.25mm, and occur even as low as b and a below middle c. There are many repaired strings with looped joins in them. Also there are brass strings in the bass of diameter 0.49mm which go even as high as e1. The mix of strings, the fact that they do not follow the gauge markings on the keys and the untidy workmanship of some of the hitchpin loops and of the tuning pin coils indicate that that most of the strings were not placed on the instrument by a person with the expertise to do so competently even though they may be of the historical period.

            It therefore appears that neither the strings, the string gauges (see Appendix 1) nor the jacks have anything to do with the original state of the instrument. There is anyway a number of problems in assigning the pitch of this instrument if it is assumed that it is strung with metal strings. Although the bridge is made of three straight sections, the scalings resulting from this shape are remarkably Pythagorean in the treble (see Figure 16) and follow a line which suggests that they were based on a design scaling of 7¼ once. This is equivalent to a c2 = 158.3mm using the value of the oncia calculated from the case measurements above.

            At normal pitch R,[62] iron strings have a c2-equivalent scaling of about 350mm and brass strings of about 285mm.[63] The scalings of instruments strung in these materials but at higher pitches are given in the table below


                                                    Musical                                            Iron                     Brass

                         Pitch                    Interval                 Ratio                 Scaling                  Scaling

                            R                          -                       1/1                  350mm                 285mm

                         R + 2                     tone                     8/9                  311mm                 253mm

                         R + 4                    fourth                    3/4                  262mm                 214mm

                         R + 5                      fifth                     2/3                  233mm                 190mm

                         R + 8                   octave                   1/2                  175mm                 143mm

                         R + 9                     ninth                     4/9                  156mm                 127mm

Table 5. Pitch levels and c2-equivalent scalings with iron and brass stringing materials

            Clearly none of the possible pitches corresponding to brass stringing is close to a c2-equivalent scaling of 158.3mm and so stringing in brass can be excluded unless the instrument is at some very strange pitch level. It might be argued that stringing in iron at a pitch of R + 9 is possible since the corresponding iron scaling is 156mm and close to 158.3mm. However, I know of no evidence that suggests that iron was used as a stringing material in Naples as late as 1707 and so I would exclude iron as a possible stringing material.

            This then suggests that the instrument might have been strung in gut. What, one asks, is a typical c2-equivalent scaling for gut strings? The answer to this is not at all precise. Gut, being an organic material, is of variable quality and strength depending on its manufacture and origin. Its strength depends on factors like its method of preparation and very strongly on its twist for example. It depends on whether it is made in a single strand or as a ‘rope’ of multiple strands as well. Therefore, it is difficult to give a precise value of its c2-equivalent scaling.

            As a rough guide, however, one can calculate the c2-equivalent scalings of the top strings of a baroque violin and a Renaissance lute. The top string of a violin sounds the note e2 and has a length with a value of around 330mm. This has a c2-equivalent of about 416mm and is therefore much longer than a typical iron scaling. Indeed the re-stringing of the violin and the other members of the violin family in metal strings had to await the development in the nineteenth century of high-strength patent steel before it was possible to re-string the violin in steel at the same pitch to which it had previously been tuned. A Renaissance lute has a top g1 string and a length of about 590mm. This has a c2-equivalent scaling of about 442mm, an even longer value and one which would result in strings that were even more highly-stressed than the violin e2 string would be at the same pitch level. The difference between these two is symptomatic both of the variable nature of gut and of the problem of assigning a ‘typical’ c2-equivalent scaling to gut as is otherwise possible with metal strings. On the other hand it makes it clear that gut is effectively stronger than either iron or brass and that it is capable, for any given string length, of being tuned to a higher pitch. This suggests that pitches higher than those given in Table 5 have to be considered.

            To do this the values shown in Table 6 were compiled. Here, in addition to considering higher pitches, the c2-equivalent scalings are given in terms of the Neapolitan oncia, the unit of measurement that would have been used to design and build this instrument. In this case the c2-equivalent scaling of iron is given as 16 once = 349.4mm, of brass as 13 once = 283.8mm and of gut as 19½ once = 425.8mm. All of these are close in value to the known c2-equivalent scalings for these materials as seen above.





Musical   Iron Scaling Brass Scaling  Gut Scaling
  Interval Ratio  mm once mm once mm once
R - 1/1 349.4 16.00 283.8 13.00 425.8 19.50
R + 2 tone 8/9 310.6 14.22 252.3 11.55 378.5 17.33
R + 4 fourth 3/4 262.1 12.00 212.9 9.75 319.4 14.63
R + 5 fifth 2/3 232.9 10.67 189.2 8.67  283.9 13.00
R + 8 octave 1/2 174.7 8.00 141.9 6.50 212.9 9.75
R + 9 ninth 4/9 155.3 7.11 126.1 5.78 189.2 8.67
R + 11 eleventh 3/8 131.0 6.00 106.4 4.87 159.7 7.31
R + 12 twelfth 1/3 116.5 5.33 94.6 4.33 141.9 6.50
R + 15 fifteenth 1/4  87.4 4.00 71.0 3.25 106.5 4.88

Table 6. Comparison of c2-equivalent scalings using iron, brass and gut at different pitches


            From this table it is clear that the only scaling that is close to the scaling of this instrument is the gut scaling at a pitch of R + 11 – that is an octave and a fourth above R. The values of 159.7mm and 7.31once for the c2-equivalent scalings are both close to the values found for this instrument. However, it is extremely improbable that the maker would have begun his design by working from a scaling for an instrument at a pitch an octave and a fourth away from the instrument actually under his hands. He would have used a c2-equivalent scaling for the instrument he was working on which had a simple length – like 7¼ once – that was convenient and memorable to work with. Such a scaling would have given strings which, like the top note of a lute, were ‘as close to breaking as they could bear’. Gut strings at this pitch would have a series of partials that were very close to a perfect harmonic series and would therefore have had a very musical sound that was sweet and delicate. Therefore assuming that the instrument was strung in gut instead of metal strings resolves the problem of the lack of any suitable pitch category for stringing with either iron or brass, and introduces the idea that this might have been tuned to a pitch of R + 11 an octave and a fourth above normal pitch. To me this is therefore the main reason for assuming that this instrument was originally designed as a tiorbino.

            Because of the features inherent in the design of an instrument with straight bridge sections, the scalings do not exactly halve and double with each octave rise and drop in pitch throughout the treble part of the compass as explained above. However, it should be noted that there is very little bass foreshortening. This can be see in the graph of Figure 16 where the scaling of the bottom note C(E) is only a little more than an interval of a fifth to the left of the fine Pythagorean scaling line.[64] This means that the instrument could be strung in gut all the way to the bottom note and still sound well and produce bass notes that would have a pure harmonic structure with a pleasing musical quality. Because the bass scalings only start to foreshorten at about the note c and because the foreshortening is small in the bass, gut strings, probably without any overspinning, would work extremely well throughout the whole of the compass.


            The instrument therefore fits all of Nocerino’s criteria:

1.      It is a small instrument of the spinet type at a high pitch.

2.      It, like some of the tiorbini described in the documents, has two choirs of strings.

3.      It must originally have been strung in gut.

4.      Its appearance is like that of the instruments in the engravings of Todini’s Galleria armonica.


            These factors all suggest strongly that this instrument is a perfect candidate for re-classification as a tiorbino. Therefore the few important ephemera which this instrument retains and its importance as one of the few - perhaps the only - surviving keyboard instruments which can probably be classified as a tiorbino makes this unimposing little instrument a treasure and an object of the highest interest and importance. 






Appendix 1 – Keylever gauge markings

            The keylevers are numbered 1 to 45, but there is now no way of knowing if this is original. In addition to these numbers there are also gauge markings on the keylevers:



           Note                        Marking

  c2[to c3]                         9

e1[to b1]                          8

a [to e1]                           7

e [to g]                           6

 c [to e]                        5

  A [to B]                        4

        G                             3

          F                              3

        E/G                         2

        D/F                          2

         C/E                            1 

Keylever Gauge Markings

Tiorbino, Naples, 1707

Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Milan, Catalogue Nº MTS-TP/04


            The gauge markings cover the ‘normal’ range of the Nuremberg wire-gauge system. It is therefore likely that they were intended to indicate the diameters of the metal strings which were probably placed on the instrument when the original jacks were replaced with the present crude lead jacks.


[1] The first part of this paper is a re-written and updated version of my article ‘Il tiorbino fra Napoli e Roma: notizie e documenti su uno strumento di produzione cembalaria’, Recercare XII (2000) 95-109, and of the paper which I read to the combined meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society and the Galpin Society held in Edinburgh in August, 2003.

[2] See Francesco Nocerino, ‘Arte cembalaria a Napoli. Documenti e notizie su costruttori e strumenti napoletani’, Ricerche sul ‘600 Napoletano, Saggi e documenti 1996-1997, (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), 85-109; Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria alla luce delle recenti ricerche archivistiche’, in Paologiovanni Maione (ed.), Fonti d’archivio per la storia della musica e dello spettacolo a Napoli tra il XVI e XVIII secolo, (Naples: Editoriale Scientifica, 2001), 205-26 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Cembalari a Napoli nel Cinquecento. Nuove fonti e inediti documenti’, Recercare XV (2003): 173-88.

[3] Vinicio Gai, ‘Inventario di diverse sorti d'instrumenti musicali in proprio del Serenissimo Sig. Principe Ferdinando di Toscana’, Gli strumenti musicali della corte medicea e il museo del conservatorio “Luigi Cherubini” di Firenze, (Licosa-Firenze: 1969), 6-22 or, with an english translation, Giuliana Montanari, ‘Bartolomeo Cristofori. A list and historical survey of his instruments’, Early Music, 19 Nº 3 (1991) 383-96..

[4] See the Documentary Appendices, number 1 at the end of Part 1 of this paper.

[5] See the Documentary Appendices numbers 1 and 2. For further information about the harpsichord builders Girolamo Zenti and Giuseppe Mondini both of whom were active in Rome during the second half of the seventeenth century see Patrizio Barbieri, ‘Cembalaro, organaro chitarraro e fabbricatore di corde armoniche nella Polyanthea di Pinaroli (1718-32)’, Recercare, I (1989) 123-209. I would like to point out that, also working in the workshop of Girolamo Zenti, who was born in Viterbo and maker of the earliest-known surviving bentside spinet, were the makers Carlo Perelli from Naples and Antonio Sabbatino. Sabbatino was a nephew of Zenti and was also originally from Viterbo. But Sabbatino is also known from the archives to have been active in Naples where, for example, he is known to have built a tiorbino with two registers (see Patrizio Barbieri, ‘Cembalaro, organaro chitarraro e fabbricatore di corde armoniche, 155 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Arte cembalaria a Napoli’, 100; and Francesco Nocerino:Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 212-213, 220-221.

[6] See the Documentary Appendices, nos. 3, 4, and 5. The last of these three documents has the only known reference to the ‘cimbalario’ (harpsichord builder) Gioseppe [Giuseppe] de Simone. One hypothesis is that he was related to the organ builder Pietro De Simone (see Ulisse Prota-Giuleo, ‘Organari napoletani del XVII e XVIII secolo, L'Organo, II (Bologna: 1961), 120). He may also have been related to the harpsichord and organ builder Antonio de Simone from Palermo (reference is made to him in Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 224). Both of the latter are known to have been active in Naples in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Onofrio Guarracino (born in Naples in 1628 and died there sometime after 1698) is perhaps the best known Neapolitan harpsichord maker both because of the number of his signed surviving instruments in museums and private collections and as well as for the mass of documents that deal with his activity and that have been brought to light (see Francesco Nocerino, ‘Arte cembalaria a Napoli’, 95-98 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Evidence for Italian mother-and-child virginals: an important document signed by Onofrio Guarracino’, GSJ 53, (Oxford: 2000) 317-321 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 210-211, 217-219).

Antonio Sabbatino, whose surname often appears altered to Sabatino, and who as already mentioned originated in Viterbo, was a nephew on the side of G. Zenti’s mother. He appears to have been active as a harpsichord builder during the period from 1646-1687. He was almost certainly tied by familial connections to the eighteenth-century Neapolitan harpsichord builders Baldassare Sabbatino and Gaspare Sabbatino (see Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 212-213, 221-223).

[7] See the Documentary Appendices nos. 6, 7 and 14. Salvatore Sanchez (or sometimes Sanges), whose surname certainly suggests a Spanish origin, appears to have been active in Naples from 1687 to 1724. For the moment unfortunately no trace has been found of the harpsichord builder Salvatore Sanchez in Spain (I would like to thank Dr Beryl Kenyon de Pascual for her kind collaboration in pursuing this matter).

Gaetano Carotenuto, whose activity as an artisan and dealer in harpsichords is well documented from 1682 through to 1709, was responsible for the maintenance of the harpsichords of the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto in Naples (see Francesco Nocerino,Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 211-212, 214-215). Gaetano Baldassarro (sometimes spelled Baldassarre) would seem to have been a student of Salvatore Sanchez and also repaired and tuned harpsichords for the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples during the first part of the eighteenth century (see F. Cotticelli and P. Maione, Onesto divertimento de’ popoli. Materiali per una storia dello spettacolo a Napoli nel primo Settecento, (Milano: Ricordi, 1996) 129, n.144).

For a discussion about the various types of low bass octave compasses used by harpsichord builders in Italy see Patrizio Barbieri ‘Cembalaro, organaro, chitarraro e fabbricatore di corde armoniche’, 137.

[8] See the Documentary Appendices, nos. 13, 15 and 16. See also Francesco Cotticelli and Paologiovanni Maione, ‘Le carte degli antichi banchi e il panorama musicale e teatrale della Napoli di primo Settecento’, Studi pergolesiani. Pergolesi Studies 5, and Francesco Degrada (ed.), (Jesi: Fondazione Pergolesi-Spontini) which is currently in the course of publication).

Angelo Faenza was a master harpsichord builder and was active in Naples in the second half of the seventeenth century. See Francesco Nocerino, ‘Arte cembalaria a Napoli’, 95 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Cembalari a Napoli nel Cinquecento’, 175-176.

Gaspare Sabbatino, a relative of Antonio Sabbatino, was active in the second half of the eigtheenth century in Naples (see Francesco Nocerino: ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 213, 222-223; A signed and dated harpsichord by Gaspare (or also Gasparro) Sabbatino is preserved in the collection of Andreas Beurmann (see A. E. Beurmann, Historische Tasteninstrumente, Cembali, Spinette, Virginale, Clavichorde, (Munich, London, New York: Prestel Verlag, 2000), 70-1; see also D. Boalch, Makers of the harpsichord and clavichord 1440-1840, 3rd edition, Charles Mould (ed.), (Oxford: 1995), 165.

Francesco Andreassi (or Andreasso), was a harpsichord builder who was active in Naples in the first part of the eighteenth century. He was in charge of the harpsichords in the Conservatorio della Pietà dei Turchini and was a colleague of Fabrizio Mucciardi with whom he shared a workshop ‘nell’imbrecciata di Santa Maria de Sette Dolori’ [near the [gravel-]paved street of Santa Maria de Sette Dolori] where they made harpsichords and tiorbini. Documents dealing with Bartolomeo Andreassi (who was certainly a relative of Francesco) have been found. He was active in Naples in the years 1781-83, during which period he is known to have made a ‘cimbalone’ in 1769: see D. Boalch, Makers of the harpsichord and clavichord 1440-1840, 3rd edition, Charles Mould (ed.), (Oxford: 1995), 5 and Giulia Di Dato - Teresa Mautone - Maria Melchionne - Carmelina Petrarca - Paologiovanni Maione (coordinatore), ‘Notizie dallo Spirito Santo: la vita musicale a Napoli nelle carte bancarie (1776-1785)’, in Paologiovanni Maione - Marta Columbro (eds.), Domenico Cimarosa: un ‘napoletano’ in Europa, 2 volumes, Lucca: LIM, 2004, volume II, Le fonti, Paologiovanni Maione (ed.), 665-1197.) 

Fabrizio Mucciardi, a previously unpublished harpsichord builder active in the first part of the eighteenth century, was a colleague of Francesco Andreassi, and was probably the progenitor of a dynasty of harpsichord builders among whom are the known makers Ignazio Mucciardi e Pasquale Mucciardi (See Donald H. Boalch, Makers of the harpsichord and clavichord 1440-1840, 3rd edition, Charles Mould (ed.), (Oxford: 1995), 135-136; L. Cervelli (ed.), La Galleria Armonica. Catalogo del Museo degli strumenti musicali di Roma, (Rome: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1994), 279; Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 98; and Grant O’Brien, ‘The use of simple geometry and the local unit of measurement in the design of Italian stringed keyboard instruments: an aid to attribution and to organological analysis’, Galpin Society Journal, LII, (1999), 108-171.

Document 15 seems to imply that the harpsichord builder Isidoro Faenza, an expert called to value the material left in the workshop of Francesco Andreasso e Fabrizio Mucciardi, might also belong to the harpsichord-building community. However this is the only known document mentioning Isidoro Faenza and so we can only postulate about him being a relative of the harpsichord builder Angelo Faenza mentioned above.

[9] See the Documentary Appendices, numbers 9 and 9. For further information on Carlo Grimaldi and his son Paolo, see Danilo Costantini, ‘Nuovi dati biografici sul cembalaro Carlo Grimaldi’, Recercare V (1993) 211-220. For more information on the Roman harpsichord builder Giovanni Pietro Polizzino see Patrizio Barbieri, ‘Gli strumenti poliarmonici di G.B. Doni e il ripristino dell’antica musica greca (c.1630-1650), Analecta musicologica, XXX (1998) 89.

[10] See the Documentary Appendices, number 10. For information about the priest, singer and composer Don Giovanni Battista Merolla, see Salvatore di Giacomo, Il Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio e quello di S. Maria della Pietà dei Turchini, (Palermo: R. Sandron, 1924), 52-54.

[11] See the Documentary Appendices, number 12.

[12] Information on Michele Todini’s galleria armonica can be found in the recent study by Patrizio Barbieri, ‘Michele Todini’s galleria armonica: its hitherto unknown history’, Early Music, XXX, (November 2002), 565-582.

[13] Filippo Bonanni, Gabinetto armonico pieno d’istromenti sonori, (Rome: Giorgio Placho, 1722) Plate XXXIII.

[14] Michele Todini, Dichiarazione della Galleria Armonica, (Rome: 1676), facs. reprint edited by Patrizio Barbieri, (Lucca: LIM, 1988) 10-11. This part is reproduced in the Documentary Appendices below as number 12.

[15] Athanasius Kircher, Phonurgia nova, Rudolph Dreher, Kempten 1673, 168.

[16] Todini, Dichiarazione della Galleria Armonica, 24-25.

[17] From this point on the term ‘tiorbino’ will be used in this study to mean a stringed keyboard instrument belonging to the harpsichord family.

[18] See the Documentary Appendices number 5 on page 8.

[19] See the Documentary Appendices number 5. I feel it necessary to draw attention to the precise nature of the clause regarding the tuning stability of the instrument in this case.

[20] See the Documentary Appendices number 6. See also Marta Columbro, Organari e organisti:  squardo su alcune fonti napoletane del XVI e XVII secolo, (Battipaglia: in course of publication). I would like to thank Dr Marta Columbro for communicating this document to me.

Nicola Cennamo was  harpsichord builder active in Naples in the first half of the eighteenth century notable for having been in the service of the Consveratorio dell’Arte della Seta, and of important Neapolitan families for the maintenance of their keyboard instruments.  See: Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 223, and Ausilia Magaudda, ‘Le spese per la musica di una famiglia calabrese a Napoli: i Caracciolo di Arena’, in Giuseppe Ferraro and Francescantonio Pollice (ed.) Civiltà musicale calabrese nel Settecento, (Lamezia Terme: 1994), 113-4.

[21] See Frank Hubbard, Three centuries of harpsichord making, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965) 327- 330; Uta Henning, ‘The most beautiful among the claviers’, Early Music, XXIV, n.3, (October, 1982) 477-486; and the paragraphs by Denzil Wraight in Stanley Sadie, Early Keyboard Instruments, The New Grove Musical Instrument Series, (London: 1989) 178 and 188-191. Another interesting historical reference to gut-strung keyboard instruments occurs in the second edition of Robert Plot's The Natural History of Oxfordshire: " In Musick (which is Arithmetick adorned with sounds) to pass by a Harpsechord [sic] that I met with at Fairmedow Penyston's with Cats-gut strings" (Robert Plot, The Natural History of Oxford-shire Being an Essay towards the Natural History of England, (London: 1677, 2/London: 1705) §199, p.293. I would like to express my gratitude to Christopher Field for supplying me with this information.

[22] The complete will can be found in Enrico de Pascale, ‘Baschenis “private”. L'eredità, la bottega, la collezione’, Evaristo Baschenis e la natura morta in Europa. Catalogo della mostra allestita presso la Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Bergamo, (Milan: Skira editore, 1996) 51-64. I would like to thank Renato Meucci for bringing this note to my attention.

[23] Luigi-Francesco Valdrighi, Nomocheliurgografia antica e moderna, (Modena: 1884) 146.

[24] Reference to the use of gut strings in Italy can be found in Barbieri, Cembalaro, organaro, chitarraro e fabbricatore di corde armoniche, 137.

[25] Marin Mersenne, Harmonie universelle, contenant la théorie et la pratique de la musique, III (Paris: Sebastien Cramoisy, 1636-1637) 104: ‘On peut aussi mettre des cordes de boyau, de soye, d’or & d’argent sur l’Epinette, mais l’on experimente que celles de boyau ne sont pas si propres que celles de leton, parce qu'elles changent trop facilement de ton en temps sec & humide, & ne sont pas si uniformes & si esgales en toutes leurs parties que celles de metal’.

[26] The Neapolitan music theorist Scipione Cerreto gives a singular etymological explanation of the word theorbo affirming ‘che si dice così dall’ordini delle corde che sono tre, cioè corde gravissime, grave, medie’ (that it has this name because there are three categories of strings, that is deepest basses, bass and middle) (Scipione Cerreto, Dell’arbore musicale, (Naples: 1608), 36. Note that Cerreto does not include high or treble strings, implying that the theorbo is a bass instrument.

[27] See the Documentary Appendices, number 5. For information on Fleischer, as well as Henning, The most beautiful among the claviers, 478-479, Hubbard, Three centuries of harpsichord making, 262, Denzil Wraight in Early Keyboard Instruments, 189, see also Francesco Valdrighi, Nomocheliurgografia antica e moderna, 147.

[28] The quotation of this document, as for that of the following Document 2, is taken from the transcription of the original by Vinicio Gai, ‘Inventario di diverse sorti d'instrumenti musicali in proprio del Serenissimo Sig. Principe Ferdinando di Toscana’, Gli strumenti musicali della corte medicea e il museo del conservatorio “Luigi Cherubini” di Firenze, (Licosa-Firenze: 1969), 6-22).

[29] Note by Grant O’Brien: the use of the dialect Italian word abeto in the Tuscan part of the Apennines is still common and means specifically fir (abies and almost certainly abies alba). Fir is otherwise called abete bianco in standard Italian. On the other hand abete rosso is used for spruce both in standard Italian and in the Tuscan dialect form. I would like to thank Graziano Bandini for this information.

[30] One likely possibility for the compass of this instrument is G1,A1 to c3 with no G1 and with split g/a, d1/e1, g1/a1 , d2/e2, g2/a2 and d3/e3 with altogether 59 notes.

[31] These dimensions were calculated by Grant O’Brien using the pre-July 1782 value of the braccio and soldo given by Angelo Martini, Manuale di metrologia, (Turin: E. Loescher, 1883; reprint Rome: Editrice E.R.A., 1976) 206. Here there are 20 soldi in one braccio and one soldo = 27.560mm. Please note that most nineteenth-century reference works on Italian metrology quote the post-1782 value which gives one soldo = 29.18mm. This post-1782 value was defined as exactly 18 seventeenths greater than the pre-1782 value.

[32] See footnote 29.

[33] This implies a compass of G1,A1 to c3 with no G1.

[34] See footnote 31.

[35] Inventory of the keyboard instruments found in the workshop of the harpsichord builder Carlo Grimaldi. The quotation of this document is taken from the transcription of the original by Danilo Costantini, ‘Nuovi dati biografici sul cembalaro Carlo Grimaldi’, Recercare V, (1993), 216.

[36]ad ala’ literally wing-shaped. This suggests that these were small portable organs with their pipes arranged in strict order (rather than alternating) with the bass pipes on the left and the treble pipes on the right.

[37] Inventory dated 2 May, 1658 of the keyboard instruments found in the workshop of the harpsichord builder Giovanni Pietro Polizzino, quoted by Patrizio Barbieri, ‘Gli strumenti poliarmonici di G.B. Doni e il ripristino dell’antica musica greca (c.1630-1650)’, Analecta musicologica, XXX (1998), 89, n.23.

[38] Quoted by L. F. Valdrighi, Nomocheliurgografia antica e moderna, (Modena: Real Accademia di Modena, 1884), 278.

[39] The roman palmo had a length of 224.3mm – see Angelo Martini, Manuale di metrologia, (Turin: E. Loescher, 1883; reprint Rome: Editrice E.R.A., 1976) 596.

[40] I am using the word spinet here in the usual way understood by most scientific organologists: a spinet, according to normal usage and the definition given in Grove 6, is a stringed keyboard instrument in which, as in the harpsichord, the keys are all of more-or-less the same length so that the register is almost perpendicular to them. In a spinet the strings are angled to the right relative to the keylevers often at an angle of about 45º. Unfortunately there is not the same agreement in Italian about what the word ‘spinetta’ means. In common usage a ‘spinetta’ often means a virginal (although in historical usage in the sixteenth century especially, ‘arpicordio’ was used to mean virginal (see the translation of Document 8 in part 1 of this paper where the form ‘upricordi’ is used). Wherever possible in this paper the terms ‘spinet’ and ‘virginal’ have been used according to their scientific organological definitions.

[41] See Grant O’Brien and Ferdinando Luigi Tagliavini, ‘Clavicembalo e spinetta’, La collezione di strumenti musicali del Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Guido Bizzi and Lorenzo Girodo, general editors, (Milan: Il laboratorio, 1991) 68. I know of no other references to this instrument.

[42] The general characteristics of Neapolitan harpsichords, virginals and spinets are rehearsed in detail on my website. The reader is referred to:

[43] See footnote 42 above.

[44] See footnote 42.

[45] This measurement and the measurement of the case right side include the unusual rear mouldings.

[46] These measurements do not include the thickness added by the top or the outer case mouldings.

[47] Estimated original length compensating for present shrinkage, the present measurement is now 898mm.

[48] In order to measure the original angle and to compensate for the notable shrinkage of the baseboard, a straight edge was lined up with the ends of the sides of the instrument. The original angle measured in this way would have been close to 22˚. The angles at the front (which should be close to right angles) are 89˚ inwards on the bass side and 90˚ at the treble side.

[49] See: Horace Doursther, Dictionnaire universel des poids et mesures anciens et modernes, (Brussels: M Hayer, 1840), and Giovanni Croci , Dizionario universale dei pesi e delle misure in uso presso gli antichi e moderni con ragguaglio ai pesi e misure del sistema metrico, (Milan : The Author, 1860).

[50] See: Hercule Cavalli, Tableaux comparatifs des mesures, poids et monnaies modernes et anciens…, (Paris: Paul Dupont, 2/1874), Horace Doursther, Dictionnaire universel des poids et mesures anciens et modernes, (Brussels: M Hayer, 1840), Barnaba Oriani, Istruzione su le misure e su i pesi che si usano nella Repubblica Cisalpina, (Milan: 1891), and Luigi Pancaldi, Raccolta ridotta a dizionario di varie misure antiche e moderne coi loro rapporti alle misure metriche…, (Bologna: Sassi, 1847),

[51] See Table 2 on my website

[52] Guarracino was born in 1628 and so would have been 79 in 1707 and therefore unlikely still to have been active. In addition there are no documents dated after 1699 mentioning his name.

[53] My thanks to Francesco Nocerino for supplying me with this information.

[54] See D. Boalch, Makers of the Harpsichord and Clavichord, 3rd edition, Charles Mould (ed.), 19 and 246 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘Arte cembalaria a Napoli….’, 88.

[55] See Ulisse Prota-Giurleo, ‘Organari napoletani del XVII e XVIII secolo’, L’Organo, I, (Bologna: 1961) 110 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘L’attività cembalaria dell’organaro a Napoli nei secoli XVI-XVIII. Contributi documentari’, Battipaglia in course of publication.

[56] Francesco Nocerino, ‘Napoli centro di produzione cembalaria’, 211-212 and 214-215.

[57] Ulisse Prota Giurleo, ‘Organari napoletani del XVII e XVIII secolo’, (1961) 118 and Francesco Nocerino, ‘L’attività cembalaria dell’organaro a Napoli nei secoli XVI-XVIII. Contributi documentari’, Battipaglia, in course of publication.

[58] See the Documentary Appendices in the first part of this paper, nos. 6 and 15.

[59] This diagram is idealised somewhat to compensate for the movement of the parts which resulted from shrinkage during a period in which the instrument was kept in very dry conditions. Also the order front-to-back of the tuning pins has been altered since, as placed, there would have been some fouling of the strings of the near row of tuning pins by the tuning pins further from the player.

[60] This feature is quite common in many harpsichords which have a 4' register. The 4' jacks, plucking strings at a low level, are made longer and with an extension above the tongue and damper so that the 4' jack touches the jackrail cloths at the same moment as do the 8' jacks.

[61] See the numerous articles in Bartolomeo Cristofori. La spinetta del 1690/The 1690 oval spinet, edited by Gabriele Rossi-Rognoni, (Florence: Sillabe for the Galleria dell’Accademia, 2002).

[62] Here I am using the same pitch notation that I used in my book Ruckers. A Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). In this system R refers to the ‘normal’ pitch, roughly equivalent to a pitch about a semitone below modern pitch. R + 2 is a whole tone or a major second above this, R + 4 is a fourth above, R + 5 if a fifth above, R + 8 is an octave above, etc. In this system R + 1 does not exist.

[63] See Chapter Four of my book Ruckers. A harpsichord and virginal building tradition, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) Table 4.4, p. 61.

[64] Many stringed instruments such as those of the violin and viol family for example, use gut strings and have an intrinsic string scaling design in which all of the strings have the same length. The bass strings in this design are usually weighted by overspinning them with a metal wire in order to improve the quality and power of their sound. In such instruments the lowest strings therefore have a very marked foreshortening. This is possible because gut is extremely flexible and produces a sound with pure harmonics despite the amount of foreshortening for the low strings. In stringed keyboard instruments with metal strings the inharmonicity of the bass notes is reduced by using weaker, more flexible metals (like red brass for example) to string the bass notes than that used in the treble.


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