The Museum of the Royal College of Music owns a collection of over 45,000 items, including one of the earliest and most relevant public collections of musical instruments available in the UK. This exhibition includes some of the highlights, while the actual gallery is being rebuilt as part of a major redevelopment project due to open to the public in early 2019.
Due to its extremely fragile condition and old age, this instrument cannot be played, but an accurate replica was made was made in 1973 by Adlam Burnett, and it offers a reliable example of what the instrument must have sounded like shortly after it was made.
According to the Italian tradition, the instrument is very light (less than 20kg) and built out of very thin wooden boards. It rests inside an external and independent protective case that is richly decorated in the typical late 16th century Venetian style. However, scientific analysis suggests that this decoration might be a later addition.
Very little is known of the life of this maker and only a few more of his instruments survive. However, an inventory of the Medici court dated 1700 describes in detail an instrument identical to this one, and there is reason to believe that this guitar belonged at that time to Grand Prince Ferdinando, before leaving Florence in 1777.
Tielke was also considered to be the inventor of the Cithrinchen, a bell-shaped instrument with metal strings which became particularly popular in the region of Hamburg. Although it is now known that other contemporary makers were making this instrument, Tielke's are the most visually remarkable.
This is the earliest surviving Cithrinchen, now over 340 years old.
Dietrich Kessler, a maker and restorer who died in 2006, collected and restored some of the most remarkable viols from the key makers of the early British tradition including Henry Jaye, John Rose, Richard Meares, and Barak Norman. His wife Jane donated the instruments to the Royal College of Music in 2009 for them to be used by the students and professors.
Texts: Gabriele Rossi Rognoni
Photos: Saul Peckham and others
Digital implementation: Richard Martin