Strings of history - Jacob schnurr

This art gallery looks at the evolution of varies stringed instruments up until the renaissance (around 1600AD). It's important to remember these instruments are works of art in and of themselves, hand crafted with both purpose of functionality and to aesthetically pleasing Perhaps even to convey deeper meaning on the individual who created it or the culture they came from. The gallery includes instruments from different eras and regions of the world but are all stringed instruments or musical instruments that harness the power of vibrating strings through air to produce the sound of varying pitches. This gallery is in chronological order of when the instruments were created. Being a student in Recording Arts, I found it more than appropriate to fine a subject I relate to, I play a few stringed instruments including guitar, bass, mandolin, ukulele and recently violin although, I'm pretty useless at violin thus far. The theme of historic stringed instruments is a personal interest of mine. 

From 2600BC the Queen's Lyre is the oldest piece in this gallery, of course the original piece has decayed but the lyre was re-contructed into the 'harp-lyre' from plaster model from the depression made from oiriginal and is now as you see it. The original Queen's lyre, from the Royal Cemetery at Ur. was said to have been astonishingly beautiful, decorated with lapis lazuli, red limestone and shells. The contrast between wood, trimming and the brass cow head make the piece feel simple yet complex in some areas. This piece shows just how long these instruments have been made and the shape of the cow which were worshipped by many ancient civilizations. The sculpted head, the intricate design trimming the body of the lyre this piece was made with great care and craftsmanship.
This bizarre instrument may not appear nearly as artistically built as some other instruments in the gallery but significants is important. This is a zither found from the Western Han Dynasty in 206BC. The zither was a wooden base with strings that would be plucked the piece resides in Human Prvinicial Museum. It had twenty-five strings and is one of many instruments that were played in this fashion from throughout south Eastern Asia. Although it may not be the prettiest the ingenuity of being one of the first shapes stringed instruments would take is critical. Many instruments today that function in a similar function as this early zither have turned into beautiful works of art and some are quite large.
This next instruments is one of my favorites, it too is a zither and one from about 1000 years later and possibly much longer the "He Ming Qiu Yue" is a zither made in the Ming Dynasty sometime from 1368 - 1644 AD. The piece gets it's name from inscription on it meaning "Crane crying under autumn moon". You can see that with time the shape of the zither has been polished out, granted this piece has far fewer strings. The red of the rosewood it's made out of is striking and the inscription gives the instrument much more personality and uniqueness.
Unlike the piano, a percussion instrument the Clavicythrium is described as an upright harpsichord being a sort of key-stringed instrument hybrid, thought to be the earliest of its kind. Held in the Royal College of Music, the Clavicytherium was created in 1480 AD and was found in Southern Germany. There's no denying that it's gorgeous and to have been seen at the time of its creation would have been spectacular, fitting perfectly on this gallery. The piece doubles as both an instrument and a painting. We don't see many instruments built with such artistic creativity much anymore.
This lute from Northern Italy during the renaissance (1480 - 1500 AD) is a well known instrument and was equally popular throughout Europe for a long time. Actually, it was the lute that inspired me to make historical stringed instruments my theme. With there being hundreds of varying and peculiar stringed instruments through out human history. The fretted instrument is often used as a solo instrument or could be strummed or plucked and sang over. The design of this instrument is important and will catch on in the stringed instrument family. The lute itself is well made and is honestly a masterpiece for a functioning instrument as old as it is.
Get use to Northern Italy, It's a hot spot for beautifully crafted stringed instruments, this renaissance harp was made in 1550 AD. The shape of the harp seems inviting and elegant as does it;s sound but has a serious purpose. The thirty gut strings are laid out in varying lengths which effect the pitch when plucked. Standing over four and a half feet tall the harp is no small piece either. Unfortunately , like many stringed instruments the wood they're made of does not with stand the test of time. The harp was restored including a crown from the 20th century. Though, it's not hard to imagine this harp was just as graceful looking in it's youth. The harp is a must on a trip through history's stringed instruments.
Looking like a odd looking violin or viola this is the Lira da braccio created by Francesco Lirarol from you guessed it, Northern Italy, specifically Venice, Italy, year 1563 AD. The National Music Museum in South Dakota regards it as one of the most important stringed instruments from the renaissance. The seven stringed instrument is was played in a quite unique way, with five strings being played with a bow whilst the remaining two were plucked by the thumb of the fretting hand. Experimenting with different ways stringed instruments could be played lead to many foreign looking instruments coming out of this time period, many of them both odd and aesthetic looking.
We leave Venice for now to England to look at another one of my favorites and in my opinion the most handsome instrument in this gallery. This eight stringed piece is called a Cittern and is from the year 1579 AD. Resembling a mandolin slightly, the cittern was a small instrument with a similar to the lute, not surprisingly since they're close and size with doubled strings. This specific piece is thought to be the only cittern from the England renaissance time period to survive to this day. The detail is outstanding and is hard to think how anyone could design so a wonderful functioning piece of art by hand.
Okay, and we're back in Venice to stay, this is the Chitarrone and possibly the weirdest looking instrument in this gallery, made in 1608 AD it is made from walnut wood, ivory and bone and is practically the embodiment of a ancient double necked guitar with one bass neck and one treble neck. The eight bass strings do not have frets and twelve more strings underneath. Maybe not completely as practical as intended the chitarrone has it's place in history as another experimental stringed instrument and the crazy look to it makes it stand out in this gallery. I love the the idea behind this instrument and the genius it took to design an instrument that works in the fashion the chitarrone does.
This last instrument is was made by Matteo Sellas in Venice (1632 AD) named the Domenico Sellas, after the creator's son. The piece is obviously made with a certain flavor and artistic likeness. The guitar is decorated with ivory, ebony and mother-of-pearl that are made in outstanding patterns across the neck, body and trimming the sound hole. You may notice with out last instrument in this gallery that stringed instruments are really taking shape and at this point sharing similar features and designs on how the instrument actually works and is played. Nonetheless we leave off with a instrument that brilliantly shows off the skill and love put into this sometimes undermined art form.
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