This past week I visited the Musikinstrumenten Museum of Berlin's Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung to study, photograph and measure the theorbo by Christoph Koch, Venezia 1650, No.3581.
This is an important example of a medium size, mid-century theorbo. Its construction combines features typical of early 17th century Italian theorbos with elements usually associated with later instruments. Also, the fingerboard, neck and extension are stunningly and masterfully inlaid with ivory arabesques, whorls and engraved figures.
Therefore, a trip to Berlin was essential.
I recorded details of the belly, neck and theorbo extension with measurements and photos which I will describe later in this post, but my principal interest was in the design in the construction of the bowl. This is the feature that tonally distinguishes one model of theorbo from another.
The bowl is built with fifteen ribs of kingwood (dalbergia cearensis) separated by 2mm wide spacers composed of narrow bands of ivory/kingwood/ivory. The rib wood is "flat-sawn" rather than quartered in order to display the its intense figure.
I noted the size of the end clasp and the width of the ribs as they disappeared under it.
The soundboard is 375mm wide and 594mm from the end to the neck joint and is constructed from very fine grain spruce. The contour is pleasing; full in the lower third and sloping gracefully toward the neck. The triple rose whose size, top to bottom, equals one quarter of the length is placed in the third quarter of the total length. The border is a combination of thin ivory and kingwood (in places repaired with ebony) bands with a wider strip of ivory on the outer edge. However, there are two disruptive elements. The contour in the lower third of the face is asymmetrical; the treble side contour forms a sharper curve than the bass side. And the bridge is off-center. This in itself is not unusual, but the placement is extreme. The total string width on the bridge is 161mm. The first treble string is placed 60mm from the center line of the bowl, leaving the last bass string significantly close to the edge.
The ebony fingerboard with the inlay is thin (around 1mm) stretched over a cambered spruce (?) core. You can see that the whorl has been truncated at the nut leading to the speculation that the neck had been shortened.
|Dr. Otterstedt lends a hand for a final photo|
I would like to thank Heide von Rüden for her assistance during my study and Dr. Annette Otterstedt for arranging my visit and graciously agreeing to extend it for an extra day when I found that I needed more time to complete it.
All photographs by the author.