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The theorbo (ital. Tiorba , french. Théorbe , engl. Theorbo ) is a musical instrument and, as a bowl-neck lute, belongs to the family of lute instruments . Its structural characteristic is the second pegbox on an elongated neck. Types of theorbo are the Italian (or - in contrast to the Paduan theorbo - Roman) chitarrone , the French théorbe des pièces and the English theorbo . In contrast to the lute in the narrower sense, in the theorbo the fifth and fourth strings (i.e. the first and second strings) are tuned one octave lower. The theorbo has been used as a solo instrument, in chamber music, and in orchestras. Solo music for theorbo was mostly notated in tablature .

A number of different bass sounds , the common feature of which is a second pegbox to accommodate bass strings, are also called theorbo , but are not theorbs in the narrower sense: Liuto attiorbato , Arciliuto , Archlute , German baroque lute , Angelica (Angélique).


The etymology of the name Theorbe has not yet been sufficiently clarified. According to Athanasius Kircher (who in Musurgia Universalis of 1650 differentiated the theorbo called Tiorba from the Testudo ) the name was initially meant as a joke and actually referred to the grinding board in the Neapolitan dialect on which the fragrant essences and herbs of perfumers and pharmacists were ground. The name was transferred to the Ukrainian bass lute Torban , which was played in Poland and Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries in addition to the Ukraine.

The older synonym chitarrone , based on the ancient kithara as an augmentative derived from chitarra (a five-choir Italian lute), was in use until around 1650. In Germany, the term " Erzlaute " has also been used since the 18th century . The theorbo in the narrower sense differs fundamentally from the lute in terms of its mood.


Normal tuning of a theorbo in A

The new music from 1600 ( monody ) required instruments with a deep bass register for accompaniment. So that gut strings sound lower with the same tension, their mass must be increased. The increase in mass is done by making the strings thicker or longer. The structural solution to accommodate longer strings was the second pegbox on an extended neck.

Most theorbos are distinguished by their size and the associated long fingerboard - Scale length of which can vary between about 80 and 100 cm.

The long scale length of the fingerboard created a problem with the high-sounding strings. The gut strings required are so thin that they break very easily. Therefore the first and second choirs of the theorbo are tuned an octave lower, so that the third choir is the highest sounding (reentrant tuning). This tuning also distinguishes the theorbo from the lute. Already proposed as a continuo instrument by Salamone Rossi , the theorbo became the preferred figured bass instrument among plucked instruments in the 17th and 18th centuries .

The small form of the theorbo is the tiorbino , which is tuned an octave higher than the theorbo in the same retrograde tuning. Two authors wrote for this instrument: Bellerofonte Castaldi ( Capricci a 2 stromenti cioè tiorba e tiorbino , Modena 1622) and Jean-Baptiste Besard ( Novus Partus, 1617).


The most prominent representatives of the instrument in Italy were Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger , Bellerofonte Castaldi and Alessandro Piccinini . For the time being, no solo music for theorbo is known from England, but William Lawes and others used it in chamber music. In France theorbs were valued well into the first third of the 18th century and were used for both chamber and orchestral music ( Nicolas Hotman , Robert de Visée , François Campion ).

Theorbists were employed in the court orchestras of Vienna, Bayreuth, Berlin and Brussels until after 1750 ( Ernst Gottlieb Baron , Francesco Bartolomeo Conti , Adam Falckenhagen , Paul Carl Durant , Giovanni Paolo Foscarini ). Christian Gottlieb Scheidler (1747–1829), known as the “last lutenist”, also played theorbo. Contemporary players are Christina Pluhar and Anton Birula.

See also


  • Christian Ahrens (Red.): Lute and Theorbo . Symposium as part of the 31st Days of Early Music. In Herne: City of Herne, Department of Culture, 2006 ISBN 3-9807008-7-9 .
  • Ernst Pohlmann: Lute, Theorbo, Chitarrone. 4th edition. Edition Eres, Lilienthal-Bremen 1975.
  • Hans Radke: How do sounds and theorbo differ? In: Acta Musicologica. Volume 37, 1965.
  • Ekkard Schulze-Kurz: The lute and their moods in the first half of the 17th century . 1990, ISBN 3-927445-04-5 , accessible and available from the author .
  • Douglas Alton Smith: On the Origin of the Chitarrone. In: Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 32, No. 3, Fall 1979, pp. 440-462
  • Robert Spencer: Chitarrone, Theorbo and Archlute . In: Early Music, Vol. 4 No. October 4, 1976, pp. 408-422 (available from David van Edwards ).

Web links

Commons : Theorbo  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Theorbo  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Konrad Ragossnig: Handbook of the guitar and lute. Schott, Mainz 1978, ISBN 3-7957-2329-9 , p. 12 f.
  2. Athanasius Kircher, Musurgia Universalis, Rome 1650, p. 476: “Tiorba nomen suum invenit a circumforaneo quoddam Neapolitano qui primus testudinis collum productius producavit; chordas diversas addidit cum primo non nisi barytono serviret. atque hoc instrumentum ioco quodam vocare solebat Tiorba. Vocant autem tiorbam id instrumentum, quo chirothecarij odorifera molere solent. estque mortarium quoddam prorsus simile molulis illis quibus amygdala, synapi aliaque grana in superaffuso liquore conveienti in lac dissolvere solent. "
  3. Peter Päffgen: Lute! In: Guitar & Laute Volume 10, Heft 4, 1988, p. 50 f., Here: p. 50 (Bases: New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments 1985, and Veronika Gutmann in Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis 10, 1986, p. 218).
  4. Konrad Ragossnig (1978), p. 168.
  5. Denis Delair: Traité d'accompagnement pour le théorbe et le clavessin. Paris 1690.
  6. ^ Francis Nicolas Fleury: Méthode pour apprendre facilement à toucher la théorbe sur la basse continue. Paris 1660.
  7. ^ François Campion: Addition au traité d'accompagnement […] du théorbe, de la guitare et du luth. Paris 1730.
  8. ^ Dirk Möller: Plucked instruments in GF Handel's dramatic works. In: Guitar & Lute. Volume 7, Heft 6, 1985, pp. 24-27, here: pp. 25 f.
  9. See also Nigel North : Continuo Playing on the Lute, Archlute and Theorbo. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1987.
  10. ^ Biedermeier guitar: Christian Gottlieb Scheidler .