Hear J.S. Bach’s Music Performed on the Lautenwerck, Bach’s Favorite Lost Baroque Instrument

If you want to hear the music of Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach played on the instru­ments that actu­al­ly exist­ed dur­ing the stretch of the 17th and 18th cen­turies in which he lived, there are ensem­bles spe­cial­iz­ing in just that. But a full musi­cal revival isn’t quite as sim­ple as that: while there are baroque cel­los, oboes, and vio­las around, not every instru­ment that Bach knew, played, and com­posed for has sur­vived. Take the laut­en­wer­ck, a cat­e­go­ry of “gut-stringed instru­ments that resem­ble the harp­si­chord and imi­tate the del­i­cate soft tim­bre of the lute,” accord­ing to Baroquemusic.org. Of the “lute-harp­si­chord” crafts­men in 18th-cen­tu­ry Ger­many remem­bered by his­to­ry, one name stands out: Johann Nico­laus Bach.

A sec­ond cousin of Johann Sebas­t­ian, he “built sev­er­al types of lute-harp­si­chord. The basic type close­ly resem­bled a small wing-shaped, one-man­u­al harp­si­chord of the usu­al kind. It only had a sin­gle (gut-stringed) stop, but this sound­ed a pair of strings tuned an octave apart in the low­er third of the com­pass and in uni­son in the mid­dle third, to approx­i­mate as far as pos­si­ble the impres­sion giv­en by a lute. The instru­ment had no met­al strings at all.”

This gave the laut­en­wer­ck a dis­tinc­tive sound, quite unlike the harp­si­chord as we know it today. You can hear it — or rather, a recon­struct­ed exam­ple — played in the video above, a short per­for­mance of Bach’s Pre­lude, Fugue, and Alle­gro in E‑flat, BWV 998 by ear­ly-music spe­cial­ist Dong­sok Shin.

“If he owned two of them, they could­n’t have been that off the wall,” Shin says of the com­pos­er and his rela­tion­ship to this now lit­tle-known instru­ment in a recent NPR seg­ment. “The gut has a dif­fer­ent kind of ring. It’s not as bright. The laut­en­wer­ck can pull cer­tain heart­strings.” Just as the sound of each laut­en­wer­ck must have had its own dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics in Bach’s day, so does each attempt to recre­ate it today. “The small hand­ful of arti­sans cur­rent­ly mak­ing laut­en­werks are basi­cal­ly foren­sic musi­col­o­gists,” notes NPR cor­re­spon­dent Neda Ula­by, “recon­struct­ing instru­ments based on research and what they think laut­en­wer­cks prob­a­bly sound­ed like.” As for the one man we can be sure knew them inti­mate­ly enough to tell the dif­fer­ence, he’d be turn­ing 336 years old right about now.

via NPR

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear 10 of Bach’s Pieces Played on Orig­i­nal Baroque Instru­ments

Watch J.S. Bach’s “Air on the G String” Played on the Actu­al Instru­ments from His Time

Musi­cians Play Bach on the Octo­bass, the Gar­gan­tu­an String Instru­ment Invent­ed in 1850

How the Clavi­chord & Harp­si­chord Became the Mod­ern Piano: The Evo­lu­tion of Key­board Instru­ments, Explained

What Gui­tars Were Like 400 Years Ago: An Intro­duc­tion to the 9 String Baroque Gui­tar

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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