Last Saturday I took a breather from studying for Gamma’s (ultimately catastrophic) math test and went to an exhibition of new old instruments (mostly new instruments built by luthiers in the style of old instruments) with my cello teacher and several other cello students at Vienna’s Konzerthaus.
It was full of instruments, and of people, many who appeared to be your old-instrument geek type, which is one of my favorite types. They were all trying out the instruments, which include a lot of recorders, various string instruments (baroque cellos, violins, violas, various gambes, lutes, harps, and i think i saw a theorbe, among others) wooden flutes, guitars, and so on. There is no word to describe the aural experience, especially if you have tinnitus.
Well, except maybe for cacaphony. Or din.
Or racket. Or jarring dissonance.
I wasn’t even going to touch an instrument, not even get close, in the higher rent (I assumed) area near the entrance. Cool-looking stuff, though. I just have a phobia of messing up a priceless instrument.
We went downstairs, where the acoustics were even worse and looked at more stuff and my teacher explained the baroque cello. We even tried one out at a stand. Basic differences to a modern cello: no spike, less tension on the gut strings so it has a different sound. Softer, I assume – and more open, if the other baroque celli i have heard are typical. Unfortunately, there was a guy selling bagpipes at the next stand so we couldn’t actually hear any of the sounds we made on this cello, we just sat there and ran the bow over the strings.
Afterwards, I found out that the cello was originally made in the 1700s, then later converted to a modern style cello ( as many were) and then restored to its original condition by this particular luthier. I was glad I hadn’t known the cello’s age when I was playing it or I would have been all uptight.
After that our little group broke up and we went our seperate ways. I wandered over to the gambe stand and talked to the luthier, a big Hungarian guy from Budapest. I asked him about gambes (he also makes celli) and he let me try one out, which I have for years wanted to do. It was a neat experience but I’ll stick to cello. First of all, you’d think gambes are easier to play because they have frets, but in fact they’re 50% harder to play because they have 6 strings instead of 4, plus extra difficulty from having less of an arc in the bridge, meaning when you press down one string it gets pressed down even with, or even below, the strings next to it so you’re playing chords all the time instead of single notes.
But, man, beautiful instruments. All of them were – so nice to wander around.