Musicology Ph.D. candidate Matthew Zeller to deliver presentations at the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music annual conference (Durham, NC) and Syntagma Musicum 1619-2019 (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Zeller will deliver his presentation at the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music annual conference on April 6 and at the Syntagma Musicum 1619-2019 International Musicological Conference on April 8, 2019.

The four-hundredth anniversary of Praetorius’s De Organographia offers a unique opportunity to reevaluate our knowledge of the violin family in the first decades of the seventeenth century. Praetorius’s oft quoted statement that he need not deal further with the violin family because it is so familiar has consternated musicologists and organologists for generations; nevertheless, he did provide a wealth of information—a picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. His woodcut prints from Theatrum Instrumentorum, the appendix to the second book of Syntagma Musicum, are famous and well-documented sources for scholars the world over. However, little attention has been paid to the unnumbered plate adjoined at the front: six inches of the Brunswick foot. Historical metrology often offers more questions than it does answers, but in the case of Praetorius’s Plate XXI, the Brunswick foot provides valuable clues that can contribute to a new understanding of the violin family circa 1619. 

The instruments and tunings of the early violin family have long been subject to scholarly debate. In addition to the variety of tuning systems, much confusion has been caused by the fact that the larger instruments of the family have nearly all been reduced in size from their sixteenth- and seventeenth-century dimensions. Praetorius preserves iconographic documentation of the larger instruments drawn to scale. Alongside the record of surviving instruments from the mid sixteenth century to the time of Praetorius—especially those of the Amati family—as well as an engagement with the repertory and other contemporary sources, I investigate historical metrology and the working methods of violin making to reconstruct the basso da braccio (violoncello) of the period. I show that De Organographia and Theatrum Instrumentorum describe a large instrument remarkably similar in size to the original dimensions of the basso da braccio, an excellent scale representation of the violin family as it was at the time of their publication, and an accurate tuning scheme.