Sleeping Beauty

November 2019
Tim Stanley


In the past half-century and more a gigantic joint effort has gone into reconstructing how European music was played in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This search for authenticity has gone so far that a reaction is due – people will want to hear how Monteverdi and Purcell were played in the 1950s, before authenticity became all the rage. In the meantime, though, the revivalist surge continues unabated. One result is that in concert halls and opera houses it is now fairly common to see and hear the enormous, long-necked lute called the theorbo providing the basso continuo accompaniment to works by Handel, Vivaldi and their contemporaries. Not long ago most of the audience had not even heard of the theorbo.

Ottoman music of the 18th century had an equivalent to the theorbo in the tanbur, an outsized form of long-necked lute. During its heyday it was the most important stringed instrument, its long neck allowing the player to execute the full range of microtones necessary for the modal (makam-based) music of pre-modern Turkey. Since the 18th century the tanbur has evolved in many respects.

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