Research seminar

Wednesday 25 May 2016, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Professor John Bryan (University of Huddersfield)

Varieties of Viols

The consort of viols was a fundamental part of the sound world of Renaissance Europe, starting life in Northern Italy c.1500 and flourishing in England in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Historically informed performance relies on modern reproductions of extant original instruments, but where none exist, or they are in a fragmentary state, research-­led practice is required to realise the sounds earlier composers, performers and audiences encountered. Working with the Rose Consort of Viols and specialist craftspeople, I have helped to develop three different sets of instruments based on iconographical evidence and existing instruments, each creating a distinct sonic identity. The models are:

  • a Bolognese painting of 1497 by Lorenzo Costa
  • surviving Venetian viols from mid-­16th century by Francesco Linarol and others
  • English viols by makers active around 1600-­60 such as John Rose and Henry Jaye.

Applying these instruments to repertory from the same times and areas as the models has revealed insights into the differences between them. The three sets of instruments have informed our understanding of the compositional strategies employed by the composers whose music they may have originally played. No longer can we think of 'the viol' as one instrument, but as a spectrum of different sounds, each suited to the music that each type originally played. For modern listeners this is an ear-­opening experience that reveals previously unknown colours and a transparency of texture illuminating contrapuntal music. This seminar will explain the research processes leading to the creation of these particular sets of viols, illustrated by recordings and representative instruments of the different types. 


John Bryan is Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield, where his research and teaching focus on the historically informed performance of music from the late middle ages to the early baroque period. From 2005 to 2014 he was Head of Music and Drama at Huddersfield, and led a five-­‐‑year project (2009–14) on ‘The Making of the Viol in Sixteenth-­‐‑Century England’ funded by the AHRC. A jointly-­‐‑authored book (with Dr Michael Fleming), The Early English Viol: Instruments, Makers and Music, resulting from this project will be published by Ashgate in 2016. He has also published articles in Early Music and The Journal of Musicology, and in 2015 was awarded the higher doctorate of D.Mus. by the University of Huddersfield. As a member of the Rose Consort of Viols, John has given concerts throughout Europe and in the USA and Canada, and made 40 recordings for Naxos, Signum, cpo, Deux-­‐‑Elles and Delphian. An artistic adviser to York Early Music Festival, lecturer for cultural tours, and a contributor to BBC Radio 3’s early music programmes, he also founded the North East Early Music Forum and regularly leads workshops in renaissance and baroque music, including consorts of voices and viols at courses in Europe and in the USA.

Location: I/D003