Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Marx Unverdorben Lutes in Barcelona

A wall size caricature of Issac Albéniz greets staff and
visitors at the museum's documentation center
Lute makers always seem to be curious about "new" models -- neglected instruments in museums' storage or ones that surface from private collections arouse an understandable degree of interest. Not that long after I started building lutes an article appeared in the LSA Journal that described lutes in a Barcelona  museum; John Griffiths, The Lutes in the Museo Municipal de Música in Barcelona”. Journal of the Lute Society of America12(1979): 48-66.  One of them, a seven course, built in the  sixteenth century by Marx Unverdorben was reported to be in original condition. From that time on I have been fascinated with Unverdorben and his work. He and his lutes are  enigmatic. I had difficulty in tracking him down. Little is known of his life -- there may have been two Unverdorbens -- and his lutes represent styles that include early renaissance nine rib models and later multi-rib types. My interest in the Barcelona Unverdorben was hampered by the fact that  the museum has had three homes since Griffiths' article appeared. Things started to come together last year when a web search turned up his website:
I got in touch and an exchange of emails dissolved time, distance and language barriers. I was able to arrange an appointment to examine not only the original Unverdorben seven course but also an Unverdorben theorbo (?) fragment. My appointment was yesterday!

Here is what I found. In the foreground is the seven course. The string length is 67cm and the bowl is 33cm wide to give you an idea of its size. The thirteen ribs are bird's-eye maple. The second lute, in three parts, appears to be a small theorbo, but only a stump of the original neck survives so it is difficult to be sure. Also, the label dates the lute to 1581! The ivory bowl is badly damaged on the treble side, the neck block and neck stump are detached from the bowl, but the belly is nearly intact and the barring appears unaltered. The treatment of the bars is very interesting. I am looking forward to studying my drawings and notes and sharing my findings with you.

I am grateful to Oriol Rossinyol, Co-director of the Museu de la Música and his staff for the warm welcome and generous support they showed me during my visit. I especially want to thank John Griffiths for helping to make this possible.

Click on the "Online catalogue" on this page to search the museum's collection:

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