Monday, September 17, 2012

Jauch Baroque Lute - The Black Lute

My Jauch triple-nut lute is finished.

Jozef van Wissem, the Dutch lutenist/composer, for whom I have built lutes since the 90's has, with each new order, asked me to built him a black lute: I have always protested and declined.

But last fall Jozef was in Toronto and stopped by after his gig with a convincing argument. His duet partner, film director/guitarist, Jim Jarmusch is making a movie about a centuries long love affair of a lute playing vampire; Only Lovers Left Alive. Josef has a hand in the movie score.

Black lutes were popular in the 18th century. But they were painted black, "ebonized" rather than built with ribs of ebony and often using curly maple. I have had the opportunity to examine several ebonized lutes. This is a photo of a Thomas Edlinger lute in the collection of Harvard University, HUCP3279, that was obviously ebonized during a later conversion. Much of the black paint has flaked off revealing the original brown varnish.

I decided to mimic historical precedent. I applied a chicory tea stain to darken the curly maple ribs a little and then sealed the wood with a light coat of clear lacquer. Before ebonizing the lute I strung it up and played a little; letting it enjoy a few days in a brief historical niche.

To ebonize the bowl I built up the finish with subsequent coats of black lacquer, sanding lightly between each one. After the lacquer had hardened a few days I rubbed out the surface with 4000 MicroMesh and waxed with conservator's wax.

When I agreed to build the black lute Jozef was adamant that it needed to be all black. History has a way of repeating itself. While researching this lute I read an article by Eszter Fontana, The Case of the Missing Lute, JLSA XXXV (2002) and was astonished to read in a footnote (pg. 4) a description of a no longer extant J.C. Hoffmann lute: "Very beautifully crafted body, black lacquered resonating belly with triple rosette."

I stained the belly black with spirit stain and sealed it with several light coats of clear lacquer, rubbed out and waxed.

photo courtesy of Jozef van Wissem

Last Monday, Jozef appeared at Le Poisson Rouge, New York, with the Black Lute.

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