We were talking last week about the Theorbo so thought we’d make it this week’s #ThrowbackThursday instrument.
The instrument was originally developed in Italy during the late sixteenth century. It is thought to have come about due to the demand for instruments with an extended bass range; mostly in operatic works.
Musicians traditionally used large bass lutes with string lengths of >31 inches (that’s 80+ in modern parlance) . However, even this wasn’t enough and neck extensions with secondary peg boxes (to accommodate extra open longer bass strings) were then created.
Although chitarrone and tiorba were both used to describe the instrument at the time these names have different organological and etymological origins. Chitarrone means an augmentation of a chitarra – Italian for guitar; literally meaning a large chitarra The etymology of tiorba (the original Italian name for the theorbo) is still not truly knows. One hypothesis is that it may be derived from the Slavic or Turkish torba, meaning ‘bag’ or ‘turban’. Alternatively, it could have been a nickname derived from a Neapolitan pefumers’ grinding board, known as a tiorba.