Tag Archives: Theorbo


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.

21 - theorbo

Francesco Manelli

Speaking of Baroque, today we celebrate the life and works of Francesco Manelli (Mannelli), born this day in 1595.

Manelli was a Roman Baroque composer, particularly of opera, and theorbo player. He is most well known for his collaboration with fellow Roman composer Benedetto Ferrari in bringing commercial opera to Venice. The first two works, in 1637 and 1638, to be put on commercially in the Teatro San Cassiano were both by Manelli – his L’Andromeda and La Maga Fulminata.

For those of you unfamiliar with the theorbo, it is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox. Like a lute, the theorbo has a curved-back and a wooden top, typically with a sound hole, with a neck extending out from the soundbox. As with the lute, the player plucks or strums the strings with one hand while “fretting” the strings with the other hand (much like you would with a modern guitar).

Sadly we could not find a verifiable picture of Manelli but we did find one of a theorbo being demonstrated.

13 - baroque theoboro


Today’s #ThrowbackThursday instrument is the Theorbo.

The theorbo is a plucked string instrument of the lute family, with an extended neck and a second pegbox, related to the liuto attiorbato, the French théorbe des pièces, the archlute, the German baroque lute, and the angélique or angelica.

It was developed during the late sixteenth century in Italy and was inspired by the demand for extended bass range instruments for use in opera (Monteverdi listed two for L’Orfeo, for example).

Originally, musicians used large bass lutes (with string lengths just over 30 inches) and a higher re-entrant tuning.  However, it wasn’t long before neck extensions with secondary pegboxes to accommodate extra open (i.e. unfretted) longer bass strings were created.  These gave improvements in tonal clarity and increased the range of notes available.

As with many ancient instruments the number of strings and the tuning varied somewhat ranging from 14 to 19 courses with both single and double stringing used.  Modern recreations of the Theorbo usually has 14 strings with G as the lowest note.

08 - Theorbo