Saturday baroque, feat. the baryton

Following on last Saturday’s videos, here are some Haydn trios for the baryton, viola, and cello. The baryton is a bass viola da gamba with plucked strings concealed in the back of the neck. A skilled performer can bow the instrument in the usual way while also plucking the concealed strings with the left thumb.

We’re told that the baryton is also called viola di pardone because of a charming story that the inventor was a condemned prisoner who won a pardon for devising this unusual viol.

The modern revival of the baryton began with the instrument in the following video: a 1934 copy of a richly decorated eighteenth-century original. This baryton is now in the collection of the Orpheon Foundation, Vienna, Austria, and it has its own webpage. It’s one of the best looking instruments, of any kind, that I’ve ever seen.

You can hear José Vazquez playing the Adagio from Joseph Haydn’s baryton trio no. 114.

Nearly all of the repertoire for the baryton is by Haydn (1732-1809), who wrote more than 100 trios for baryton, viola, and cello. Here are videos of a complete trio in A major.

1. Allegretto

The musician playing the baryton has the very Hungarian name Sándor Szászvárosi. Tamás Nagy plays viola, and Anna Lachegyi plays cello.

2. Arioso: Adagio

3. Finale: Tempo di menuetto

One thought on “Saturday baroque, feat. the baryton

  1. It was probably careless of me to list a piece by Haydn as “baroque.” But what impresses me about the baryton trios (written early in Haydn’s career) is the feeling of continuity with the baroque and even pre-baroque tradition of chamber music written, rehearsed, and performed more for the enjoyment of the (amateur) musicians than for an audience. (Courtly audiences, of course, might be compelled to attend whenever their lord or king scraped a bow against a string. Not as much fun for them.)

    I’m also intrigued with the mixing of members of the viola da gamba and violin families, as here, where the baryton (viol, bass) and cello play opposite roles to the ones typical in “classical” ensembles. The baryton is a transitional or border-crossing creation, which is probably why its career was so precarious.

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