Universiteit Leiden

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‘Vestito a ponti d’oro e a cento corde in seno’: history, repertoire and playing techniques of the Italian salterio in the eighteenth century

This research aims to fully recall these lost sound aspects of the eighteenth century and is, therefore, a study that passionately advocates the diversity of musical experience in the context of historical performance practice.

Dr. Franziska Fleischanderl
01 April 2021

In 2014, I had the good fortune to acquire an exceptionally well-preserved, beautifully decorated, original salterio from 1725, built by Michele Barbi in Rome. After successful restoration, the instrument revealed its wonderfully sonorous sound for the first time in almost three hundred years and, thus, became the beginning of the adventure to devote myself to this hitherto, under-explored instrument of the Italian Baroque both scientifically and artistically.

The present study is the first comprehensive and fundamental compendium on the Italian salterio of the eighteenth century. It sheds light on its genesis in the ecclesiastical environment, its dissemination and use in all regions of Italy, its social rise to the highest circles of the aristocracy, its virtuoso professionals and noble amateurs, and last but not least, its original genre-spanning repertoire, as well as its innovative instrumental developments in the second half of the century. In addition, the various tuning systems of the salterio are described in detail and several possibilities of its temperament are demonstrated.

It is a great peculiarity of the salterio in the instrumental landscape of its time that it was played with three completely different playing techniques. Either the strings were struck with two small hammers (battuto), plucked with the fingernails and fingertips (finger-pizz) or plucked it with plectra, that were fixed in metal finger rings and placed at the fingertips (plectra-pizz). Therefore, I tried to create a kind of "map of the playing techniques" in Italy and to give instructions for assigning the appropriate playing technique to the original salterio repertoire.
The search for original playing utensils such as hammers and finger rings and their reproduction were the first steps towards a more precise exploration of these techniques. The next major part of my artistic research was the application of battuto and pizzicato on my original instrument in equal measure. Since the pizzicato technique was completely new to me, its study was the central element of my practical approach to this facet of research.

The equal application of the various techniques revealed an extremely wide spectrum of sound colors, which allowed me to experience and understand this instrument and its repertoire in an entirely new way. It enabled the Italian salterio to become an acoustically quick-change artist appealing to listeners in new ways. This unique talent in combination with its ethereal, overtone-rich sound enchanted the audience then and continues to do so today. 

Two CD recordings of my ensemble with numerous world premiere recordings of original salterio music, played on my historical instrument from 1725, accompany this thesis to further demonstrate the truly unique qualities of this instrument.


Prof.dr. A.G.M. Koopman

Prof. F.C. de Ruiter

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