Music Instruments: Barytone

Baryton – Viola di Bordone

barytone - viola de bordone

Barytone – Viola de Bordone

A baryton was a bowed string instrument of large size, having seven gut melody strings and a varying number of metal sympathetic strings, the latter being strung from a separate bridge and tuned by separate keys.

This instrument reached its highest development in Austria in the eighteenth century, and Haydn wrote a number of solos for it. The example illustrated is the property of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the length is four feet eleven and a half inches.

A viola da gamba fitted with sympathetic strings varying in number from seven to forty four, and six or seven gut melody strings. These were tuned similarly to those of the viola da gamba, and passed over a bridge of unusual shape.

The lowest sympathetic string was generally tuned in E. These strings were in a separate metal frame, and passed over an independent bridge. It may be said in passing that, although sympathetic strings are usually looked upon as an English adaptation, the baryton enjoyed great popularity in Germany, where is was frequently a household treasure.

The name of viola di bordone may have been derived from “bourdon,” meaning drone, and referring to the sympathetic strings. Another story has it that the instrument was the idea of an English prisoner under sentence of hanging, who, at the last moment for his invention, was granted “pardon,” or, as changed by alien tongues, “bordone.”

This instrument was greatly liked by Prince Esterhazy, for whose pleasure Haydn wrote several pieces for baryton performance. According to Pohl, he composed no less than one hundred and seventy five of these, and many lesser composers had written for it too.

J.J. Stadlemann, 1732, was a renowned maker of barytons. The instrument was a later form of the viola bastarda, after many changes had been introduced, one being the addition of one melody string, giving the baryton seven.