Name: Archlute.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 321.321.5
Scale Length: mm.
Courses: 14 Strings.
Scale: Diatonic / Extended Range.
Country: Many.
Region: Europe.

Description: The archlute [in Spanish: archilaúd ; in Italian arciliuto ; in German Erzlaute ; in Russian: архилютня arkhilyutnya] It is a European plucked string instrument developed around 1600 as a compromise between the very large theorbo. The size of the theory and its use of a re-entrant tuning  made for difficulties in the performance of solo music.

Repertoire: The archlute was often used as a solo instrument for the first three-quarters of the 17th century, but is rarely mentioned as a continuo instrument in this period, the theorbo being the lute class instrument with this role.

As continuo bass lines were composed both faster in motion and higher in tessitura towards the end of the 17th century. The archlute began to eclipse the theorbo as the main plucked string continuo instrument. The theorbo lacked the higher notes of the bass lines and the increasing practise of doubling the continuo part with a bowed bass [cello or viol] made the archlutes’ lack of power in the tenor and bass a less important shortcoming.

The theorbo had been commonly used as the melodic bass instrument in trio sonatas from the beginning of the Baroque period until the archlute eventually took over the same function. Perhaps the most famous example being Corelli’s Opus 1 and 3 trio sonatas which have part-books for 1st and 2nd violin, ‘violone o arciliuto’ and a continuo part for organ.

A simplified version of the ‘violone o arciliuto’ book. The Violone A Arciliuto book has just as many figures to tell the player what chords to play as the organ part-book, which suggests the archlute player would be adding chords above the bass where possible.

The archlute was used in Handel’s operas and like repertoire; Giulio Cesare [1724] has continuo parts labelled both arciliuto and tiorba. Perhaps one player would play both instruments.

Construction: Alternatively the renaissance tenor lute lacked the bass range of the theorbo. Each of these lutes including the tenor lute and arch lute have different purposes in composition and performance. Hence why one will find both re-entrant tunings played on the tenor lute and theorbo. The archlute extended strings on the archlute are tuned in a diatonic scale.

The main differences between the archlute and “baroque” lutes of Northern Europe are that the baroque lute has 11 to 13 courses. While the archlute typically has 14 and the tuning of the first six courses of the baroque lute outlines a d-minor chord, while the archlute preserves the tuning of the Renaissance lute. With perfect fourths surrounding a third in the middle for the first six.

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