The Lyra-viol is described to us by J. Playford in his work, Musick’s recreation from 1661. “Lyra” in Latin means “Harp.” With that meaning in mind and the imitation of the English lute or Pandora, the English gave life to this particular instrument, which had a musical stronghold in British aristocraticy.

This bowed instrument most likely holds its organological origins in the Italian Lira da braccio and the Lira da gamba and has close ties to the antique Orpheus and his music, according to M. Merssenne. It accompanies the voice magnificantly, like the organ.

Just as its italian ancestor, the Lira da braccio, the Lyra-viol was a symbol of humanistic circles in the Renaissance, being the first to parallel the lute in northern Europe.

Characteristics of this family of instruments are: a pegbox with the pegs coming out the front rather than on the side, external lateral bordons, a flatter bridge and fingerboard, and an abundant amount of strings, anywhere from seven strings, in the case of the lira de braccio, up to sixteen strings with the lirone.

At the end of the 16th century, the Lyra-viol possessed a number of added metallic, so called sympathetic strings, which actually was an asian invention but falsely atributed by M. Praetorius (sintagma musicum 1613) as being an English invention. The idea was most likely imported from the Indian colonies, a result of the expansion of the British empire during the epoch. These strings were applied to instruments such as the Orpheon, Pandora and Sitar, among others.

The lyra-viol enjoys a rich resonance due to the mixed scordatura (different tunings of the open strings) and the above mentioned sypmathetic strings. It required an especially long bow and a use of slurs (Lireggiare; a special technique according to Ganassa and Rognioni in which various notes were played in one bowing). The repertoire for this instrument was written in tablature, as was for the lute. They lyra-viol was used to play polyphonic works and for accompanying the voice. During the first decade of the 17th century numerious books were published in England with pieces and songs specifically for this instrument.

The Vihuela de Arco

The Vihuela de Arco (Bowed Vihuela) created a foundation of musical achievement present in the majority of the artistic manifestations of one of the most illustrious periods in the history of Spain, known as the “Siglo de Oro” or the “Golden Age,” and its music accompanied notable personages as the Archpriest of Hita and Miguel de Cervantes. It is the musical instrument, which most likely, best represented the Reign of Aragón and is considered the ancestor of almost all European chordophones.

What is a Vihuela?

A vihuela is just a stringed instrument with a resonance box, curved borders, a board, and a bridge, no more no less. In its day, it was a versatile instrument which could be played in various ways, either by plucking the strings with the fingers or a plectrum, or by using a bow, placing the instrument over the shoulder and on the back or between the legs, like a Rabel, an ancient bowed Arabic instrument. In the 16th Century and the beginning of the 17th Century, the Vihuela was the most popular instrument in Spain.

A Spanish Instrument

In 1492, Rodrigo Borgia was elected to the Papal throne (renamed as Alexander VI). Of Aragonese lineage, Borgia was born in Játiva, part of the region called Valencia, which along side the Balearic Islands and Sardinia was part of the ancient Kingdom of Aragon. It was a time when Arabs, Sephardic Jews, and Christians cohabited. Upon receiving the throne, he moved the entire Chapel of the Court of Spain (the Kingdom of Aragon) with him to Rome, including the Vihuela de arco players and the consort of Vihuelas de arco. Enchanted by the sweet and delicate sound of the Spanish vihuelas coming from Rome, the Marchioness of Mantua, Isabella d’Este, commissioned the famous Luthier, Giovanni Kerlino, in Brescia to make some of those “Viole a la spagnola” (Spanish viols).

The oldest description of the instrument was written by Johannes Tinctoris (1445-1511), “The bottom is flat and the borders curved (contrary to the lute)”. He also attributes the invention to the Spanish. The Vihuela and the Viola were played in Spain, Naples, and other regions in Italy as a solo instrument, in a group, or to accompany the voice.


The specific Iberian development of the ‘Vihuela de mano’ (the plucked version as opposed to the bowed, ‘arco’) was a result of rebellious feelings towards Moor occupation and their favoured instrument, the lute (oud). We can still see, nevertheless, the influence of the Moor occupation by the nature of the decoration of the Vihuela’s plank. Mudéjar art ornaments, a result of the Arabic and Hispanic-Moorish culture, are a composition of multicoloured squares shaped in a mosaic, forming geometrical shapes consisting of tetragons or diamond figures. The Mosaics are usually inserted in the plank and not carved out of it. Wood of different colours (Box-tree , walnut, verawood), plain ivory and ivory dyed green through a chemical technique were used in order to create the wood inlays.

Viella or Vihuela de arco (bowed)

Highly artisctic, bowed string instrument, which was very popular in the Medieval and Gothic periods.

Towards the end of the thirteenth century, Jerome of Moravia (Tractatus de Musica) and Johannes de Grocheio (De Musica) provide documents detailing the value of this instrument due to the range of possibilities of interpretation a single chordophone could have in comparison to other instruments of the period. This instrument took part in prestigious occasions in medieval music life.

The characteristic sound of the vielle is partly a result of the peculiar placement and tuning of its strings. These peculiarities include: a slightly arched bridge allowing two sets of doubled gut strings (one tuned in octaves and the other in unison according to J. de Moravia’s tuning suggestions), a lateral bourdon string occasionally plucked by the thumb of the left hand, the ability to create sound density formed by clusters of auxiliary heterophonic sounds, which allow a melody to have its own harmonic background.

9. Sale la blanca aurora // Blas de Castro
  1. 9. Sale la blanca aurora // Blas de Castro
  2. 8. Ya no les pienso pedir // Blas de Castro
  3. 7. A coronarse de flores // Blas de Castro
  4. 6. Ansares y Menga // Blas de Castro
  5. 5. Si tus ojos divinos // Blas de Castro
  6. 4. Porque alegre venga el Sol // Blas de Castro
  7. 3. Estabase el aldeana // Blas de Castro
  8. 20. Tan triste vivo en mi aldea // Blas de Castro
  9. 2. Del cristal de Mancanares // Blas de Castro
  10. 19. Desata el pardo o(c)tubre // Blas de Castro
  11. 18. Que hermosa fueras, Belilla // Blas de Castro
  12. 17. Tienes nina en tus ojos // Blas de Castro
  13. 16. Desiertos campos, arboles somb // Blas de Castro
  14. 15. Alamos del soto, adios // Blas de Castro
  15. 14. Ojos negros que os mirais // Blas de Castro
  16. 13. Tus imbidias me hablan // Blas de Castro
  17. 12. Entre dos alamos verdes // Blas de Castro
  18. 11. Si a la fiesta de San Juan // Blas de Castro
  19. 10. Para todos alegres // Blas de Castro
  20. 1. Desde las Torres del Alma // Blas de Castro