Lyre-guitar

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Lyre-guitar at the Museu de la Musica de Barcelona Guitarra-lira.jpg
Lyre-guitar at the Museu de la Música de Barcelona

A musical instrument of the chordophone family, the lyre-guitar was a type of guitar shaped like a lyre. It had six single courses and was tuned like the modern classical guitar, with a fretboard located between two curved arms recalling the shape of the ancient Greek lyre.

Contents

The lyre-guitar nearly always had a built-in pedestal allowing it to stand upright when not in use.

History

A lyre-guitar depicted here in a painting by Francisco de Goya, c. 1805. Its popularity at the time was encouraged by the revival of classicism Retrato de la Marquesa de Santa Cruz.jpg
A lyre-guitar depicted here in a painting by Francisco de Goya, c. 1805. Its popularity at the time was encouraged by the revival of classicism

Claimed to have been invented in 1780 by Pierre Charles Mareschal, a prominent French luthier, who accused the French musician Phillis Pleyel of stealing his design for what he called the Lira Anacreòntica [1] The lyre-guitar enjoyed great popularity as a salon instrument especially in Paris between 1780 and 1820. It became very much in vogue and pervaded the highest levels of society; Marie Antoinette played one [2] and the great guitarists of the day such as Ferdinando Carulli, Fernando Sor, Matteo Carcassi, Mauro Giuliani and Pierre Jean Porro wrote music and methods for it.

A postcard showing a girl playing a lyre-guitar, c. 1870. The classical theme is typical of the period GirlWithLyreGuitar.jpg
A postcard showing a girl playing a lyre-guitar, c. 1870. The classical theme is typical of the period

Its decline coincided with the waning of the popularity of the guitar as a salon instrument, increasingly supplanted by the piano which benefitted from ongoing improvements to its keyboard action. The lyre-guitar nevertheless persisted, not so much as a musical instrument, but more commonly as a symbol of classicist ideals appearing in numerous allegorical paintings (e.g. Mähler's portrait of Beethoven), and later on, photographs as a prop for evoking ancient Greek and Roman themes.

"The idea was to create an instrument which looked pretty and provided a visual accessory to help ladies of fashion to assume the gracious pose of Greek “kithara” players. This visual likeness became a potent ingredient of the culture of the upper classes.", [3]

Although the lyre-guitar is rarely heard or recorded it is not extinct. A body of nearly forgotten repertoire exists often by highly notable guitarists of the golden age of the guitar. Today lyre-guitars can be made to order by luthiers and authentic examples exist in museums and private collections.

Lyre-guitar luthiers

Ludwig van Beethoven holding a lyre-guitar in his hand - painting by Joseph Willibrord Mahler 1804/05 Beethoven18045JosephMahler.jpg
Ludwig van Beethoven holding a lyre-guitar in his hand - painting by Joseph Willibrord Mähler 1804/05

* Robert Wornum (1780–1852)

Bibliography

Notes

  1. "Plagiat dénoncé aux musiciens et aux amateurs des lyres nouvelles, inventées par Mareschal, Luthier à Paris", 1780, by P. C. Mareschal.
  2. " La lyre-guitare" in "Les Cahiers de la Guitare", 1988, by D. Ribouillault.
  3. Matanya Ophee, "The Story of the Lyre-Guitar", in Soundboard XIV/4, 1987-1988 Winter
  4. The Steve Howe Guitar Collection (Balfon Books UK) - ( ISBN   1-871547-64-4) - (First British Edition 1994) - p51. Image of Roudhloff Lyre Guitar c.1815. The lyre guitar is marked with "Roudhloff the elder son" who is known to have opened a workshop in Fitzroy Square, London in the early 1900s.

Historical sources

Sheet Music

Websites

Recordings

Museums

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