Lyra Viol transcriptions...
Solos - William Corkine - Tobias Hume - other composers
Duets - Thomas Ford - Tobias Hume - other composers
The Viols (or Violas da Gamba) are a group of instruments whose exact origin is obscure but may have developed from the Spanish Vihuela as bowed rather than plucked instruments in the mid-late fifteenth century. Viols were used primarily in the Renaissance and Baroque periods and seem to have developed separately from the violin family, which they resemble. They were most often used in ensemble (consort) and, as with the violin family, much of their music is primarily monophonic.
However, just as Bach showed in the 18th century that the Violin and Cello could play solo polyphonic music so, a century and a half earlier, there were English musicians who were playing polyphonic music on the bass viol. This was referred to as playing the viol “Lyra-way” and the instruments used were often termed Lyra Viols, though they were probably no different in construction from other Bass Viols.
The vogue for Lyra Viol music in England arose at the very end of the sixteenth century and began to wane in the mid seventeenth century, with no indication that it persisted into the eighteenth century. As its popularity developed there were musicians who thought that the Lyra Viol would be the instrument that supplanted the lute. Tobias Hume expressed this view in 1605 and earned the displeasure of John Dowland for doing so (Poulton 1982). However Thomas Mace’s 1676 work Musick’s Monument (Mace 1676) which contains a long section on the Lyra Viol with the subtitle A Remembrancer of the Best Practical Musick seems to represent the views of a man looking back on what he regarded as the best of the music of the past.
Lyra viol music was notated in tablature, similar to lute tablature except that a variety of tunings was used and, because music printing had become established in the UK by the seventeenth century, a fair amount of this music is preserved in published editions. Just as Bach’s solo Violin and Cello works are suitable for adaptation as guitar music, so is much of the Lyra Viol repertory. None of this music rises to the greatness of Bach, but nevertheless there is plenty to find that is attractive and fun to play.
I should perhaps add that I first became interested in this music as a result of finding the collection Guitar Solos from Jacobean England by Gilbert Biberian (Biberian 1980). This contains some very good arrangements of Lyra Viol music by Tobias Hume and William Corkine. More recently a scholarly article by Olga Amelkina-Vera in Soundboard magazine (Amelkina-Vera 2009) on Tobias Hume details the history of the instrument and sets out ideas about arranging it for the Guitar. This material is also dealt with (in more detail) in her doctoral dissertation (Amelkina-Vera 2008). I have also posted here my own dissertation on the lyra viol, The English Solo Lyra Viol. More recently Katie Patricia Molloy, in her MA thesis reviews the lyra viol and focuses on arranging for guitar the music of Simon Ives (Molloy 2015).
Though the English fashion for lyra viol music did not persist beyond the end of the 17th century the viols (especially the bass viol) continued in use in music making into the middle of the 18th century and several continental composers (notably Telemann) wrote music for solo bass viol. For the sake of simplicity I will include guitar transcriptions of some of these pieces in this section.
A number of bibliographic references to the Lyra Viol can be found in my 2012 dissertation (Crouch 2012). References not included there include (Pullen 2010) and (Molloy 2015).