he psaltery is a stringed instrument that enjoyed prominence during
the Middle Ages. Its strings, stretched over a soundboard, are plucked with
the fingers or a plectrum. In paintings, the psaltery is usually shown
resting against the musician's chest or occasionally on the knees.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Birch, cedar, brass, gold leaf, quill
Overall length by width: 45 x 33 cm;
ribs: 6 cm
Label: "Christopher Allworth maker,
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia 1974"
was played throughout Europe from the eleventh to the early sixteenth century.
Its development was influenced by the quànun, or Middle Eastern psaltery,
which the Moors introduced into Spain around the twelfth century. The earliest
instruments were square, rectangular or trapezoidal. Around the thirteenth
century, there appeared a psaltery called the instrumento di
porco, so named because of its curved shape resembling a pig's snout.
The instrument shown here is a reproduction of this type of psaltery.
The three small sides are decorated with a four-leaf motif painted
with tempera and gold leaf.
A trained musician, Christopher Allworth became interested in
historic musical instruments in the late 1960s. After completing a
master's programme in medieval religious music at the University of
Illinois, he continued his education at Oxford from 1968 to 1971. His
study of the religious iconography and music of the Middle Ages drew him
naturally to study the instruments of that period. After returning
to Canada, Allworth taught music in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. In 1984,
he moved to Halifax, where he teaches only part-time at the Atlantic School
of Theology in order to devote more time to the craft of luthier. He also
works as organist and music director at St. John's Anglican church.
The first instruments that Christopher Allworth crafted were reproductions
of instruments used before 1450. They include the psaltery, vithele,
medieval viol, symphonia (medieval hurdy-gurdy), harp, and lyra (or
gigue). In the last few years, he has worked exclusively
on bow instruments: the viol, the vithele and the lyra. His wife, Carolyn,
paints the decorative motifs in tempera and applies gold leaf, in keeping
with the style appropriate to each instrument.
Christopher Allworth's label