|Opus 49 - Bass Viol|
he viola da gamba achieved prominence during the Renaissance and the baroque period. In the late fifteenth century, Spanish musicians apparently attempted to play the vihuela (a type of guitar) with a bow. From this experience was born the viol, which the Italians of the sixteenth century dubbed the viola da gamba because it was held between the legs. They thus distinguished it from instruments in the violin family, which they designated as viola da braccio ("arm-viol"). Promoted by court musicians, the instrument rapidly gained favour in Germany, France and England.
Like a number of other Renaissance instruments, the viol comes in several different sizes, the most common being the treble, tenor and bass viols. As viols harmonize very well together in ensembles, an extensive repertoire of works was written for them, especially in England. Such ensembles, called consorts, were made up of professional and upper-class amateur musicians.
During the baroque period, the bass viol was more widely used than the others. It commonly provided continuo accompaniment to the harpsichord in chamber music.
Ray Nurse built this bass viol in the manner of an instrument by Richard Meares that is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Meares worked in London during the second half of the seventeenth century, at a time when the trio sonata had just been introduced in England. As viol making reached a peak of refinement, the pure lines of the instruments were embellished with limited decoration.
This is the type of viol, with sloping upper bouts and strikingly elegant lines, that Ray Nurse built for Opus. The peg box is covered with intertwining leaves carved in relief. The scroll consists of a magnificent open shell, carved from one side to the other. The purfling traces a geometric design on the back and a floral motif on the soundboard. The varnish is a light colour. The luthier's name appears on the bridge of this six-string instrument.
Ray Nurse teaches the lute in the Music Department of the University of British Columbia and is internationally recognized as one of North America's foremost luthiers. He began his career in instrument making in 1965. In 1967, he became an apprentice to Ian Harwood and John Isaacs in England while studying the lute under Dianna Poulton. Since then, he has thoroughly researched the construction of the lute and other stringed instruments in European and North American museums. Nurse helped found the Vancouver Early Music Society and has been involved in establishing early-music ensembles.
Since 1976, Nurse has been a director of the Lute Society of America and has given numerous talks and workshops on lute performance and making. In the early 1970s, he opened a workshop in Vancouver, where he builds replicas of historic instruments as faithfully as possible to the methods and aesthetics of early luthiers. Ray Nurse's lutes are admired by world-famous professional musicians.