“Isn’t it comical that sheep’s guts should hail souls out if men’s bodies?” ~~William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Norhing
These days when we’re listening to a classical radio station like KUSC we almost always hear Baroque music being performed in a historically informed manner. This means that music by Bach, Handel, and even Mozart and Haydn has a different tone quality than other orchestral music say from the Romantic era or the 20th and 21st centuries. Have you ever wondered how musicians today are able to create this unique, almost ancient sounding sound? I’ve written about this topic quite a few times on this blog, mainly dealing with violin technique and instrument setup and today I would like to highlight something that is essential to historical performance practice. When we hear Baroque groups on the radio or in concert, they are invariably employing the most straightforward means musicians use to achieve an authentic Baroque sound: using the kinds of strings musicians had available to them at the time. These were gut strings and they make all the difference when it comes to playing Baroque music.
Yes, these strings are made of what they sound like they are: gut. String makers used the intestines of animals treated and wound tightly in various thicknesses to make strings for lutes, instruments in the violin family, viols, and guitars to name a few. This gives the instruments that unique vibrant tone quality that is closely connected with nature, flexible and responsive.
Below is a link to a fascinating article about how people make gut strings. Knowing where these strings come from gives us a whole new way of listening to Baroque music!