More than 800 of the University’s unique collection of historical musical instruments will be on display in the restored St Cecilia’s Hall from late 2016. Three are showcased here through images and audio.

The University’s musical instrument collections include many beautiful and historically important pieces. More than 800 of the collections’ 5,500 items are soon to be on permanent display in the University’s St Cecilia’s Hall, Scotland’s oldest purpose built concert hall, opened in 1763, which is currently undergoing a £6.5 million redevelopment.

Some of the most exquisite pieces have been photographed by the University’s Digital Imaging Unit, and here we showcase three, plus a recording of one of the instruments being played.

Practice violin

One photograph, of what might be mistaken for a modern electronic instrument, actually shows a mute violin made in the early 19th century. The instrument was designed for practising, entirely lacking a sound box. It was bought by John Donaldson, Reid Professor of Music, in 1855, making it one of the founding instruments of the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.

Malaysian rebab

A second photograph shows a rebab,  a bowed string instrument, variations of which are found throughout the Middle East and central and south-east Asia. This instrument was made in Malaysia around 1977, and would have been played in theatre performances or as part of healing rituals.

Early guitar

The final image, as featured on the cover of the print edition of Edit, shows a baroque guitar attributed to Matteo Sellas, Venice, 1640. Sellas was a well-known instrument maker during his lifetime and today his instruments are considered some of the finest guitars of the 17th century.

Explore our  images using the carousel and full-screen function, and listen to the mute violin being played, below.


Comments on “Muted elegance”

    Niall Anderson says:
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    Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get the sound sample to work – it appears to have a length of 00:00 s, so perhaps needs to be re-uploaded. I love the Sellas baroque guitar – I look forward to seeing it when the collection opens later in the year.

    Niall Anderson says:
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    A further thought about the Sellas guitar – presumably the top course was also intended to be double strung (there seems to be a tuning machine for it)? What was the intended tuning for this instrument?

      Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet says:
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      Hello Niall:
      Most plucked stringed instrument of this period were strung in ‘courses’ or groups of strings (commonly groups of two strings) that were played simultaneously. These courses were tuned either in unison or at an octave. This helped the notes to have a richer sound, and in the case of the bass courses the second string tuned one octave higher enhanced the harmonics.
      However, the first course was very often left as a single string, referred to as Cantino (singing string) because it was used to play the melody and having a single string produced a clearer sound.
      In five-course guitars sometimes we find the bridge has only one perforation for the first course, or a triangular slot either to fit two strings or to slide the single string to the centre. Nonetheless, even if there were only 9 strings, there were always 10 tuning pegs, most likely to keep a symmetric aesthetic.
      There were several different tuning options for this kind of guitar. They are often referred to as the name of the composer that suggested the particular tuning. The most common being:
      Sanz: e’(e’)-bb- gg’- d’d’- aa
      Corbetta: e’(e’)-bb- gg- dd’- aa
      Guerau- e’(e’)-bb- gg- dd’- Aa
      Italian or Re-entrant tuning- e’(e’)-bb- gg- d’d’- aa

      I hope this is helpful.

      Best wishes
      Jonathan Santa Maria Bouquet
      MIMEd Conservator,
      Musical Instrument Museums Edinburgh,
      Centre for Research Collections.

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