I’m a maker of plucked instruments, but their bowed cousins are very dear to me. Especially the viola da gamba family. The first encounter was at the agr of fourteen, in the basement of the ‘Gemeentemuseum’ (Muncipal Museum) in The Hague. During a school excursion I leapt away from the group and spend the whole afternoon looking at the instruments, silent in their glass cases.
Unfortunately it only stayed by looking, the collection was a bit of the “poor child” of the museum. Tucked away in the cellars and recently moved to storage, away from the public. Needless to say there were no multimedia devices to give some samples of the sound of the instruments.
The first time I heard the sound of a gamba was through the movie “Tout les mattins du monde”. It was magic, the timbre, much more relaxed than a violin or cello. A bit masal, instead of sharp, sweeter. Later I learned that the soundtrack for this movie was played by Jordi Savall, one of the great gamba players of our time.
At school in Belgium I found a little booklet, also tucked away in a closet. “Die Viola da Gamba und Besonderheiten ihrer Bauweise” by Nicolaus Harders. It described the method for making a gamba, a bit crude and over-simplified, but it gives a good impression.
Despite being educated as a plucked instrument maker I still want to try my hand at a gamba some day. After all they’re “just large bowed guitars” as one gamba maker once told me secretly…