If you’ve seen any of our publicity for the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, you’ll notice that we list Richard Savino as the theorbo player, and you’re probably wondering, what the heck is a theorbo?
A theorbo is a bass lute (forerunner of the guitar) and is visually striking because of its long neck. (I’m wondering how Mr. Savino is going to get it on the plane! When we went to the Boston Early Music Festival, we saw theorbos that were 12 feet long!) The reason for the long neck, of course, is to hold the bass strings.
During the Baroque there was an ensemble of instruments known as the “basso continuo.” In our performance, the basso continuo will consist of organ, harpsichord, theorbo, renaissance harp, and cello. We read from a special musical shorthand called figured bass.
We see only the bass line (shown here in bold) but we “realize” (play) the rest of it, shown in gray. When the notes are flying by quickly, as they will be during certain sections of the Monteverdi, it takes an extra measure of concentration. Most musicians learn how to play from figured bass in college, and luckily, it’s a skill I’ve been practicing throughout my many years at LCH and our Bach cantata performances. In the Monteverdi, I have over 140 pages of figured bass to get through, so you can imagine how much fun this will be!