Both of my parents were musicians, so at the age of four I was encouraged to begin piano lessons. One of my exercises was to harmonize a melody in four parts, which may have foreshadowed my career as a continuo player, some 26 years later.
During my youth I was an artist. But at 18 I suddenly decided to take up the cello. That led me to the viola da gamba in graduate school, and the lirone during my doctoral studies. The lirone literally changed my life! A 17th-century Vatican manuscript led me to the instrument, and I became the first person since 1700 to rediscover and revive it.
The lirone, consequently, led me down many paths: continuo playing and the numerous elements that comprise it; 17th century Italian poetry, which is the foundation of all vocal music of the era; along with iconography, painting, sculpture, Italian culture and spirituality, and numerous fascinating accounts of life in Florence and Rome at the time.
The lirone is really a unique instrument that doesn’t belong to the early orchestra — it is called upon specifically to accompany laments and tragic narratives in opera and oratorio scenes, but not appropriate for playing throughout a dramatic work. Its 14 strings make it possible to bow four to six strings together, with nearly all tonalities available, and pure tuning throughout.
The lirone was said to raise the soul to heaven and to cause the listener to experience the deep emotions and eventual catharsis of the character being portrayed.