On the five renaissance violins in Freiberg Cathedral (hier für deutsche Version)

Not only does each one of the five Freiberg violins themselves offer the performers
many new insights – bringing the instruments together and making music with them
is also a very special experience each and every time. Only in the ensemble they
develop their full body of sound.
This experience and the fact that these violins carry the label of Randeck violin
maker Paul Klemm and were put in the hands of the angels at the same time seems
to suggest that they are indeed a renaissance ensemble.
Surprising, considering the sizes of the five instrument in the context of the repertoire
at the time:
Instrument families, as frequently developed during the renaissance period, mostly
only consist of three different instrument sizes: a soprano instrument, two mid-voice
instruments, often of the same size, and a bass instrument. And for the repertoire
of a five-voice ensemble, mostly a second tenor or later a second soprano is added.
The Freiberg Angels, however, firstly carry a soprano instrument of the size of a violin,
as well as an alto/tenor instrument. The size and rib height is reminiscent of a
tenor violin/large viola or even a small bass instrument, which later would be known
as “violoncello da spalla”. Those two instruments are tuned like a contemporary
violin and viola, as was customary even in the 16th century.
A further two of the five Freiberg instruments are bass instruments with only minimally
different shape and very small dimension. The latter suggests the then usual
tuning in F, or G respectively – a fourth or fifth higher than the later dominating
tuning of the 8’ violin bass instrument in C, or B flat respectively.
What remains is the small discant violin, fourth violin, or as Praetorius described it
in 1617, the “rather tiny discant violin” – it has three strings tuned in g1 – d2 – a2.
Already because of their special sizes, the five instruments in ensemble sound higher
pitched, almost as if closer to the angels’ sphere.
If one wanted to use four or five of these instrument in ensemble, you have to play a
fourth or fifth higher than the notation, as usual in the renaissance period. High notes
outside of the ‘normal’ range (chiavette) are played as notated and not transposed down.
This high pitch and the special construction technique define the bright and silvery
sound that these instruments are characterised by. They are evidence of an aesthetic
that by forgoing bass oriented sound in music is clearly different from that of the
baroque period.

Susanne Scholz