11. Sultana, anyone?

A couple of decades ago I recorded a CD of the Twelve Divertimentis for Guittar by James Oswald,  on an original “guittar” from c.1765. The guittar was an 18th-century cittern with four double courses and two single-course basses, all wire strings. The repertoire for the guittar was a mixture of traditional music and classical works, and the tuning was a warm double triad of a C Major chord: CEGceg.

The album is no longer available to purchase, but you can listen to the whole thing here:

Why am I telling you this on a blog devoted to the viol? Well, dear reader, prepare to be astonished, as I was recently on finding this instrument for sale:

It’s a seven-course viol-related version of the guittar, designed to be played with a bow, and described in the sale as a Scottish bowed cittern, the body of seven ribs of maple, labelled Georgius Mollifon fecit / ABREDEAIS 1794 – made by George Mollison in Aberdeen, Overall length 68.0cm.

The strings are a mixture of gut and wire, and tuned to a major chord. It belongs to a family of instruments known as bowed citterns or sultanas












Here is a much finer example:

Another excellent example, by John Kirk, with a tuning mechanism by Preston, as can be seen on my album cover above. This mechanism made the tuning of the wire strings so much more accurate than with pegs.

One of the best makers was Thomas Perry of Dublin, recognised as one of the finest violin makers of his day. Perry made many guittars and sultanas. Here is a very fine example with Dublin-style tuners (used also by William Gibson of Dublin) and an ivory fretboard

Luckily, a recent academic paper by Panagiotis Poulopoulos and Rachael Durkin has been published online, which is essential reading for anyone interested in such instruments: Sultana dissertation – pdf.

So, are there any recordings of these instruments? I can only find one youtube performance, but unfortunately the player has no historical awareness, choosing to play jigs and reels as if this were a mere fiddle. I suggest there is a lost repertoire of classical as well as traditional-related pieces just waiting to be found.

Having been a guittar player and now with an interest in viol playing, I should be actively seeking that repertoire after purchasing the aforementioned instrument for sale. Alas it is too expensive for me, but if any reader is of a generous nature and would like to purchase it for me, you will find it here: https://www.oldmusicalinstruments.co.uk/instruments/instrument_detail.php?id=480&cat=BS

10 July, 2019



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