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The Arpeggione

The musical estate of Franz Schubert contained a work that posed his first biographers riddles: the »Sonate für Arpeggione und Pianoforte«. They had never heard of an instrument called an arpeggione and assumed it was a kind of harp. In reality, the arpeggione is a hybrid of guitar and violoncello, probably long forgotten if there had not been Schubert’s sonata.

The arpeggione was invented in 1823. It caused quite a stir, but in the beginning it was due more to a copyright dispute than musical reasons. Violin maker Johann Georg Staufer from Vienna and Peter Teufelsdorfer from Pest both claimed to be the inventor of the instrument which was first called guitar d’amour, bow guitar or sentimental guitar.

The museum owns one of the few existing arpeggiones. It was probably made by Anton Mitteis from Leitmeritz in the first half of the 19th century. Constructional features that were taken over from the guitar are the shape of the body, the flat back plate, the fact that the belly and back are flush with the ribs, the metal frets on a rather flat fingerboard and the six strings with the tuning E-A-d-g-h-e'. Characteristic for a violoncello is the length of the strings, the arched top plate with the respective high bridge and the way the instrument is held and played with a bow. In 1997, Thomas Schiegnitz made a replica of the arpeggione that has been used as a practice instrument in order to preserve the original, which has only been played in concerts and for a recording.

Arpeggione, Cat.-No. 4678 (Flash)