Six years ago, Belgian musician Sigiswald Kuijken brought back from the dead an instrument used by composers Bach and Vivaldi, but then lay forgotten in museums for more than 200 years.
On Tuesday evening, the sounds of this resurrected eighteenth century instrument — the shoulder cello — will resonate for Western classical music enthusiasts in Mumbai, as Kuijken and his chamber music group La Petite Bande get ready to perform on their first Indian tour.
“I believe music of the past sounds best when played on instruments of the past, the ones it was originally composed for,” said 66-year-old Kuijken, known throughout the musical world for his expertise with authentic instruments.
Unlike today’s larger cellos, which are held upright between the knees, his shoulder cello is strung round his neck and rests across his chest.
According to Kuijken, most of the music of the ornate Baroque period was written with the shoulder cello in mind.
“But in the 1730s and 40s, it became fashionable to compose higher notes, giving rise to the modern cello in use today,” he said.
A close study of old musical score sheets inspired Kuijken to return to the original cello. After getting a friend to craft one for him, the violin and viola player taught himself, at the age of 60, how to play it.
“There are now 10 or 12 musicians who play the shoulder cello in Europe, and I have begun teaching it too,” said Kuijken, who believes the old instrument is more resonant that the modern cello.
But returning to authenticity is not the only reason why La Petite Bande has chosen Vivaldi’s Four Season’s for their Mumbai concert.
“Those are some of the most popular pieces that will please even those audiences who are not heavily into classical music.”
(La Petite Bande will perform at NCPA’s Experimental Theatre on November 2 at 7pm)