Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque Instruments | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque Instruments

In the late 1950s in Canada there was a renewal of interest in performing medieval, renaissance and early baroque music.

Instruments: Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque

In the late 1950s in Canada there was a renewal of interest in performing medieval, renaissance and early baroque music. As musicologists bring to light an increasing amount of information on early instruments, music, and performance practices, performers have attempted to recreate the music authentically.

From this revival has emerged a small number of craftspeople who, through detailed study of specimens surviving in museums and of illuminated manuscripts, treatises, and contemporary pictorial representations, have tried to copy accurately the instruments originally used. In Canada capable amateurs as well as professional builders have constructed instruments, mainly lutes, viols, neo-Celtic harps, and hurdy-gurdies, but also reed instruments - krumhorns, dulcians, shawms, racketts, recorders, etc.

Many of the Canadian builders began as, and continued to be, makers of harpsichords, and/or popular instruments like the guitar, the banjo, and the dulcimer. A co-operative workshop, the Instrument Shop, was organized in BC in 1971 by nine craftspeople. Among those involved in the venture were Ray Nurse, Michael Dunn, Edward (Ted) Turner, Tim Hobrough, and Allan McNaught.

Thanks to the continued energies of early music ensembles, both professional and the Collegium Musicum, interest in early music performance of many kinds, and especially in historical reconstruction, has grown even further and there are many active makers of replicas of early instruments. Canada has enjoyed an extended "golden age" of medieval, renaissance, and baroque instruments. One may see the evidence of this on the websites of the individual makers and consortiums. We have had the tradition of binding, closely and with fidelity, the style of the replica to iconography, historical description, and on-site examination of originals whenever possible. In addition, demonstrations and live performances before students and new listeners should not be underestimated. Education is among the stated goals of many of our early music ensembles who perform on period instruments, for example Tafelmusik, whose members undertake in-depth research and whose influence and outreach can be felt far afield.

Interest in instrumental playing on period instruments has a strong foothold in Canadian universities. In the last two decades of the 20th century, the accessibility of the recording industry contributed to the success of the early music movement.

Carmelle Bégin, in her excellent survey of instrument making in Canada (Opus: The Making of Musical Instruments in Canada with Constance Nebel, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1992), provides some updates on activities of the most prominent of traditional early instrument makers whose instruments are found in museum and university collections. The Canadian Museum of Civilization maintains excellent websites and an instrument register. The photos contained in these sites and those in Bégin's survey are outstanding and provide a reliable representation of details and proportions.

Instrument Building

The craftspeople listed below have built their instruments individually by hand. Imported materials such as rosewood and ebony are often difficult to obtain and very costly, but many of the other woods used (cedar, maple, and spruce) are available in Canada - most readily to the west-coast builders.

A 1974 exhibit called 'Instrument Makers' at the Burnaby, BC, Art Gallery included Canadian-built instruments.


The renewed interest in performing the music of the medieval, renaissance, and baroque periods (approximately the years 800-1750) stems mainly from the activities and studies of Arnold Dolmetsch in England at the beginning of the 20th century. Although much of the music was known to historians and even had been issued in scholarly editions, little of it was performed at all and, until the revival stimulated by Dolmetsch, none of it was performed on historical instruments or in the style of the time in which it was written. As a result of the revival, this music has come to be performed more often and more authentically throughout the western world, including in Canada from about the middle of the 20th century. Some professional groups founded to perform medieval, renaissance, and baroque music are cited in the following list. Many other such groups have been active in Canadian university music schools and, to a lesser extent, conservatories.

Some Professional Ensembles

name, location/founder(s)/date founded

Les Agrémens, Montreal/Réjean Mongeau/1989

Anonymus, Quebec City/Claude Bernatchez and Pierre Langevin/1978

Arbor Oak Trio, Toronto/Stephanie Martin, Todd Gilman, Lawrence Beckwith/1988

Cecilian Ensemble, Vancouver/David Skulski/1972

La Companie musicale La Nef, Montreal/Sylvain Bergeron/1990

Les Coucous Bénévoles, Toronto/Colin Tilney/1985

Ensemble Arion, Montreal/Betsy MacMillan/1981

Ensemble Capriole, Chateauguay, Que/Jocelyne Laberge/1975

Ensemble Claude-Gervaise, Montreal/François Barre, Jean Gagné, Joseph Quimatte, and Gilles Plante/1967

Ensemble de Baryton Eisenstadt, Montreal/Marcel St-Cyr, Paul Pulford, Douglas McNabney/1981

Ensemble Les Nations de Montréal (formerly Ensemble Carl-Philipp 1981-6)/ Jean-François Rievest, Liselyn Adams/1981

Ensemble Nouvelle-France, Quebec City/Louise Courville/1977

Harmonie Universelle Ancienne, London, Ont/Henry Meredith/1987 (includes the Victoriana Ensemble and Sonare, begun by Meredith in 1977 and 1980 respectively)

Huggett Family, Ottawa/Leslie Huggett/1966

Manitoba University Consort, Winnipeg/Peggie Sampson and Christine Mather/ 1963-70

La Ménestrandise, Montreal/Jean-Pierre Brunet and Guy Marchand/1978

Montreal Consort of Ancient Instruments/Otto Joachim/1958-68

Musica Antica e Nuova, Montreal/Célia Bizonay/1951-5

Musica Secreta, Montreal/Valerie Kinslow/1981-5

Musick Fyne (formerly Musiconsort 1984-8), Toronto/Jennifer Huggett, Terry McKenna, Alison Melville, Colin Savage, Valerie Weeks/1984

New World Consort (formerly Hortulani Musicae 1972-84), Vancouver/Ray Nurse, David Skulski, and Jon Washburn/1972

Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Vancouver/Marc Destrubé/1990

Le Petit Ensemble baroque de Montréal/Rafael and Margaret de Castro and Anthony King/1979

Quatre en Concert/Peggie Sampson/1976-81

Resonant Reflections, Thunder Bay/Felicia Urbanski, Larry Squire/1990

Sanz Cuer Ensemble, Montreal/Judith R. Cohen, Ariane Dind, Susan Palmer, and Michèle Sauvé/1976

Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal/Hélène Dugal, Christopher Jackson, and Réjean Poirier/1974

Tafelmusik, Toronto/Kenneth Solway, Susan Graves, and Dan Armstrong/1977

Toronto Consort/Timothy McGee/1972

The Towne Waytes, Vancouver/David Skulski/1974

Trio Amsel, Ottawa/Barbara Zuchowicz/1984-90

Vancouver Waits/David Skulski/1972


Instrument Makers, exhibition catalogue, Burnaby Art Gallery (Burnaby, BC 1974)

'The instrument makers,' Craftsman/L'Artisan, vol 6, no. 1, 1976

Sedgwick, Don. 'The lively renaissance of early music: peculiar sounds and shapes of early music conquer Canada,' Music, Jul-Aug 1978

Littler, William. 'Going for baroque,' Toronto Star, 23 Mar 1979

'The Scarborough workshop,' Continuo, Oct 1979

'McGill's musical detective,' McGill News, Fall 1979

Pearce, John. 'Medieval strains, Renaissance rhythms,' Maclean's, 26 Nov 1979

Pinson, Jean-Pierre. 'La musique ancienne dans les collèges, les conservatoires et les universités au Québec,' Le Tic-Toc-Choc, vol 4, Feb 1983

'Ancient music,' Musicanada special issue, 58, Dec 1986

April issues of Continuo list summer workshops.

Bégin, Carmelle and Nebel, Constance. Opus: The Making of Musical Instruments in Canada / Opus: La facture instrumentale au Canada (Ottawa 1992)


Continuo, monthly, Toronto, Oct 1977-98, first 6 issues titled The Toronto Early Music Directory

The Rackett, quarterly, Vancouver, Spring 1978-

Musik, quarterly journal of the Vancouver Society for Early Music, Summer 1979-

Journal de musique ancienne 1987-90; formerly Le Tic-Toc-Choc 1979-87

Hobrough, Tim

Hobrough (b Wingham, Ont, 11 Oct 1947) began guitar repair work in 1970 and studied the building of dulcimers and guitars with Michael Dunn 1970-4. Influenced by Vancouver's early music groups, he began building harps, first from modern designs and later according to the original Irish and European construction techniques. In 1974 he demonstrated the art of harp building at the World Craft Exhibition in Toronto and appeared at the Spokane World's Fair. He did research in Great Britain and Europe on Canada Council grants. He has built both baroque and renaissance harps and 'one-of-a-kind' instruments when there is enough historical information to make the construction practical.

McNaught, Allan

McNaught (b Listowel, Ont, 18 Aug 1941) began making dulcimers in 1968, when he moved to Galiano Island, BC. He formed ca 1969 an organization of instrument builders called Seedpod, whose membership included Dan Perysko, Craig Peterson, Gray McPhedran, Je Titus, Bob Palumbo, and Steve Fletcher. While the group built folk instruments, notably the dulcimer, they also produced some neo-Celtic (Irish) harps and an instrument called the 'Magic Twanger,' which has a small cittern-like body with guitar scale neck and three to six strings. After Seedpod dissolved in 1972 McNaught worked in Vancouver and later on Desolation Sound, BC, and in 1974 he settled on Hornby Island, BC.

Allworth, Christopher

Christopher Allworth established a workshop in Yarmouth, NS, in 1972 and produced such medieval instruments as the harp, gittern, fythele (fiddle), viol, and hurdy-gurdy. Allworth also performed on some of his instruments. In 1984, Allworth moved to Halifax to dedicate more time to instrument making; his instruments included the psaltery, the viol family, the harp, and the lyre. In his later years he devoted much time to bowed instruments.

Titmuss, Clive

Clive Titmuss, lute and period guitar maker, lutenist, (b London 22 Feb 1951), studied music at the University of Calgary (B MUS 1975) and at the Schola Cantorum in Basel 1979-80 and 1981-2. As an instrument maker he was self-taught. In 1977 with harpsichordist Susan J. Adams he began the Early Music Studio in White Rock, BC, which included in its activities concerts, research, education and instrument making. By 1991 Titmuss had made some 30 lutes, theorbos, vihuelas, and period guitars. He frequently performs on instruments he has made and in 1987 recorded with Adams on LP and cassette Personal Collection, which contains English, German, and French solo music for lute and harpsichord, played on four different lutes and three harpsichords. In 1991 he performed the complete lute music of Bach in a series of concerts at St Mark's Anglican Church in South Surrey, BC.

Tomlinson, Craig C.

Craig C. Tomlinson, harpsichord maker (b Toronto 20 Jun 1953), built folk instruments 1970-6, assembled harpsichord kits 1976-8, worked briefly with Edward Turner, and studied with John Philips in Berkeley. With Canada Council grants he studied European collections. He opened a shop in Vancouver in 1980.

Secker, Johannes

Johannes Secker, harpsichord maker (b Rotterdam 22 May 1939), moved with his family to Canada in 1953. He had an academic career before learning harpsichord making at the London College of Furniture. He established a shop in Calgary in 1980 and moved to Water Valley, Alta, in 1982. He has also made fortepianos.

Davis, Philip

Philip Davis, luthier (b Toronto 17 Jan 1949), trained 1975-8 at the musical instrument department of the London College of Furniture, where he specialized in making early fretted instruments. In 1978 he returned to Canada and he established a shop in Quebec City. He trained in violin repair and restoration 1983-4 under J.J. Schröder in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, and in 1991 studied bow restoration and repair with David Orlin at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In the early 1980s he taught a course in violin making at the Ontario College of Art and established a shop in Toronto where he has specialized in restoring and making baroque models and bows of the violin and viola da gamba families.

Hannaby, John

John Hannaby, harpsichord maker (b Toronto 24 Apr 1946; d Toronto 4 Feb 2005), was self-taught and established Hannaby & Co, a harpsichord- and piano-making firm, in Toronto in 1971. He researched and built harpsichords and clavichords based on 17th- and 18th-century historical models, e.g., of the London and Hamburg schools. Later he was more active restoring pianos. In 1990 he began JLH Lasersound, a recording company that featured Canadian artists.

Marvin, Stephen

Stephen Marvin, baroque violinist and violist, period bow maker (b 14 Oct 1951), studied bow making with William Salchow in New York and established a shop in Toronto in 1984. He has made 17th- and 18th-century bows for the violin and viol families. He has been a member of Tafelmusik.

Noy, Peter C.

Peter C. Noy, period flute and recorder maker (b Orillia, Ont, 28 Aug 1950), studied baroque flute and recorder 1982-7 using his own reproductions, apprenticed 1984-7 in woodwind repair with Gary Armstrong Woodwinds in Toronto, and researched historical instruments in several European collections. He has made recorders and transverse flutes since 1988 and had a workshop in Toronto with Courtney Westcott. His instruments are quite widely exhibited.

Zuchowicz, Dominik

Dominik Zuchowicz, violin and viol maker (b Winnipeg 26 Mar 1949), trained in violin repair and restoration 1970-4 in the workshop of James Croft and Son in Winnipeg; in 1974 he established a shop briefly in that city but in 1975 settled in Ottawa. Zuchowicz has produced period and modern violins, violas, cellos, and a variety of violas da gamba. His specialties include baroque cellos and violones. With the assistance of Canada Council grants he has researched instrument collections in Canada, the USA, and Europe. He served in the capacity of restoration specialist for collections belonging to the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New England Conservatory.

Beaupré, Yves

Yves Beaupré, harpsichord maker (b Montreal 21 Mar 1954) made his first harpsichord in 1976 and made study tours of Europe and the USA. He operated a shop in Montreal.

Boudreau, Jean-Luc

Jean-Luc Boudreau, recorder and flute maker (b Montreal 15 Dec 1958). He studied music at McGill University and Concordia University and made his first recorders and baroque flutes in Montreal in 1981. He studied instruments in European collections, specialized in making baroque transverse flutes and recorders, and offered hand-made instruments for amateurs and students under the company name Aesthe. Several of his instruments are in the collection of the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. He developed methods of wood-turning and drilling and using early specific originals such as the descriptions found in the Opera Intitulata Fontegara 1535 and examinations of original instruments.

Sigmund, Robert

Robert Sigmund, harpsichordist, organist, harpsichord maker (b Philadelphia 17 Oct 1946). He moved to Canada in 1969 and began to assemble harpsichords in 1972; later he made instruments part-time and specialized in voicing and mechanisms.

Other Makers in Western Canada

Edward R. Turner, who fashioned the unforgettable and highly elaborate organistrum belonging to the Canadian Museum of Civilization collection, opened a studio in Vancouver in 1971 and designed early keyboards in the renowned Russell collection in the University of Edinburgh. In 1985 he returned to graphic art. Saskatchewan luthier David Miller's instruments are known not only for their sonic properties but also for his detailed and ornate visual aesthetic in reproduction. Edward Eames is active in BC and a maker of wind instruments as well as some string and percussion instruments, but is known for work on the cornetto.

Makers in Ottawa

Aside from Ottawa maker Dominik Zuchowicz, other Ottawa period instrument makers include Robert Barclay and Thomas Strang, who share the interest of trumpet making. Bow maker and biologist Bernard Walke has an interest in substitute materials (eg bull horn for ivory) and has been working in Ottawa since 1984. Colin Everett of Ottawa built over 50 lutes and racketts between 1968 and 1978.

Other Makers in Quebec

Ivo Loerakker, of St-Bartelemy, Que (formerly of Holland), uses European woods to fashion replicas of Stradivarius violins. Jean-François Beaudin, Quebec maker of flutes and recorders, travelled widely to study originals to facilitate his reconstructions, many of which replicate instruments from Berlin. Denis Cormier, active in Montreal, studied baroque violin making with Willem Bouman in The Hague.

Other Builders

Another east-coast builder is the luthier Thomas Dorward (b Denver, Col, 29 Jul 1946), owner of the Halifax Folklore Centre. Dennis Waring of Winnipeg has built psalteries and dulcimers. Terry Philpot is a luthier working in Bethany, Ont. Terry's Lute, a Viking film made in 1974, shows Philpot constructing a lute later displayed at the National Gallery of Canada. Michael Schreiner of Toronto has made lutes and viols, and in 1978 he constructed a viola da gamba from a 1713 design by Claude Pierray of Paris.

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