origins of the
renaissance cittern lie in the medieval citole,
Tinctoris in his “De
inventione et usu musicae”
(ca. 1487) describes as being invented in Italy, having a flat
fitted with fixed frets, strung with brass and steel strings
to the intervals of a whole tone, fourth, whole tone and
played with a
plectrum. This already shows many of the characteristics of
what Michael Praetorius in 1619 describes as the “old
cittern, which by the beginning of the 16th century
had increased the number of its strings from 4 single strings to 6
courses (sets of 2-3 strings), now tuned a/a,
c'/c', b/b, g/g'/g', d'/d', e'/e'.
corresponded to the 6 notes of the hexachord, the basic building block
of renaissance music theory.
of Italy a four course "French cittern"
g/g'/g', d'/d', e'/e',
became the dominant form
and this being the instrument called for in the earliest
surviving cittern source from
Elizabethan England, the
Mulliner Manuscript (ca. 1560).
can be seen in Paolo Virchi 1574 publication “Primo
with its use of a
fully chromatic instrument.
Earlier citterns both in and outside of Italy had used “diatonic”
fretting, which entirely
omitted the fourth
fret and used a number of the partial frets did not cross
fingerboard, thus making some notes unplayable.
cittern (tuned b/b,
g/g'/g', d'/d', e'/e'
) as used by Anthony
Holborne in his 1597 “Cittharn
Schoole” or Thomas
Morley’s 1599 “The
First Booke of Consort Lessons”
combines elements of the 4
cittern with the tuning and chromatic fretting of late Italian