A Renaissance treasure in a student bar

In 2009 I was asked to travel to Toronto to inspect a small collection of musical instruments owned by the university and displayed in a glass case over a fireplace in a bar. For years I had heard rumours about these instruments and suggestions that there might be more to them than meets the eye. A labelled bass viol was known to by (or at least labelled for) Joachim Tielke, the great Hamburg maker of the 1690s period. Others – well, who knew? My job was to value them, but also to make recommendations about whether they should remain behind glass, be played, or how to negotiate responsibly between the two.

The instruments turned out to be an extraordinary assemblage representing a chest of viols formed over a hundred years ago and bought by the University in their veneration of all things Shakespearian. The Tielke – as genuine – was exciting enough, but amongst the others were unexpected treasures. One tiny treble attributed to Carlo Bergonzi was by the Southwark maker, Henry Jaye who worked a stones-throw from Shakespeare’s haunts during his lifetime. Another all important instrument was by John Rose, made almost certainly in the 1590s, from Bridewell Palace. It is the best preserved of all his works, and the carving on the scroll is the best Elizabethan craftsmanship I’ve seen in any wooden medium. I was so impressed with it, that my photos became my logo.

To read more on the identification of these instruments: Rare Hart House viols to stage an appearance.

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