Bach's Favorite Instrument You've Probably Never Heard Of: The Long-Lost Lautenwerck : Deceptive Cadence The lautenwerck, an instrument like a lute and a harpsichord, almost went extinct in the 19th century, but forensic musicologists are bringing it back to life.

Bach's Favorite Instrument You've Probably Never Heard Of: The Long-Lost Lautenwerck

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We're honoring the birthday of a great classical composer this morning with a story about a long lost instrument. The story was prompted by a question that intrigued our arts reporter, Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: So this video showed up in my inbox. It's the sort of thing I normally instantly delete.


DONGSHOK SHIN: Hello, friends of Early Music New York. My name is Dongsok Shin.

ULABY: But the average video press release does not normally stump me with a question.


SHIN: What is a lautenwerck?

ULABY: A whatenverk (ph)?


ULABY: I am such a sucker. It turns out a lautenwerck is an instrument, a lot like a harpsichord and popular during the baroque period in Europe three centuries ago. These days, the lautenwerck is largely forgotten. Dongsok Shin told me Johann Sebastian Bach loved the lautenwerck.

SHIN: If he owned two of them, I mean, they couldn't have been that off the wall.

ULABY: Bach wrote a bunch of music for the lautenwerck, but you could pretty much only hear it on the harpsichord until recently. Lautenwercks did not survive the 18th century. They were extremely fragile. Here, Shin's playing a reconstructed lautenwerck, a piece by Bach he wrote for the instrument.

SHIN: (Playing lautenwerck).

ULABY: Normally, you'd hear this piece on a harpsichord. Now you're hearing it like Bach intended, with a caveat. The handful of artisans making lautenwercks now are basically forensic musicologists reconstructing instruments based on what they think they sounded like. Lautenwercks are also called lute-harpsichords because they use strings made from guts like lutes rather than from metal. During the baroque, Shin says, lutes were not really used in public performances. They were personal, intimate.

SHIN: People would play them for themselves or for their very dear friends in a small room. The lautenwerck can pull certain heartstrings.

ULABY: Dongsok Shin is an early music maven, but he's also someone who adores superhero movies, "Star Trek," cartoon violence and "Star Wars." The lautenwerck, he says, is a path towards peace in 2021.

SHIN: You know, we love living our lives in excitement, and we sometimes forget that there are other things in life, too.

ULABY: Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday is right around now. The exact date is contested, but he's 336 years old. The lautenwerck - a gift this morning to you. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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