ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2013 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 15, no. 1:

Patrick Wood Uribe*

“On that single Instrument a full Consort”: Thomas Baltzar’s Works for Solo Violin and “the grand metamorfosis of musick”


1. Thomas Baltzar, Violinist

2. Musical Texts

3. Social Contexts and the Importance of Place



1. Thomas Baltzar, Violinist

1.1 On March 4, 1656, John Evelyn had the opportunity to hear the greatest violinist of his day. German virtuoso Thomas Baltzar (1631?–1663) was a musician of such repute that Evelyn refers to him only as “the incomparable Lübecker”:

Mar: 4: This night I was invited by Mr. Rog: L’Estrange to heare the incomperable Lubicer on the Violin, his variety upon a few notes [& plaine ground] with that wonderfull dexterity, as was admirable, & though a very young man, yet so perfect & skillfull as there was nothing so crosse & perplext, which being by our Artists, brough[t] to him, which he did not at first sight, with ravishing sweetnesse, & improvements, play off, to the astonishment of our best Masters: In Summ, he plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort, so as the rest, flung-downe their Instruments, as acknowldging a victory: As to my owne particular, I stand to this houre amaz’d that God should give so greate perfection to so young a person: There were at that time as excellent in that profession as any were thought in Europ: Paule Wheeler, Mr. Mell and others, ’til this prodigie appeared & then they vanish’d.1

1.2 Evelyn is not alone in his amazement. Anthony à Wood describes him as “the most famous artist for the violin that the world has yet produced,” and gives the following account of one of Baltzar’s performances in Oxford in 1658:

Afterwards he came to one of the weekly Meetings at Mr. Ellis’s house, and he played to the wonder of all the Auditory: and exercising his Fingers and Instrument several wayes to the utmost of his power, Wilson thereupon the public Professor (the greatest Judg of Musick that ever was) did, after his humoursome way, stoop downe to Baltzar’s Feet, to see whether he had a Huff on, that is to say, to see, whether he was a Devil, or not, because he had acted beyond the parts of Man.2

1.3 Baltzar took England by storm: a mere three years later, he was among the most highly paid of Charles II’s royal musicians, a position he was sadly only to enjoy for two years until his early death in the summer of 1663.3

1.4 A handful of Baltzar’s pieces for solo violin survive, some in manuscript in two Oxford libraries, and three movements in John Playford’s publication The Division-Violin.4 As Evelyn’s remark that “he plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort” suggests, Baltzar used double and triple stops to produce a chordal or polyphonic texture. As we have seen, this caused a sensation in England, and modern scholars have adopted two principal strategies to account for it: asserting on the one hand that Baltzar imported a virtuosic style from Germany, or on the other hand pointing to a possible transfer of the idiom of the viol from Baltzar’s English colleagues. But the goal of tracing a stylistic parentage for Baltzar’s style has pushed aside any comprehensive examination of his music, which still has a great deal to tell us if we begin by posing different questions: rather than ask where this style and technique came from, we might instead start with our witnesses’ testimonies and ask what it is in Baltzar’s music that so captivated them.

1.5 Some scholars argue that Baltzar brought to England the techniques belonging to the north German violin tradition of Biber, Walther, and others, and that he “astonished English musicians and violinists with what was undoubtedly a normal technical standard of playing in Italy and probably in Germany.”5 However, Evelyn was a sophisticated, well-traveled listener, and his amazement is neither as naïve nor as easily dismissed as that assertion suggests. We might already suspect this line of reasoning to be less solid, but a further impediment to it, as Peter Holman has pointed out, is that at the time of Baltzar’s playing in 1656, Biber and Walther were eleven and six years old respectively, and their first solo violin works date from well after Baltzar’s early death in 1663. It is thus impossible to make a case for Baltzar’s inclusion in that German violin tradition, as he had left Germany well before it developed.6

1.6 Another possible influence on Baltzar’s style is suggested by the manuscript sources. Most of Baltzar’s solo violin music is part of the large Bodleian Library manuscript (GB-Ob MS Mus. Sch. F.573), which contains fifty-five pieces for unaccompanied violin attributed to a number of composers including John Jenkins, Dietrich Steffkins, and Charles Colman, all three of whom would have been Baltzar’s colleagues in the King’s Musick. Nineteen works in the manuscript also exist in versions for lyra-viol spread across ten different printed and manuscript sources in England, France and the Netherlands, and may, like many violin pieces of the period, be transcriptions of works originally for viol.7 Given these circumstances, the alternative, Holman suggests, is that Baltzar developed polyphonic violin writing by emulating his virtuoso viol-playing colleagues in the King’s service. However, this theory alone does not account for the sensation Baltzar caused upon his arrival in England. John Evelyn’s report that “he plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort” is dated March 1656, five years before Baltzar’s court appointment, two years before his performances in Oxford, and only a matter of months after coming to England. It is impossible to trace an influence here to musicians who were only later to become his colleagues. Nonetheless, there are a number of ways in which Baltzar might have become familiar with English viol music, and the connection is certainly compelling. As a violinist at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden prior to his arrival in England, Baltzar would have encountered English musicians during Bulstrode Whitelocke’s Swedish Embassy of 1653–4; and the presence of English musicians in northern Germany in the earlier part of the century, such as William Brade, suggest connections that may reach further back into Baltzar’s past. In addition, the elaborate violin fantasias in Breslau Mus. Ms. 114 (now in the Sammlung Bohn in D-B) point strongly to a virtuosic tradition in Germany a generation before Baltzar, and would seem to be especially pertinent, since among the most virtuosic pieces is one by Étienne Nau, who in 1626 became one of Charles I’s violinists.8

1.7 However, we must not jump too eagerly at the chance of tracing a stylistic parentage of this kind. Even if such connections could be proven, it would still not account for “the astonishment of our best Masters,” namely the most knowledgeable listeners: would they have been so surprised by the transfer of a familiar idiom to the violin? Would Evelyn, having spent years in Europe, have been so “amaz’d” by Baltzar’s playing? That virtuosity was not unknown to Baltzar’s audiences makes the question only more pressing: what was this violinist doing, that his listeners reacted in such extravagant terms?

1.8 The reasons Baltzar’s performances prompted such extraordinary responses from his listeners cannot all be accounted for, but significant contributing factors can be found by looking both at his surviving musical texts and at how the violin was used in England at the time. The second section of this article compares Baltzar’s solo violin music with music for viol and violin by his contemporaries, and then examines Baltzar’s consort and solo violin music side by side.9 These comparisons reveal not merely a frequent use of multiple stops to create a sense of polyphony, but pervasive writing in several voices quite unlike that of any of his contemporaries, which suggests that his achievement was not merely the introduction of a new level of violin virtuosity to England, but more significantly, a fundamental re-imagining of the instrument’s purpose. In the third section of this article, Baltzar’s performances are placed within a broader social context, casting his re-imagining of the violin, which at the time had a somewhat unsavory reputation, as a radical and extraordinary transformation.

2. Musical Texts

2.1 Baltzar’s Allemande in G minor clearly shows the kind of multiple voicing that impressed Evelyn (Example 1). The lowest notes in each triple-stop form a consistent bass line, above which hovers an independent, uninterrupted alto line complete with suspensions and resolutions in m. 2 (D–C, C–B-flat). Even these few measures show fundamental differences in comparison to other composers’ works in the same manuscript. Among the most sophisticated of these in terms of voice-leading is this Allemande in D minor by Dietrich Steffkins (Example 2), of which a version for lyra-viol appears in a Paris manuscript, and one for violin in Oxford.10

2.2 This piece clearly consists of more than one line; another voice joins the first in the second measure, rising through a whole octave (D–d) in measures 3 to 6, and descending further to A in the next measure. There are even three-note chords in the seventh and eighth measures providing emphasis. Nonetheless, there is no third voice, and the second follows the melody so closely in contour that it functions more as a kind of underlining than as a separate voice. Looking back at Baltzar’s Allemande, it is evident not just that it is more demanding, but that those demands are of an entirely different order.

2.3 At the same time, English musicians were quite familiar with instrumental virtuosity, and multiple stops on a single instrument, but almost exclusively in connection with the viol. “Divisions upon a Ground,” most often on the bass viol, were variations in which longer note values were “divided” into shorter ones over a repeated ground bass, and could at times be extremely virtuosic. In The Division-Violist of 1659, Christopher Simpson provides instructions and examples, outlining three basic methods for “playing ‘ex-tempore’ upon a ground.” The first, “breaking the ground,” ornaments the notes of the ground bass; the second, “descant division … is That, which maketh another distinct, and concording Part unto the Ground.”11

2.4 But it is the third method that concerns us in particular, as it seems to describe something like Baltzar’s polyphony:

Mixt-Division, I call That, which mixeth Descant, and Breaking the Ground, One with the Other; under which Terme I comprehend all Division, which presents unto our Eares, the Sounds of two, or more Parts moving together; which is expressed, either in Single-Notes, by hitting first upon one Part, and then upon Another; or in Double-Notes, by touching Two, or More Strings at once with the Bow.12

Example 3, drawn from one of Simpson’s Divisions, demonstrates this technique. This clearly “presents … two or more parts moving together,” and there is a strong implication of polyphony throughout. However, the Prelude is relatively short and closer inspection reveals that the voices are not consistently present, but rather drop in and out (for instance the upper voice in mm. 7 and 9). There are independent voices in mm. 10 to 12, but the focus seems to be primarily on a single moving line with a chordal accompaniment, as in these parallel chords in mm. 20 and 21, Example 4.

2.5 A glance at Baltzar’s far richer polyphonic style in his Prelude in G major (Example 5) might make us all, with John Evelyn, “stand to this houre amaz’d.” This passage appears at the end of a Prelude already almost twice the length of Simpson’s. But it is also more expansive in other ways, specifically in the almost constant independent linear motion of its outer parts. With the exception of m. 46, this continues through the whole passage, often with the addition of a third separate voice, as in mm. 43 through 45, or 52 and 53. The upper voice in mm. 48 through 51, moving in a slower rhythm, is not chordal accompaniment as in Simpson’s Prelude, but acts as a beautiful descant line. If Simpson’s “mixt division” “presents unto our Eares, the Sounds of two, or more Parts moving together,” Baltzar’s polyphony does much more by doing something else: it gives us two or more parts moving independently.

2.6 The idea of separate coherent lines dominates Baltzar’s writing even where there are no multiple stops. The following example is Baltzar’s Variation on his own G minor Allemande (Example 6). Although the dance has now erupted into continuous sixteenth-notes, the three independent lines are still present within the figuration (Example 7).

2.7 Where others might write a single melodic line with ornaments or punctuating chords (as in the examples from Steffkins and Simpson above), here Baltzar uses single notes to articulate an underlying three-voice structure, which is fundamentally a different idea altogether. A second, and perhaps more revealing example, is given by the Sarabande in B-flat major. In mm. 13–15, the phrase ends as follows (Example 8). Three measures later, the next phrase is closed by the following chords (Example 9). Although the latter is a fifth lower than the former, the violin’s tuning means that the fingering is identical, moved across by one string. If we put both examples into the same key, we can see that they are versions of the same thing (Example 10).

2.8 In these examples, the division of three parts into individual notes does not constitute an embellishment as in the Variation to the G minor Allemande; crucially, the version in single notes, in mm. 15–18, precedes the chordal one in mm. 18–20. What this suggests is that here, Baltzar’s breaking of chords into smaller note values is not a variation technique or an ornament, but another means of articulating three voices that are present in both places. One might say that even where he writes in single notes, he thinks in three parts, and in doing so shows an attitude toward the instrument that differs from his contemporaries at the most fundamental level.

2.9 Although it was Baltzar’s unaccompanied playing that made him famous in his day, a greater proportion of his surviving music is for consorts of two and three violins and continuo. The “Setts” for two violins in particular have attracted little attention, and at first sight seem simpler and more conservative than his solo pieces; but a closer look at Baltzar’s consort writing may help us understand his virtuosic solo style.

2.10 Example 11 shows the opening of the Pavan from the Sett in C minor. This certainly seems a far cry from the complexity of Baltzar’s writing for solo violin, for example the Allemande in the same key (Example 12). However, these two works are more closely related than they might seem. The second and third whole measures of the Allemande contain chordal outlines like those in the Variation and Sarabande above. Those outlines can be re-written as three separate parts (Example 13). Now striking similarities begin to emerge. Compare Example 14a with Example 14b: the bass voice of the Allemande and that of the Pavan from m. 3 onwards, both labeled C, contain an identical sequence of pitches. In the other voices, the first measure of Example 14a corresponds almost exactly with mm. 3–5 of the Pavan given in Example 14b: the higher voice, labeled A (the second violin here), descends from g′′ to f′′ to e-flat′′, and the middle voice, labeled B, has a pair of suspensions d′′ to c′′, c′′ to b′. With the exception of the anticipatory eighth-notes in the Pavan’s line, these works convey identical three-voiced structures.

2.11 It is also possible to perform the same procedure in reverse. Example 15 is an excerpt from an Allemande from the Sett in G major. When these three parts are condensed into a chordal solo violin line, they already resemble Baltzar’s existing pieces (Example 16). On closer inspection, these resemblances only become stronger and more remarkable. Example 17a is a portion of the rewritten Allemande alongside an excerpt from Baltzar’s Prelude in G major (Example 17b). The subsequent measures in the Allemande closely resemble another moment in the same Prelude (Example 18a and 18b).

2.12 Thus what is stylistically closest to Baltzar’s solo violin idiom is not that of another instrument (the viol) or another tradition (that of northern Germany), but his own consort music. It follows, as these texts testify, that Baltzar did not merely write and play unaccompanied music that was more difficult than existing English music for violin, although that is evidently also true; rather, he wrote music whose very writing and execution articulates an underlying structure of several voices, sounded simultaneously or otherwise. The virtuosity of these multiple stops and rapid string-crossing, when motivated in this fundamental way, gains another significant dimension. The violin melodies which appear in the rest of the Bodleian manuscript are essentially dance-tunes accompanied by occasional chords, and they evoke an entirely different set of associations from consort music. It is the difference between music simple enough to be used for real dancing, and stylized versions of those dances more likely to be performed “in consort” in a more elevated context. So, when John Evelyn says that Baltzar “plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort,” we can see that his remark is not metaphorical, but in fact a perceptive description. We may also imagine that he is not simply referring to the addition of parts, but to the transfer of the solo violin from one context to another, a leap from one place and act to another, from accompanying a dance to performing in a courtly chamber.

3. Social Contexts and the Importance of Place

3.1 On that occasion in March 1656, Evelyn had been “invited by Mr. Rog: L’Estrange,” although it is not clear where Baltzar’s performance took place. Wood, however, makes it clear that both occasions on which he heard Baltzar were “at the meeting house of William Ellis,” where music meetings took place every Tuesday, and he goes into detail as to who attended regularly. At first, these meetings evoke an image of music-lovers gathering for the purpose of playing consort music—a prototype, almost, of the nineteenth-century amateur string quartet. But in fact they took place in the midst of a much richer social and historical context than such a picture suggests. It is precisely this richer context that can help us understand Baltzar’s impact on the English musical world.

3.2 Oxford, before the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, presented a special set of circumstances. King Charles I had moved his court from London to Oxford in 1642, taking his musicians with him. After the Puritan victory in 1646 and the King’s flight and subsequent execution, however, dramatic restrictions were placed on music-making: the use of organs in the liturgical service was banned, and across the country, organs that were not destroyed were relocated to taverns.13 Without elaborate music in church, choristers found themselves no longer needed. In addition, London’s public theaters were closed, thus putting yet more musicians out of work, and in Oxford, those previously in the King’s service added to their number. As historian Charles Burney recounts:

Oxford, in the time of the Civil War, seems to have been the only place in the kingdom where musical sounds were allowed to be heard; for that city, during a considerable time, being the royal residence, not only the household musicians, but many performers, who had been driven from the cathedrals of the capital, as well as those of other parts of the kingdom, flocked thither as to a place of safety and subsistence; however, in 1646, after the King was obliged to quit his post, and had been totally defeated at Naseby, they were obliged to disperse, and those that were unable to find an asylum in the house of some secret friend to the royal cause and to their art, were obliged to betake themselves to new employments.14

3.3 William Ellis fell into this latter category. After his removal from the post of organist at St. John’s College, he sought “new employment,” and the Musick Meetings he hosted were not mere genteel recreation at all, but his source of income. Anthony à Wood tells recounted as follows:

After Cathedrals and Organs were put down in the grand Rebellion, he [Ellis] kept up a weekly Meeting in his House opposite to that Place where the Theatre was afterwards built, which kept him and his wife in a comfortable Condition.15

These Tuesday meetings create a very different impression when we add that participants were charged (6d.), were served by a maid who was given a tip at Christmas, and that the house on other days functioned as a tavern: Wood, while he attended the Tuesday music meetings religiously, also went on other days of the week simply for ale and company.

3.4 For musicians, the dislocation of the Civil War and the new laws of the Protectorate effectively meant that those who had previously performed in discrete venues, particularly the church and the court, were now funneled into the few legitimate places left for music-making: mostly taverns and meeting-houses like William Ellis’s. Those present at the meetings included “Masters of Music” from the court and “such that had belonged to Choirs,” academics from the University, and players in the University’s employ.16 Ellis’s meeting house was thus a place where musical worlds intersected, and a site of some social overlap. This mixture is not without its tensions: Wood very carefully distinguishes between those holding university degrees and others, and for one of the participants, this distinction is even more important:

John Parker, one of the Universitie Musitians, would be sometimes among them; but Mr. Low, a proud man, could not endure any common Musitian to come to the Meeting, much less to play among them.17

Aside from Wood himself, Parker was the only violinist at those meetings in 1656, and Wood’s account of his musical activities allows us to see a distinction between instruments as marked as those between social classes:

To say the Truth, there was yet no compleat Master in Oxon. for that Instrument, [the violin] because it had not been hiterto used in Consort among Gentlemen, only by common Musitians, who played but two Parts. The Gentlemen in privat Meetings, which A. W. frequented, play’d three, four and five Parts with Viols, as Treble-Viols, Tenor, Counter-Tenor and Bass, with an Organ, Virginal or Harpsicon joyn’d with them: and they esteemed a Violin to be an Instrument only belonging to a common Fidler, and could not endure, that it should come among them, for feare of making their Meetings to be vaine and fidling.18

3.5 The dangers of being perceived as a “fiddler” are more easily understood in the context of the fiddler’s social standing, which was disreputable at best. As Harold Love points out, in stage plays of the time, “Their most frequent companions in the scenes where they appear are drunks and whores.” One stage direction, in Act IV, scene 3 of The Miser calls for “Fidlers playing, they singing and roaring, Drunk, breaking windowes.” In several plays, fiddlers on stage perform “flourishes” during which “whole glasses are drained.”19

3.6 Few fiddlers were as educated and literate as Anthony à Wood, but even he, in his student days, had his musical revels: “Having by this time got some musical acquaintance, a frolick by all meanes must be taken by us; and what should it be, but to disguise our selves in poore habits, & like country fidlers scrape for our Livings?” Wood and four fellow students did this on several occasions, one of which seems so hazily remembered, that one can only assume a generous payment in ale: “Soon after wee took another voyage Northward, called at Hampton Poyle, playd at Mr. West’s house, had some money, but more drink.…Afterwards wee went (I think) to Kidlington.” Wood concludes this story rather sheepishly, saying, “Most of my Companions would afterwards glory in this, but I was ashamd, & could never endure to hear of it.”20

3.7 The frequent association of fiddlers with drunken and licentious behavior prompted more than mere embarrassment. A clause specifically addressing “fiddlers or minstrels” was added to the “Act against Vagrants and wandring, idle dissolute persons” of 1657:

And be it further Enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons commonly called Fidlers or Minstrels, shall at any time after the said First day of July, be taken playing, fidling and making musick in any Inn, Alehouse, or Tavern, or shall be taken proffering themselves, or desiring, or intreating any person or persons to hear them to play, or make musick in any the places aforesaid, that every such person and persons so taken shall be adjudged, and are hereby adjudged and declared to be Rogues Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggers.21

3.8 If Wood’s companions at Ellis’ meetings could scarcely cope with violinists in their midst, it was because the vast majority of people who played the violin at the time were unsavory drunken scrapers (or occasionally students disguised as such).22 Violinists played in the streets, in taverns, and in establishments called music-houses, which provided patrons with both drink and music, much like the meeting-house of William Ellis. However, unlike Ellis’s meetings which were attended by music masters and academics, music-houses were, according to Hawkins, “for the common and ordinary sort of people,” offering “entertainments suited to their notions of music.”23 The most “spacious and expensive” music-house Hawkins describes was “both a tavern and a music-house,” and “being a tavern, was accommodated as well to the purpose of drinking as music.”24 After describing “costly rooms, with whimsical paintings,” Hawkins returns to the topic of the entertainment:

The music performed at these houses of entertainment was such as, notwithstanding the number of instruments, could scarcely entitle it to the name of a concert. For the most part it was that of violins, hautboys, or trumpets, without any diversity of parts, and consequently in the unison; or if at any time a bass instrument was added, it was only for the purpose of playing the ground-bass to those divisions on old ballad or country-dance tunes which at that time were the only music that pleased the common people.25

3.9 Among the tunes Hawkins lists as “the most admired” is “John, Come Kiss Me Now,” and it is in this kind of space that we might imagine Baltzar playing his Divisions on that very tune, which John Playford published in The Division-Violin of 1684. But music using a “diversity of parts,”—that is, consort music—was not common fare, making Baltzar’s unaccompanied music with clearly independent voices seem like a magical summoning of music belonging to an entirely different social realm.

3.10 The existence of music-houses such as those Hawkins describes also helps us draw together a number of points in Wood’s account of Ellis’s meetings. His meticulous list of the credentials of those present, the group’s fear of the meetings becoming “vaine and fidling,” Low’s contempt for the violinist Parker, even the fact that “the Gentlemen … play’d three, four and five Parts with Viols” as opposed to a simple bass and treble: each of these details implies a concern over distinguishing Ellis’s meetings from those elsewhere, attended by a “common and ordinary sort of people.” One can almost feel their apprehension that permitting a violinist or “common Musitian” in meetings would begin a certain and rapid descent into debauchery.

3.11 This was the state of affairs when Thomas Baltzar arrived in England in the mid-1650s. Imagine, then, a man taking up this instrument, with all its connotations, and playing not mere dancing ditties, but three independent parts at once. In other words, Baltzar performed alone the kind of music which until that very moment had required a group of at least three educated gentlemen to play, and did so on an instrument most often plied by drunken rogues. Seen in this context, Baltzar’s performance in London in 1656, at which he “plaid on that single Instrument a full Consort” represents an extraordinary moment indeed.

3.12 When this dramatic re-purposing of the instrument is placed in a wider cultural landscape it also shows a total transformation of the violin’s status. Roger North points out that one of the “stepps of the grand metamorfosis of musick” was Charles II’s replacement of viol consorts with groups of violins, and notes immediately afterwards that Baltzar had a hand in the change: “And that instrument had a lift into credit before, for one Baltazarre a Sweed came over, and did wonders upon it by swiftness, and doubling of notes.”26 Baltzar’s playing, despite his short time in England before his early death, is credited with speeding a decline in the viol’s popularity:

One Baltazar a Swede about the time of the Restauration came over, and shewed so much mastery upon that instrument, that gentlemen, following also the humour of the Court, fell in pesle mesle, and soon thrust out the treble viol.27

3.13 That gentlemen were increasingly taking up the violin can be seen in a noticeable change in the instrumentalists at Ellis’ meetings. Whereas in 1656, there were only two violinists, and only one of them a university man, among the thirteen new participants in 1659, five were violinists (two played only the violin), and all of them held university degrees.28 Thomas Baltzar set this change in motion. His use of techniques unknown to English musicians may have surprised them, but the sensation he created was due to his demonstration of the violin’s unsuspected capacities, and as a consequence, he freed the instrument from its unseemly associations. Sadly, Baltzar himself seems to have been unable to escape them: after a mere two years in the King’s Private Musick Baltzar died in the summer of 1663. “This person,” Wood explains, “being much admired by all lovers of Musick, his company was therefore much desired: and Company, especially musical Company, delighting in drinking, made him drink more than ordinary, which brought him to his Grave.”29

3.14 When contextualized musically and socially to this fuller extent, Baltzar comes into focus as an extraordinary figure in the history of the violin. Although the violin had a presence in court contexts in England as far back as 1540, the evidence of North, Wood, and stage works of the time suggest that outside the court’s cosmopolitan setting, the violin was still the instrument of “common fiddlers.” Sixty years later, it would come into its own as an unaccompanied instrument with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, but Baltzar’s efforts in that direction are a remarkable island in the repertory, pointedly different from his immediate predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. While we may never fill all the gaps in Baltzar’s story, we can certainly be grateful that what little we have proves to be such a rich and illuminating legacy.


*Patrick Wood Uribe ( is on the musicology faculty of Boston University. He holds a PhD in musicology from Princeton University as well as degrees in violin performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London and in Modern Languages from Oxford University.

1 Esmond Samuel de Beer, ed., The Diary of John Evelyn (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 3:367.

2 Anthony à Wood, The Life of Anthony à Wood from the Year 1632 to 1672, Written by Himself and Published by Mr. Thomas Hearne (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1772), 111–2.

3 Peter Holman, Four and Twenty Fiddlers: The Violin at the English Court, 1540–1690 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 276.

4 GB-Ob MS Mus. Sch. F.573; GB-Ch Mus. Ms. 1125; John Playford, ed., The Division-Violin (London: Playford, 1684, 1695).

5 This argument is pursued by Carl Stiehl in “Thomas Baltzar (1630–1663), ein Paganini seiner Zeit,” Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte, 20 (1888): 1–8; see also Rudolf Hopfner, “Baltzar, Baltzer, Thomas,” in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 2nd ed., Personenteil 2 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1999): 134–5; “Baltzar [Baltzer], Thomas,” in Lexikon der Violine (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 2004), 71–2; and David Boyden, The History of Violin Playing from its Origins to 1761 (London: Clarendon Press, 1965), 142.

6 Peter Holman, “Thomas Baltzar (?1631-1663), the ‘incomperable Lubicer on the Violin,’” Chelys 13 (1984): 26.

7 Gordon Dodd, “Matters Arising from Examination of Lyra-Viol Manuscripts,” Chelys 9 (1980): 23–7. See also Margaret Gilmore, “A Note on Bass Viol Sources of The Division-Violin,” Early Music 11, no. 2 (1983): 223–6, in which she notes that several pieces in The Division-Violin are arrangements of bass viol originals. The earliest source, however, dates from 1679, a full sixteen years after Baltzar’s death, and may therefore testify less to the origin of Baltzar’s style, than to the trend, discussed later in this article, among gentlemen to turn away from the viol to the violin. The connection with lyra-viol music is also made by Mary Cyr in “Violin Playing in Late Seventeenth-Century England: Baltzar, Matteis, and Purcell,” Performance Practice Review 8, no. 1 (1995): 62.

8 See Brian Brooks, “Étienne Nau, Breslau 114 and the Early 17th-Ccentury Solo Violin Fantasia,” Early Music 32, no. 1 (2004): 49–72.

9 I have not included the much earlier Breslau manuscript primarily because the fantasias, while virtuosic, tend to elaborate a single line rather than imply the presence of several voices in the way Baltzar’s dance movements do.

10 F-Pn Vm7 1099 (“Rost” MS); GB-Ob MS Mus. Sch. F.573.

11 Christopher Simpson, The Division-Violist, or, An introduction to the Playing Upon a Ground (London: W. Godbid, 1659), 28.

12 Simpson, 29.

13 Sir John Hawkins, A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (London: T. Payne & Son, 1776), 4:347.

14 Charles Burney, A General History of Music, From the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London, 1776–89), 3:423.

15 Wood, 91.

16 Wood, 91.

17 Wood, 93.

18 Wood, 96–7.

19 Harold Love, “The Fiddlers on the Restoration Stage,” Early Music 6, no. 3 (1978): 393, 391.

20 Wood, 80–1: the anecdote is taken from Wood’s Diary and appended as a footnote.

21 “June 1657: An Act against Vagrants and wandring, idle dissolute persons,” Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642–1660 (1911), 1098–9; (accessed 29 August 2009).

22 Peter Holman’s thorough and scholarly account of the violin at the English court from 1540 to 1690, Four and Twenty Fiddlers, attests to the use of the violin in a court setting well before the Restoration, when it became more prominent. However, the evidence of contemporary writers such as Wood and Roger North, as well as playwrights of the Restoration, suggests that in the English culture at large, less cosmopolitan than the court, the violin retained most of its unseemly connotations.

23 Hawkins, 4:378.

24 4:379.

25 4:380.

26 John Wilson, ed. Roger North on Music: Being a Selection From His Essays Written During the Years c.1695–1728 (London: Novello, 1959), 349. Baltzar is called a Swede here, as elsewhere, because his position immediately before arriving in England was at the court of Queen Christina in Sweden.

27 Wilson, 300–1.

28 Penelope Gouk, “Performance Practice: Music, Medicine and Natural Philosophy in Interregnum Oxford,” The British Journal for the History of Science 29, no. 3 (1996): 283.

29 Wood, 190.



Example 1. Baltzar, Allemande in G Minor

Example 2. Steffkins, Allemande in D Minor

Example 3. Simpson, Prelude in E Minor

Example 4. Simpson, Prelude in E Minor

Example 5. Baltzar, Prelude in G Major

Example 6. Baltzar, Variation on Allemande in G Minor

Example 7. Baltzar, Allemande and Variation

Example 8. Baltzar, Sarabande in B-flat Major

Example 9. Baltzar, Sarabande in B-flat Major

Example 10. Baltzar, Sarabande in B-flat Major

Example 11. Baltzar, Pavan from the Sett in C Minor

Example 12. Baltzar, Allemande in C Minor

Example 13. Baltzar, Allemande in C Minor

Example 14a. Baltzar, Allemande in C Minor

Example 14b. Baltzar, Pavan in C Minor

Example 15. Baltzar, Allemande from the Sett in G Major

Example 16. Baltzar, Allemande from the Sett in G Major

Example 17a. Baltzar, Allemande for Two Violins

Example 17b. Baltzar, Prelude in G Major

Example 18a. Baltzar, Allemande for Two Violins

Example 18b. Baltzar, Prelude for Solo Violin

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