This time it’s a trumpet Bach composed for called a Lituus. His motet “O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht” is one of the last known pieces written for the instrument, and even then there was no evidence that it was still in use, no known instruments, no known Lituus players.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh didn’t have much to go on, so they devised a way to calculate the design from a general idea of its shape and the range of notes it played.
What they came up with was this:
That’s 8 and a half feet (2.7 meters) long, folks. It’s like an Alpenhorn and an Aida trumpet made a freaky baby.
It is an unwieldy instrument with a limited tonal range that is hard to play. But played well, it gives Johann Sebastian Bach’s motet a haunting feel that couldn’t be reproduced by modern instruments.
The software was originally developed by researcher Alistair Braden to improve the design of modern brass instruments.
But Dr Braden and his supervisor Professor Murray Campbell, were approached by a Swiss-based music conservatoire specialising in early music, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, to help them recreate the Lituus – even though no one alive today has heard, played or even seen a picture of this forgotten instrument.
SCB gave the Edinburgh team their expert thoughts on what the Lituus may have been like in terms of the notes it produced, its tonal quality and how it might have been played.
They also provided cross-section diagrams of instruments they believed to be similar to the Lituus.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for “O Jesu Christ, meins lebens licht” by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. (Fair warning: it only plays briefly at the beginning and end of this longish segment about the recreation.)