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The Colascione or Calascione

(Ancient two or three stringed lute)

by Vincenzo Schisano
(Translated by Marianna Mastro)

The “Colascione” also called in Naples “tiorba a taccone” dates back to the 17th century. It was an instrument with a very long neck (from 1 to 2 meters) with a small music box (shaped like a pear); it was often used for the performance of the “continuous bass” in the chamber music bands, in the dance songs and in the church music.

Inspired by the Arabic “tanbur” ( a lute with along neck), its name derives from the Greek “galischan” (small basket). It had from 16 to 24 keys with 2 or 3 chords ( the bass clef: “mi” under the staff with a cut in the head, “la” in the first space and “re” on the third staff; if the chords were 2, the bass “mi” was eliminated.

In the 17th century the chords were first brought to 5 then brought to 6 ( the bass clef: “re” below the staff with a cut in the neck, “sol” on the first staff, “do” in the second space, “fa” on the fouth staff, “la” on the fifth staff, an “re” above the staff with a cut in the neck.

Colascione - notation

In Naples was used a smaller model of the “Colascione” (long about 1 meter) called the “Colasciontino” or “Mezzo Colascione” which the Parthenopean population called Colascione.

The Neapolitan “Colascione” (furnished with 2 or 3 chords tuned and octave above those of the Colascione) was built with much more attention and care than the bigger brother since for the manufacture were used very fine woods and precious inlaid woodwork of ebony, mother of pearl and ivory. In Naples this instrument was considered a folk instrument (even the mask of Pulcinella was pictured with a colascione in his arms), whose function was in the bass in the musical bands.

Starting from the second half of the 18th century, the Colascione and his smaller Neapolitan brother, the Colascione, have become, as time went by, more and more out of use both for the popular sphere that in the cultured sphere, replaced by more modern and efficient instruments.

© Copyright 2003 Vincenzo Schisano. All rights reserved.