Forgotten instrument used by Bach recreated

Lituus heard for first time in over 250 years

Published: June 2, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Scientists have helped to recreate a long-lost instrument last written for by Bach. The lituus, a trumpet-like instrument, fell out of use in the 18th century and hasn’t been heard since. But now instrument makers have crafted two lituus instruments from plans created with the help of a new computer programme.


Musicians from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, a Swiss music conservatoire, came up with the project, after hearing about new software developed at Edinburgh University that is capable of modelling musical instruments. As there are no surviving examples of the lituus the musicians had to brief scientists on what they thought it might have sounded like and how it might have been played.

The result was a 2.7m-long pine instrument with a mouthpiece made of cow horn. ‘It sounds broadly like a trumpet but the sound quality is different,’ says Dr Alistair Braden, the software’s designer, in The Telegraph. ‘It is more piercing and haunting and not as strident as a modern instrument.

In the score for his cantata O Jesu Christ, Meins Lebens Licht, Bach indicated that one part should be played by the lituus. A performance of the piece using the new instruments has taken place in Switzerland.


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