Arioso play on period instruments, either the original instruments made at the time or modern copies. Through these instruments and through using historic performance practices written about by early musicians, we aim to recapture as closely as possible the sound as well as the spirit expected by the original composers and heard by their audiences.
The violin family (violins, violas, violoncellos have slightly shorter, wedged necks and lighter bass bars than modern instruments. The use of the early bow, which was shorter, lighter and straighter, enables a degree of articulation and musical rhetoric not possible with the powerful incurved modern bow.
As with most instruments, the recorder (Italian flauto) first appeared in a variety of sizes, but from the 17th century one size predominated: the 'treble'. By the 18th century the flute most commonly played was the transverse flute (traverso), however the recorder continued to find a place and indeed a special larger recorder, the 'voice flute', was developed to play traverso music. To cope with different ranges and keys, various sizes of recorders are employed.
The viola da gamba, also known in England as the Bass Viol, was developed in the early 16th century and continued to be widely played throughout the 17th and well into the 18th centuries. It had the reputation as a particularly refined instrument and was not, as is sometimes still thought, the precursor of the violoncello which developed at much the same time. The violoncello was first employed largely for dance music rather than more reflective works for which the viola da gamba was favoured. The viola da gamba never really died out, unlike the lute, and there are records of it being played by individuals throughout the 19th century and, indeed, even up to the days of the modern revival.
The theorbo (Italian tiorba) was a large, lute-type instrument developed at the very end of the 16th century to provide a strong accompaniment (continuo) to the voice and upper instruments as required by the exciting new music of the early baroque being written by Monteverdi and others. The long open gut bass strings allowed very low notes to be played.
The baroque guitar emerged at the very start of the 17th century and quickly became immensely popular, not only in Italy where it was first widely played, but also across the whole of Europe. Its chordal style of accompaniment is now recognised as being important in accelerating the change from the old musical 'modes' to the new dynamic key structures.
The mandora emerged in central Europe at the start of the 18th century as a more accessible alternative to the increasingly complex 'baroque' lute proper. It used the newly invented overwound strings to give a strong bass with a relatively short string length and was also easily able to provide the sort of arpeggio accompaniments which became standard later in the century. Indeed, the style is virtually indistinguishable from that of the new six string 'classical' guitar which became popular later in the century.
There were distinctive national styles of harpsichord: principally Italian, Flemish/French, English and German. The Italian instrument was the earliest and remained remarkablyunchanged from the early 16th through to its demise in the 19th century; its bright sound makes it especially suitable for continuo work.