Instructor of Music Theory Paul Miller was invited in May to perform on three historical string instruments in the Wilkins Collection of the Library of Congress, in Washington DC. These instruments were donated in 1937 by Dr. H. Blakiston Wilkins, the former Honorary Curator of the Library’s famous Cremonese Collection. The Wilkins instruments have just been marvelously restored by a luthier in North Carolina. Miller will be the first person to perform in public on them since they were given to the library in 1937.
The three instruments he played on consisted of a five-string pardessus de viol by Louis Guersan, Paris (1749), a twelve-string viola d’amore by Ferdinando Gagliano, Naples (1763), and a quinton (a five-string combination of violin and treble viol) by François le Jeune, Paris (1760). These treble instruments, now rarely if ever heard, were the last evolutionary adaptation of the viol family in a world which was increasingly dominated by the newer, more flexible violin.
It’s not Miller’s first time performing on unusual historical instruments from the 18th century; in 2008 he gave a performance on viola d’amore at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with Thomas Georgi (from the Toronto baroque orchestra Tafelmusik). The Metropolitan has one of the largest and best collections of historical string instruments in the United States.
The recital at the Library of Congress includes works by an Anonymous German composer, whose partita for viola d’amore was discovered only three years ago; a sonata by Atillio Ariosti (1666 – 1729), who was briefly a rival of Handel in London; and finally a partita by the extremely obscure French composer Pierre Hugard (fl. 1760).
Photo: Paul Miller and Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford (curator of the Music Division's instrument collection at the Library of Congress) in the Library's vault