Ledhuy’s Organized-Lyre

Time to try and get back to the reams of unpublished historical information I continue to obtain.

Here’s one pretty much no one has heard of.  I have never heard of one in any collection either, though clearly some must have been manufactured.  Just another “holy grail” to add to my still-growing “want list”…

The first (only?) information on the Lyre-Organisée, invented by Adolph Ledhuy about 1802, appeared in Eleonora Vulpiani’s 2007 book Lira-Chitarra: Etoile charmante, tra il XVIII e il XIX secolo.

After receiving from Eleonora the English translation of her charming little book (both editions are available on her web site), I was even more anxious to get to the bottom of this strange instrument.  Eleonora kindly provided a scan of the xerox she had obtained for her research, which Benoît Meulle-Stef and I worked on deciphering for a couple of months.

The “Description and Method for the Organized-Lyre” is quite extensive, with many pages devoted to explanations of its features, and, not surprisingly, why it was such an improvement over the then-popular 6-string lyre guitar.  Ledhuy goes on quite a bit about that.

The first obvious difference are the 2 extra sets of strings; 3 floating sub-basses (descending D-C-B), and a second fretted quint neck (tuned a 5th above the main neck).  Curiously, Ledhuy refers to the neck’s low E string as the “first bass,” included in the bass clef stave with the open basses (possibly because a 6-course guitar was still something relatively new?).  He also transposes the quint neck so that its notes are written in E (so it can be read just like the main neck), while sounding in B.   But that is still relative, as he also suggests tuning the whole instrument down a third to avoid string breakage! (he uses a ~26″ scale for the main neck).

One of the more novel features are 6 keys on the edge of the body that activate leather-covered hammers for each of the main neck strings (the recent cittern-like English Guitar had previously introduced a similar added device).  There is also another button that mutes all 15 strings, perhaps Ledhuy’s answer to the lute stop on a harpsichord?

The 1806 method talks about the problems with the first instrument (mainly, implosion), and how 4 years were spent improving it.  The crux of the remainder then focuses on Ledhuy’s Nouvelle Lyre-Organisée (the “new” model).

The main improvement was some sort of second top to help support the key mechanism and string tension, along with a floating bridge and tailpiece (difficult to discern in the drawing).  He also redesigned the sweeping continuous headstock, making the basses longer and improving the treble tuner positions.  It’s a bit more attractive, I think.  Of course, neither instrument is accurately a “lyre” guitar – like Mozzani’s chitarra mezza-lyra, it’s really built like a “half-lyre guitar,” with a second short neck to give the illusion of the opposite, normally symmetrical, arm.

For this site’s purposes, what it really boils down to is a Composite Form of harp guitar: a double-neck guitar combined with a hollow arm form for the sub-basses.  Other than standing upright on a table, it really has little else in common with the typical lyre guitar, though admittedly patterned upon it.

The tutor then gives instructions for how to play it (ask Benoît!) and exercises and music.

Surely, someone will one day stumble across a surviving example of the elusive Ledhuy organized-lyre…?

  1. Benoit Says:

    Was fun to research, but unfortunately no trace of a real instrument found… He had some of them made but they all disappeared…

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