Enchanting timbres: The Psalterion

The new CD «Una Follia di Napoli» by Maurice Steger presents the most beautiful South Italian sounds from the first half of the 18th Century. The Barock Ensemble features – evidently – recorder, a small group of stings and various basso continuo instruments, such as the cembalo, the organ, cello, violone, theorbo, lute or barock guitar. A very special continuo instrument in this recording, though, is the dulcimer, which in baroque times was called psalterion.

Margit Übellacker is one of the very few people world wide that plays the dulcimer in baroque ensembles.

«We know today from various sources that different types of dulcimeres were used in this fashion in baroque music. For instance, one instrument that is mentioned is the Pantaleon, a predecessor of the pianoforte with a large range over 4.5 octaves. It was built by Pantaleon Hebenstreit, a musician that played in the “Dresdner Hofmusik-Kapelle” around 1700», Margit Übelacker tells us about her research. There is written music available for the Pantaleon that shows that it was also used as basso continuo instrument to add different «colors» to the bass group. Similar instruments with a shorter vocal range are also known as Dulcemelos or Salterio.

Unfortunately, the original Panaleon is lost without trace, so that today’s interpreters choose to play this music with the modern dulcimer – slightly adapted to the needs of the baroque orchestra – and to play the available repertoire in this way. This requires a lot of research.

Margit Übelacker with her Psalterion

«For Maurice Steger’s new CD, I looked at all the scores from the various works and decided in which parts the psalterion could add most value. Because it can produce the most varied sounds, it is best used to reinforce existing chords or to add ornaments. The sound can be metallic or soft, depending on what suits the piece better» says Margit Übelacker.

Margit discovered her love for the dulcimer as a child in Austria. As a young adult she then studied the instrument with Karl-Heinz Schickaus in Linz (Austria) and received important impulses for her work at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel.

Margit Übellacker plays the program «Follia di Napoli» in various concerts with Maurice Steger and is also active in various ensembles such as L’Arpeggiata, Musica Fiorita and with her own group La Gioia Armonica. She also plays with other renowned artists such as Andreas Scholl or Philippe Jaroussky.