Bass Viol by Jane Julier

I thought it would be good to do a blog about the making of the beautiful bass viol that Jane Julier made for me last year. I received an email from her just as the first UK lockdown was announced say that she could start working on my instrument the following Monday! I’d been on the waiting list for over 2 years so it was such an exciting moment.

The instrument she was going to make is a copy of Lucy Robinson’s ‘unknown 1645’ English bass viol. Jane asked what I wanted in the instrument and I sent her a bonkers film with drawings, photos and music that I liked, which she interpreted perfectly as:

Architectural/vaulting/soaring/spires/rose window

Structure/depth of field/texture/space/resonance


And this is the story in pictures taken by Jane, and the close ups by Ross Emerson.

Neck block on bench
Neck block March 2020
Sycamore back drawn out
sycamore back
Scroll on bench
Neck block March 2020
Sycamore ribs
sycamore ribs

sycamore ribs
The spruce is the long creamy lengths with the outline of the bent pieces.

Medullary lines in the spruce and sycamore. Structure!

Medullary rays
Medullary ray. The flecky bits are the medullary rays. You only see them if the wood is perfectly quarter sawn. This gives the strength and structure .
Medullary rays
Medullary rays

So the sycamore is back ribs and neck block. The spruce is the long creamy lengths with the outline of the bent pieces.

bent ribs
Ribs bent April
bent ribs
Three staves for the front bent on bench
Three staves bent for the front
Japanese wooden plane
Japanese wooden plane
Close up of ribs glued to back
Ribs bent. Lush. Back glued. July 2020
Scroll on bench
Viol in the white ready for priming and varnishing
Viol in the white ready for priming and varnishing. July
Back with purfling
Close up of set up finished viol
Tantalising glimpse of viol during set up September.
And the handing over ceremony September 20th 2020

Here it is being played in Ensemble Échos at St Helen’s Church, Worcester in October. Videos by Michael Hamilton of Real Music Videos

And here in collaboration with the extraordinarily brilliant Alex Duncan – Assassin of Sound. Ragwort and Blackberry plant noise with viol.

Thank you Jane for the your alchemic skills and the love that you put into making my wonderful instrument!

Now I need to get it out of my studio and share it with you all.

Welcome to my first blog post.

Here is a copy of the wordy CV I wrote for my MMus Recital in Southampton September 2017.

I began playing the viola da gamba in 2010 having had the desire to do so since I can remember. I have always loved ‘early music’: memories of enjoying watching David Munrow on the black and white TV and when my dad asked which piece I’d enjoyed the most in his organ recitals, I always answered ‘the Bach or Handel’. As a teenaged cello player I listened to recordings of Christophe Coin playing Vivaldi and Haydn and we mused at home, in cello lessons and with friends, about historically informed performance practice. After a couple of years of indecision, I went to study Fine Art where I spent three years painting, as well as playing the cello alongside brilliant students many of whom have become acclaimed singers, instrumentalists and conductors.

Two decades on, having studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Prague, met Petr, had Tereza and Cecilia, and now teaching art in Worcester, it was 250 years after Handel’s death, and I was persuaded to take part in a workshop weekend of Saul in honour of the anniversary. This led to playing in the Midlands Early Music Forum Baroque Band, until I borrowed a bass viol, which I couldn’t put down. I began lessons with David Hatcher and we have had great fun tackling a huge range of repertoire from Ortiz to unaccompanied Abel. He has been responsible for many painfully rewarding facsimile reading sessions and giving me opportunities to take part in life-enhancing concerts on copies of early renaissance viols.

Seeing Opera North’s Coronation of Poppea with Erin Headley and Elizabeth Kenny on stage gave me the impetus to investigate the MMus performance course at Southampton University. I have loved every minute of it and been very surprised by how much I enjoyed the historical research project. Highlights have been being swept along by Liz’s slipstream of continuo brilliance in the Student Chamber Operas, playing chamber music with the undergraduates, meeting the inspirational early music post-graduate students and the privilege of having lessons with Jonathan Manson.