Medieval lituus

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This article describes a medieval musical instrument; for other uses see Lituus.

The medieval musical instrument called a lituus is a long, slender horn. It is similar in tone and function to a trumpet. The instrument was last in common use during the Middle Ages, and was not seen or heard again until a team of researchers recreated the instrument in 2009.

Medieval use[edit]

The lituus was used for a variety of purposes, including as part of classical compositions. Johann Sebastian Bach specified the use of the lituus for his composition O Jesu Christ, Meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118). This motet or cantata, written in the 1730s, is believed to be the only remaining composition that calls for the lituus whose score is available,[1] and certainly one of the last pieces ever written for the instrument.[2] Since there are no known surviving examples of a medieval lituus, the exact appearance and sound is unknown. However, researchers have been able to rely on depictions of the instrument to approximate its characteristics.[3]


The modern design and construction of the medieval lituus was initiated when the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) in Switzerland approached a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh to assist with the recreation. The student and his research team had developed a software application for working with brass instrument design.[4] The SCB provided the Edinburgh team with details and assumptions about the correct design of the lituus. The software application was then to convert those designs into an accurate representation of the shape, pitch, and tone of the medieval instrument. The Edinburgh team produced two identical prototypes, approximately 2.5 meters long. The lituuses are straight and thin, with a flared bell at the end. The horns are made of pine and feature cow horn mouthpieces. The Edinburgh team noted that the reconstructed instrument could easily have been made in Bach's time using then-current technology.[1]

Tone and performance[edit]

The tone of the finished instruments is described as "piercing" and they have a limited range.[4] One member of the development team referred to the tone as being "broadly like a trumpet" but more "haunting".[1] The reconstructed lituus has also been described as difficult to play.[5][3]

Modern use[edit]

The SCB used the reconstructed lituus in a performance of O Jesu Christ, Meins Lebens Licht, believing they are the first to do so since Bach's time.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Staff (2009-06-02), Bach's lituus used for first time in 300 years, Telegraph Media Group Limited, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  2. ^ Staff (2009-05-31), Researchers resurrect extinct musical instrument, RedOrbit, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  3. ^ a b Ghosh, Pallab (2009-05-30), 'Lost' music instrument recreated, BBC News, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  4. ^ a b Staff (2009-05-31), Ancient instrument reproduced with help of new software, CBC News, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  5. ^ Sanderson, Katharine (2009-06-01), Bach's bizarre horn born again,, retrieved 2009-06-03