The baryton was probably played as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century but it only became really popular during the second half of the eighteenth century when Joseph Haydn was working as kappelmeister for the Esterházy family. For his boss Prince Nikolaus, who was himself a baryton player, Haydn composed as many as 175 works for baryton. His trios for viola, cello and baryton were to become standard repertoire for this unusual instrument.

With its drooping shoulders, its frets and its neck with carved head, it resembles an ordinary viola da gamba, but the secret of the baryton lies in the extra strings hidden from view behind the neck. These wire strings vibrate when the gut strings on the front are bowed, thus enriching the sound. But these extra strings can also be plucked with the thumb of the left hand, producing a spectacular effect, as if a harpsichord is also being played. In the sound excerpt below Philippe Pierlot really is playing alone!    

Collection piece M0231 was built by an unknown builder at the beginning of the eighteenth century, probably in Southern Germany or Austria.

baryton M0231
baryton M0231, detail