dixtuor Sir


The 'Sir' dixtuor comprises a group of six stringed instruments invented by the French instrument maker Leo Sir (1883-1915), intended to complete the traditional violin family (violin, viola, cello, double bass) in order to form a double quintet of different-sized instruments.

Leo Sir began his work at the beginning of the XXth century. The six instruments he invented are, from highest to lowest:

The sursoprano: a small violin, tuned a fourth higher than a normal violin:
The mezzo-soprano: tuned like a violin, but built slightly larger, to enhance the lower register
The haute-contre: tuned like a viola, but played like a cello on a spike;
The tenor: tuned a fifth higher than a cello, also played on a spike;
The baryton: tuned like the tenor, but built slightly larger, to enhance the lower register;
The sousbasse: tuned a fourth lower than the cello, but played with the same fingerings.

The first complete dixtuor was finished in 1908.  In 1914 the trademark for a double string quintet or 'Leo Sir Dixtuor', comprising the existing quartet plus the 'Leo Sir' sextet was lodged at Rennes. However, in 1915 Leo Sir died, as a result of nephritis. His father Leon Sir (1855-1927), also a violin maker, continued to promote the works of his son.

During the years 1920-1930, the  'Sir' dixtuor enjoyed a certain reputation. Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) composed a chamber symphony and a hymn, respectively, for this new instrumental ensemble. These works were published in adaptations for 'classical' instruments, while the original versions for the 'Sir' dixtuor were forgotten. The mim has in its possession the original signed version of the Milhaud symphony. The incipit of this symphony is published here with the kind approval of Nadine Milhaud.

Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans

translation: Fiona Shotter


Complete dixtuor by E. HYARD, Instrumentation et orchestration, Paris, 1922
The mim Dixtuor: sur &mezzo-soprano, haute-contre, ténor, baryton, soubasse
Darius Milhaud, Fourth chamber symphonie op. 74, version for, incipit.