American Society of Ancient Instruments
The emblem is based on fifteenth
century manuscript style. The music is from a song written about 1400 by
Baude Cordier with words particularly fitted to the goal of the Society.
'Vous fais le don d'un chanson nouvelle - I make you the gift of a new song.'
What is the American Society of
The six centuries before 1700 produced in Europe
a music which remains rich and vital for the audience of today. It is music
not generally heard in the concert hall and until recently it was almost
unknown. It is music worth hearing, however, not as a curiosity or by
some select group, but simply because it is good music.
American Society of Ancient Instruments presents this music on the instruments
for which it was written. Performed by artists familiar with the
techniques and ideals of its time, the music is revealed as a fresh, vigorous
language of human beings who have not only a part of our heritage; it is still
very much alive.
The ensemble of the Society consists of a quartet of viols and a
harpsichord, each played by a specialist devoted to becoming as skillful as
possible on his chosen instrument. When the music planned for a concert
calls for additional instruments, guest artists are invited to play with the
The American Society of Ancient Instruments was conceived by Ben
Stad and his wife, Flora, in 1925. They had come to Philadelphia
where he was a protege of the Queen and had established himself as an
outstanding violinist. While traveling in Europe,
they became interested in baroque music from the Dolmetch group in England
and the Casadesus family in France.
While studying with the Casadesus family, who had established "Le Societe
des Instruments Anciens", they decided to establish a similar group in the
In honor of the Casadesus family, Ben and Flora Stad named their new group
after the French Society, although the American word "Ancient" has
much older connotation than the French word "Anciens". When the
couple returned to Philadelphia
they brought a collection of viols and a harpsichord. Two years of
organization and rehearsal followed and in May of 1929, the newly-founded
American Society of Ancient Instruments presented its first concert in Valley
Since then, the Society has presented an annual Festival of concerts
each year. It is recognized today as the oldest continuously-performing group
of its kind in the country. The Society has recorded for RCA Victor's Red Seal
label and has been featured in special radio and television broadcasts. In
addition, the Society has toured the Southern
United States and given performances at schools
and universities along the Eastern seaboard.
What Does The Society Do?
The mainstay of the Society's work is the annual Festival, held each
Spring in Philadelphia.
The Festival usually consists of three different concerts given on three
consecutive Sunday afternoons and is, in effect, one large concert in three
parts. It serves as a showcase for the instruments and ensemble. In
keeping with the Society's educational nature, children's concerts have often
been included, at which the music is explained and the instruments
In addition to reviving old music, the Society encourages
contemporary composers to create new compositions for the viols and the
harpsichord. Such works carry the idiom of contemporary music, yet
stylistically explore the characteristics of these instruments. The Society has
given premiere performances for such contemporary works written by Arthur Cohn,
Walter Heckster, David Loeb, and Burle Marx.
Through its concerts and influence, the Society has helped to
interest musicians in studying the baroque and renaissance instruments and
their music. The Society has also fostered young performers by lending its
reputation to their introduction.
As a result of its long-standing pre-eminence in the field of
renaissance and baroque chamber music, the Society is a focal point for
questions from all over the world concerning the theory and practice of early
music. Questions about musical instruments are received, as well as queries
from persons who are doing research on musical subjects. [See the "Contacting Us" page]
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, two
families of related, yet distinctly different, stringed instruments reached the
culmination of design and craftsmanship - violins and viols. At that time, the
viols, including instruments such as the pardessus de viol (or upper viol) and
the viol de gamba (viol of the leg), were used in the courts of the nobility
while the violins were considered "street" instruments. In the
centuries that followed, composers wrote more and more for the instruments of
the violin family, so that today, the violins are the standard concert
Viols are both visually and tonally different from violins. The
sound of a viol is more gentle. Violins are tuned in even intervals, viols are
not. Viols typically have from four to fourteen strings, while violin-family
instruments have four. (The fourteen-stringed viola d'amore has seven strings
above the fingerboard and seven below. The lower strings, called
"sympathetic", vibrate as the upper set is played, adding to the
resonance of the instrument.)
The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument in which the strings are
plucked, rather than hammered as with the piano. Harpsichords generally have two
or more sets of strings, and often have devices to allow the player to modify
the sound of the instrument. The player uses these features to tailor the
instrument to the music being played.
The Society has a collection of musical instruments dating from the
sixteenth century to the present. With over thirty viols, the Society has one
of the finest collections in the country. The collection of violas d'amore
alone is noteworthy. The Society also owns other stringed instruments;
including lutes, baroque violins, and a group of pochette instruments. The
Society's keyboard collection includes harpsichords, early pianos, and a pipe
organ. There are also numerous early bows and other musical artifacts.
ensemble, however accomplished, can function without an extensive library of
music. When the Society was founded, one of the most difficult tasks it faced
was that of acquiring music. Henri Casadesus furnished some; more was found in
the forgotten files of music stores and old libraries. Many scores, too rare
and valuable to be removed, were laboriously copied by hand. Gradually, the
music library came into being and has been added to over the years. It
presently contains several thousand compositions. In addition, the Society
maintains a microfilm library consisting largely of music acquired from several
libraries in Europe.
The Society also keeps a library of tape recordings of its
performances. These archives, dating back to the very beginnings of tape
recording in the 1940's, serve two purposes: they constitute a permanent record
of the ensemble's performances and they allow the Music Director to judge more
objectively the effectiveness of the stylistic approaches to the music and the
The Society's book library contains over two hundred music reference
books, including rare, out-of-print and extremely old books, as well as recent
editions on music, insturments, and luthiers.
Finally, the Society has a record library of over a thousand
recordings representing composers, works, and performing groups from all over
The American Society of Ancient Instruments is a non-profit
education organization supported solely through contributions. These funds are used
to pay performers and to finance such activities as restoring instruments,
collecting music, researching musical history, and performing concerts. It is
only through the generosity of the people who support the Society's endeavors
that it continues to exist. Each contribution, no matter what its size, helps
to support the increasing present-day costs of the Society's unique research
and performance of seldom-heard but great music. The Society is a tax-exempt
organization, and contributions are tax deductible on your Federal Tax Return.
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© 1998-2008 American Society of Ancient Instruments
This page was last updated on Sunday, April 20, 2008