American Society of Ancient Instruments
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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.'

Home Pagestaff.gif (1042 bytes)The Ensemblestaff.gif (1042 bytes)The Organization
The Schedulestaff.gif (1042 bytes)staff.gif (1042 bytes)Contacting Us

What is the American Society of Ancient Instruments?

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.

quill.gif (1455 bytes)The 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 Society.



The American Society of Ancient Instruments was conceived by Ben Stad and his wife, Flora, in 1925.  They had come to Philadelphia from Holland, 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 United States.  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 Forge, Pa.

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 demonstrated.

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]


The Instruments

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 instruments.

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.


The Libraries

quillNo 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 performance.

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 world.



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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Phoenixville, PA 19460-2433
(610) 935-4579

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This page was last updated on Sunday, April 20, 2008