The Jaye Project

Michael Fleming, Thomas MacCracken, and Klaus Martius

Henry Jaye of Southwark, England, was one of the most important makers in the history of the viol. His stature has been recognised at least since 1676, when Thomas Mace listed him as one of the five most admired viol makers of years past. Until very recently, however, most of what has been written about him since then is no more than a reiteration or reformulation of Mace's words, sometimes enhanced by imaginative assumptions and speculations.
A discussion of Jaye's life and circumstances, and the frustratingly scarce documentary evidence for them, formed part of Michael Fleming's doctoral dissertation on 'Viol-Making in England c.1580-1660' (cited hereafter as Fleming 2001; see below for details). Apart from documents, the principal source of information about Jaye is his surviving work. All instruments currently attributed to Jaye are viols, about half of which were examined and discussed in Fleming 2001. More recently, the 1629 Jaye viol in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuernberg was the subject of an essay by Klaus Martius, a conservator at the museum (Martius 2004), which is the first time any single instrument by this maker has received such a detailed examination in print. Subsequently, these two authors have been discussing Jaye's work with the musicologist Thomas MacCracken, who is in charge of a project to catalogue all extant antique viols, continuing Peter Tourin's VIOL-LIST (1979).
The many problems which face anyone who researches old instruments are discussed in Fleming 2001. Some of these are particularly acute with viols, which very commonly have been modified, typically to meet changing musical demands or to supply an element of antiquity in newly constructed instruments. Other problems are common to many old instruments: for example, different authors may disagree about details in their descriptions of instruments, especially measurements. Few publications give comprehensive or reliable provenance information about the instruments they discuss, and very few descriptions are accompanied by good illustrations. Widely consulted sources represent very different attitudes to accuracy and comprehensiveness, and sometimes lack very basic information. As a consequence, when anyone uses published information in order to understand or write about Jaye viols the results are likely to be inaccurate at best, and perhaps even misleading or wrong.
A figure as important as Henry Jaye deserves better: we need a comprehensive and thorough study to describe the important features of his work and establish his place in the history of instrument making. The first step toward this goal is to assemble accurate information about all his extant instruments, a task which, for the reasons indicated above, is far from trivial or mechanical.
In order to address these problems, the three of us are working together to assemble a reliable documentation of Henry Jaye's instruments. We hope this will eventually lead to the full treatment of Jaye's life and work mentioned above, but in the meantime our aim is to provide a source of accurate information that any scholar, musician, curator, collector or instrument maker can and should use for their own purposes. Our initial discussions have outlined the gaps and uncertainties in knowledge. The next stage is to seek further information from the worldwide community of viol owners, custodians, players and all those who handle or deal with such instruments. If you are such a person it is very likely that you could help, and therefore we would like to hear from you.
We present a provisional list of extant viols attributed to Henry Jaye (please open the PDF document below). The first column assigns to each instrument a unique JP (Jaye Project) number, which will be used during the data collection stage of the project but will probably be superseded when all the data has been considered; identifying sigla used in Tourin 1979 and Fleming 2001 are also provided to facilitate reference to those studies. The instruments are listed in order of increasing body length, and each one is identified by its nominal size (treble or bass), although in many cases this designation is potentially controversial. A measurement is also given for vibrating string length as each instrument was set up at the time it was examined, but because most necks are later replacements this number typically reveals more about modern practices than it does about the original maker's intentions. Dates come from labels found inside the instruments in question, and may or may not be accurate. Letters appearing in the column headed "Group" serve to identify those viols whose attribution to Jaye is more certain (marked A) or less certain (marked B), based on our present knowledge. Unless otherwise stated, the bellies (fronts) of all instruments are constructed of five (or sometimes seven) separate pieces of wood joined together like the staves of a barrel.
It is our hope that readers will compare this information with their own data, instruments, recollections and opinions, and that they will then communicate to us anything that confirms, supplements or contradicts what appears here. Anything that could help to locate or identify viols made by Jaye (or that might ever have been described as having been made by Jaye) is potentially valuable; facts or observations that by themselves might seem unimportant can make a significant contribution to the whole. We seek information about viols, parts of viols, instruments that have been converted from viols, and instruments which merely contain pieces of wood that may once have been parts of viols. At this stage we remain open to anything that might cast light on the viol maker, including information or instruments that ultimately may be shown to be unconnected with him; we would even welcome information pertaining to the life and work of the Henry Jay who was a violin-maker in eighteenth-century London, although there is no known connection between the two men. For this reason, several instruments about which we already have reason to doubt their connection with Henry Jaye are included in the following table. We therefore wish to emphasize that the presence of a viol in our list does not imply that we consider it to be the work of Jaye.

We urgently invite your submissions in order to advance the world's knowledge and understanding of one of the most outstanding viol-makers of all time. Please make sure that a source (such as a book or article, sale or exhibition catalogue, personal knowledge, correspondence, etc.) is identified for everything you tell us, so that we can document these new data properly. All information should be sent to Thomas MacCracken at 12108 Vale Road, Oakton, VA 22124, U.S.A., or at tgmacc[at]

Fleming 2001: Michael Fleming, 'Viol-Making in England c. 1580-1660' (Ph.D. Dissertation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, 2001). This was also published in facsimile on a CD-ROM (Oxford, 2002).

Fleming 2004: Michael Fleming, 'Jaye, Henry', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

Martius 2004: Klaus Martius, 'Ansichten einer Diskant-Gambe von Henry Jaye', in "Pieces de Viole": Fuenf Beitr├Ąge zur Viola da Gamba, ed. Manfred Harras and Brigitt Stehrenberger (Winterthur: Viola da Gamba-Gesellschaft, 2004), pp. 44-59. This booklet, containing five essays, was published to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Viola da Gamba-Gesellschaft.

Tourin 1979: Peter Tourin, VIOL-LIST (Duxbury, Vermont: The Tourin Musica, 1979). This was self-published on demand as a customized printout from a computerised database, and is no longer available. Maintenance and expansion of Tourin's database was taken over by Thomas MacCracken in 1991

A provisional list of extant viols attributed to Henry Jaye (PDF document): Jaye viols.pdf (96 KB)