Pardessus by Jean Baptiste Deshayes Salomon, Paris, c1740



The table is of two unmatched pieces of even grain, with 10 to 6 growth rings per cm. The soundholes are C shaped. The purfling is two inked lines.

The back is two pieces of maple with regular medium flame sloping down from the center joint. There is no purfling. SALOMON A PARIS is stamped over the neck heel.

The ribs are five or six pieces of maple with medium flame, sloping randomly, and with butted corners.

The replacement neck of maple is grafted to the original plain maple pegbox, terminating in a flat-sided scroll with applied turned ebony plaques with ivory eyes. The six boxwood pegs with ivory pips are old, possibly original.

The ebony veneered maple fingerboard and tailpiece and ebony hookbar are replacements.

The varnish is a pale golden brown.

Body length 31.6
Body width
      upper bout 15.8
      center bout 10.8
      lower bout 18.9
String length 32.0
Rib height
      top block 5.1
      fold 6.3
      upper corners 6.3
      lower corners 6.3
      bottom block 6.4

There is no label.

Bought in December 1972 from Jacques Francais, New York


Jean-Baptiste Dehaye was born in 1713 in Reims, where his father was a violin maker and presumably his teacher; Salomon is the trade name with which he signed his instruments, either on paper labels inside or branded on the exterior, typically at the top of the back. In 1735 he married Catherine de Rodé and soon thereafter moved to Paris, but the existence of instruments dating from 1744 to as late as 1773 and signed “Fait à Reims, par Salomon” (in contrast to his own mark, “Salomon à Paris”) suggests that another member of the family younger than his father, perhaps a brother, remained active in their home town, using the same trade name.

In 1748, a few months after the death of his wife, Jean-Baptiste married Barbe Marguerite Deshaies, the widow of the luthier Jean Ouvrard, whose business he thereupon took over. However, four years later she also died, leaving him to finish raising not only his own ten-year-old son from his first marriage but also Ouvrard’s teenaged niece and nephew, Marie and Georges Cousineau, whom they had taken into their home. By this time Georges had already begun his apprenticeship with the luthier François Lejeune—he would go on to an important career in his own right, notably as a maker of harps—while young Jean Dehaye died prematurely in 1759. As for Marie, in 1765 (at the age of 28) she became Jean-Baptiste’s third wife and continued to run the firm for more than two decades after his death in 1767. Their son Jean-Baptiste Antoine became a professional musician but not an instrument maker.

The output of the Salomon shop comprised members of both the violin and viol families (including hybrids such as quintons and violas d’amore), as well as harps and guitars. The inventory taken after his death mentions a book containing not only his varnish recipe but also financial records and a list of his customers, revealing that these included both members of the nobility and well-known professional musicians. As a result, his business flourished and he became quite well-to-do, living in a finely furnished home and wearing elegant clothes; he also achieved recognition from his peers by being elected maître juré comptable of the instrument-makers’ guild in 1760. Salomon’s cellos were held in especially high regard, the eight examples on hand at the time of his death being valued at 30 livres, while one group of violins was appraised at 12 livres each and another group at 20 each—this in comparison to 21 bass viols worth only a single livre each and a dozen pardessus “in the old style” at 5 livres apiece.

Surviving viols by Salomon or made in his shop include, in addition to the present six-string pardessus, a smaller five-string pardessus with an arched back (now in the Musée de la musique in Paris, and likewise undated) and a bass with cello-style body corners and F shaped soundholes (currently owned by a professional player in Paris), as well as at least eight quintons; the Musée de la musique in Paris also owns two violins, a cello, and a viola d’amore.

The pardessus de viole is the smallest member of the viol family. (In French dessus means above, or high, or soprano, and pardessus means even higher.) It is thought that in the 18th century this instrument was developed primarily for women to play. The bass viol was an aristocratic instrument that women were known to play, as can be seen in the magnificent portrait of Madame Henriette de France that hangs at Versailles. The violin, on the other hand, was considered unsuitable for a lady because of the ungraceful posture required to play it and because it was an instrument of the professional musician, both reasons for a sophisticated woman of high fashion to spurn it. Early in the 18th century Italian violin music became popular in the salons of Paris, and women were eager to try this expressive music on an instrument that suited their sensibilities. So a number of makers rose to the occasion and developed this very small type of viol with a high G string above the E string of a violin. There are both five- and six-string pardessus, many of which survive in original condition, perhaps because they were too small to have been converted to a cello or even a viola or violin—and also too small to have been burned for firewood in times of privation! They are often quite decorative and one can imagine that they have been beautiful wall ornaments when not being used as musical instruments.

In the early 1970s we were buying anything interesting we could find, and Jacques Francais tempted us with this small viol in very original condition. It had been part of the Exhibition of Violins of France presented by Francais at the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in February and March 1971, as Salomon was a celebrated French maker. (The viol was no. 12 in the catalogue, where it is described as on loan from a private collection in New York, though not Francais’ own.) Six-string pardessus are far rarer than five-string ones. They are tuned like a treble with a high G string, using the usual intervals of fourths and a third: from the bottom g-c′-e′-a′-d′′-g′′.

The neck, pegbox, and scroll were original when we bought it. We gave the viol to William Monical to do a small amount of restoration work, presuming that it only needed a new fingerboard and tailpiece and general cleaning up. To our disappointment it took three years to get it back, and at the last minute, without consulting us, he replaced the original neck. As I remember, he did not give us an explanation of why he changed the neck. I have not played this instrument very much because most of the pardessus repertoire is for a five-string instrument, for which I use the Guersan.


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Having studied the viol in his youth, Jean Barrière followed the Parisian fashion and became a very well-known cellist. He published four books of cello pieces, but also wrote books of suites for the harpsichord and the pardessus de viole. He had traveled to Italy to study cello and his compositional style reflects his time abroad. The Vivaldi-like brilliance of the second movement of the Sonata in e minor sports technical feats such as double stopping and bowed staccato that the old-fashioned French would have thought too flamboyant.

The Salomon pardessus has an extremely pretty, sweet sound. It is very even over its range and is easy to play. Its expressive range is more limited than the Guersan pardessus, but its attractive sound carries it a long way. I have rarely, if ever, performed on it because the Guersan not only has the more usual five-string configuration, but also is a masterpiece of the collection. So I was very pleased to discover what a wonderful little instrument the Salomon can be.