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Erin Headley

Artistic Advisor

As an American doctoral student, Erin Headley discovered a Vatican Library manuscript in 1976 that began a lifetime of research on that hauntingly beautiful bowed instrument, the lirone. It had been forgotten since 1700, was an endangered species until the late 1970s, but is now played by countless musicians around the world. Through a university grant in the year following her discovery, Erin conducted research in Europe, which unexpectedly led to an international career as a performer on the viola da gamba and the lirone. This included playing with many prestigious European ensembles, of which Tragicomedia and Les Arts Florissants stand out. She is widely admired for her personal style of playing: expressive and vocal on the viola da gamba, and spiritually inspired on the lirone.

Erin has performed worldwide, and made over 100 recordings, some of which are her own projects as director of the group Atalante, formed in 2009. With a two-year doctoral fellowship at the University of Southampton, and two generous grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain, Erin was able to create the four-CD series, Reliquie di Roma which won a Diapason d’Or in 2015, a ‘Recording of the Year’ award from MusicWeb International in 2011, and with high praise from Gramophone Magazine and the Early Music Journal, etc. Two of her successes as an opera director are productions of Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto at the Swedish Baroque Festival in 2006, and of Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo at the Galway Festival in 2011.

At a residency in 2013 at Villa I Tatti in Fiesole (Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies) she presented lectures and furthered her research in their unique research library, as well as in Florence at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and the Museum of San Marco.

As the world’s leading authority on the lirone, Erin has recently turned her attention to completing a documentary website, ‘The Lirone: Stairway to Heaven’ ( recounting the instrument’s 200-year history primarily in Florence and Rome. Based on her extensive research, she includes soundtracks from Atalante’s recordings to showcase the lirone’s stunning and hitherto unknown repertoire. With period paintings, musical scores, historical documents, narrations, and filmed staged performances, each episode becomes a Musica illuminata. An essential part of the website is virtual instruction for lirone players with detailed lessons based on the instrument’s sublime repertoire.

The performances on this first disc are exquisite—a more powerful and persuasive advocacy for these pieces could hardly be imagined. Atalante will surely come to be regarded as a something of a milestone. Its inspired director must be congratulated for bringing together musicianship and scholarship in a way that is, in the end, truly revelatory.  

-Iain Fenlon, Early Music, 2012 

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