Walter Bitner

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Bach on the Lute: 70 Years of Recordings, Part I

Smith, Hopkinson, 1981-82/1987. Johann Sebastian Bach: L’œvre de Luth. Auvidis E 7721. AAD (2 CDs) ~ click images to enlarge

The Lute Appendix iii c

Just in time for Sebastian’s birthday (March 21 or 31, depending on your calendar preference): here is an overview of recordings of his music performed on the lute. While perhaps not complete, I believe that the major recordings that have been released on compact disc are described or at least acknowledged here, and many others besides. (Lute performances available on CD are nearly the only recordings considered here.) I trust that members of the lute community won’t hesitate to let me know what I have missed!

Most of the compact disc recordings referred to in this article (and many more besides) are listed in the discography to this series.

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BACHanalia 2019

click images to enlarge

 

Nashville’s 13th annual Bach festival – our beloved BACHanalia – will be held:

Friday, March 29, 2019 from 4 – 10 pm
Christ Church Cathedral
900 Broadway in downtown Nashville.

This event is one of the highlights of the musical year in Music City.

A broad spectrum of musicians from our unique community come together at this time each year to present this one-of-a-kind six-hour concert-without-pause devoted to Sebastian’s music, generously hosted by our friends at the cathedral in their beautiful sanctuary.

For the last several years I’ve had the privilege of learning of the program and schedule ahead of the event and voila! here it is. It’s hard to believe a whole year has gone by.

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Dowland on CD: A Survey of the Solo Lute Recordings: Part II

McFarlane, Ronn, 1991. Lute Music of John Dowland. Dorian DOR-90148.

The Lute Appendix iii b

Continued from
Dowland on CD: A Survey of the Solo Lute Recordings: Part I

 

(Throughout this appendix,
* indicates a recording I have not heard.)

 

Dedicated Recitals on Single Discs

As with the complete editions, three lutenists have recorded entire CDs dedicated to Dowland’s solo lute music:

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Dowland on CD: A Survey of the Solo Lute Recordings: Part I

O’Dette, Paul, 1984/1986. John Dowland: Musicke for the Lute. Auvidis-Astrée E 7715. AAD

The Lute Appendix iii a

In preparation for my (forthcoming) articles on the life and music of John Dowland for this series, I found myself playing, listening to, and reading about his music more often this year than I have in some time. Coming back to Dowland’s music after any length of time is always refreshing. As my intent this time around is an attempt to regard Melancholy John’s œuvre more comprehensively, I eventually found myself methodically listening to all of the recordings of his music I’ve collected over the years, and hence, the idea for this appendix.

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The Lute at the Court of Henry VIII 

The Lute Part XII

Unknown Man with Lute by Hans Holbein the younger (1497/8 – 1543), Berlin, Gemäldegalerie ~ American musicologist John Ward speculated that this might be Philip van Wilder, but David Van Edwards has cast doubt on this theory here. (click images to enlarge)

When Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) ascended to the throne of England in 1509, the lute did not play the prominent role in English society and culture it would come to hold by the end of the 16th century. In addition to his matrimonial activities, waging war in France, and reforming the church, it is well known that Henry VIII was an enthusiastic musician, and even composer. He invigorated and developed the musical aspects of life at the English court in the first half of the 16th century far beyond what they had been under previous English monarchs, employing dozens of musicians, including lutenists (or lewters, as they appear in contemporary account books).

Before Henry VIII, the English court was still heavily influenced by Burgundian culture, and use of the harp superseded the lute there until the end of the 15th century. The lute rose to prominence in England by the second half of the 16th century, lagging behind much of the continent by a couple of generations.

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BACHanalia 2018

The 12th annual BACHanalia – our city’s annual Bach festival – will be held on Friday, March 16 from 4 – 10 pm at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. Once a year, musicians from many parts of our community come together to present this unique six-hour concert-without-pause devoted to Sebastian’s music, generously hosted by our friends at the cathedral in their beautiful sanctuary.

BACHanalia is one of the highlights of the musical year in Music City.

Once again this year, I was given a special glimpse of the program in advance of this year’s concert, which I leak to you here, Off The Podium readership. We’re in for a tremendous evening of music-making!

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Martin & Sebastian

Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door ~ 1878 painting by Julius Hübner (1806-1882) click images to enlarge

This week marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This protest against the sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church led to the social, cultural, and philosophical revolution we now call the Reformation – which in turn led to many changes in the abilities of governments and religions to control the personal lives of individuals in Western Civilization, among other things.

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BACHanalia 2017

On Friday, March 31, from 4 – 10 pm, Christ Church Cathedral at 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville proudly presents the 11th Annual BACHanalia. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event. Note the new times! This year’s event will be held from 4 – 10 pm, not 5 – 11 pm as in previous years.

Again this year I was very lucky, and was granted a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2017‘s performers and selections, which I now leak to you here, oh readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers!

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Sarabande

disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian most likely wrote the cello suites when he was at Köthen (1717-1723)

Our friend Sebastian was born this time of year in 1685 – on March 21 or March 31, depending on whether you recognize Old or New Style (Julian or Gregorian) calendar conventions for commemorating things that happened centuries ago. I have friends who insist that one or other date is correct, but for me it doesn’t matter – for me, every year for many years now I have observed a quiet little personal eleven-day period of reflection on Bach’s music between March 21 and March 31. Each day for eleven days, I set aside some time to both play some of Sebastian’s music (on piano, harpsichord, or lute) and to intentionally listen to some of my favorite recordings of pieces that have touched me deeply.

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Renaissance Lute

The Lute Part V

Lutes ~ Plate XVI from Michael Praetorius: Syntagma Musicum, 1619

Lutes ~ Plate XVI from Michael Praetorius: Syntagma Musicum, 1619 (click to enlarge)

In which I offer some observations about the instruments themselves and how they were tuned

If someone finds out that I play the lute, it’s not uncommon to be asked: “oh…what is that?” I’ve even been asked “do you blow it?” once or twice. For non-lutenists – and especially non-musicians – distinctions between this or that lute are esoteric details.

But when one lutenist meets another and they both realize their common pastime (or obsession), often the first question that comes up is: do you play renaissance or baroque?

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