The Lute Part IV
The Lute and the New Humanists
The lute was already well-established as a favorite instrument in Italy by the 14th century (the Trecento). The happy circumstances that led to the rise of the lute as the emblematic and most revered instrument of the European Renaissance can be traced to its being readily on hand for the new humanist philosophers and poets who created the movement.
Already the lute was so familiar that in the early years of the century Dante (1265-1321) had used this simile to describe the counterfeiter Master Adam encountered in the eighth circle of Hell:
Io vidi un, fatto a guisa di lēuto
(I saw one, who would have been shaped like a lute)
~ Inferno XXX, 49
But Petrarch actually played the lute, and equating it with the the lyre of Classical Greece, he imbued the cultural perception of the instrument with a rich symbolism that permeated European art, music, and poetry for centuries.
The Lute Part III
By the middle of the 16th century, professional lutenists led by virtuosi such as Francesco da Milano had established the lute, and more importantly secular instrumental music, as a deep, abiding, and richly developed component of Western culture. The impact the early lutenists made on both their contemporaries and on the generations that followed influenced the course and development of our musical traditions in ways that are still felt today.
How did the lute rise from a little-known cultural import to become the defining instrument and symbol of music in Renaissance Europe – including its elevation to preeminent stature as the instrument of princes?
The Lute Part II
In one of my first lute lessons with Pat O’Brien (c. 1993) I must have enthused about the music of Francesco da Milano, which I had been listening to on one of the first CDs of lute music I came across at Tower Records, a collection of this composer’s works played by Paul O’Dette that had just been released by Astrée. (This superb recording – still one of my very favorites – is now out of print.)
In what I was to learn was Pat’s typical unrestrained style, he took down two large, thick, heavy, volumes off of the bookshelves that lined the back wall of his studio – or perhaps dug them out from under a pile of other books, I don’t remember – and put them in my hands. This was Arthur Ness’s monumental The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano published by Harvard University Press in 1970, which by then I believe was out of print and generally difficult to come across. American musicologist Arthur Ness is to Francesco like Ludwig von Köchel is to Mozart: Ness was the first to collect all Francesco’s known works from prints and manuscripts found in libraries all across Europe, catalog, and number them. As Mozart’s works are known by their Köchel numbers, Francesco’s extant pieces are known and differentiated by their Ness numbers – especially helpful as more than ninety of them are either untitled or simply named Fantasia or Ricercar in the original sources.
Part 2 of 2
This is the conclusion of the story I began in Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday
On Saturday morning I made it back to Lipscomb before the 9 am voice masterclass in Ward Hall with Margaret Carpenter. Brooke sang first and worked with Margaret for a half hour, followed by countertenor Patrick Dailey, who sang Thomas Campion’s Never Weather-Beaten Saile: another lute song, which I also accompanied. Margaret had many helpful suggestions for each singer – mostly focusing on expression – and the hour went by quickly. I ended up staying in the room for the next session as well – Participants Chorus with Terri Richter and Mareike Sattler – and served as impromptu accompanist as we sight read sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria.
Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?
Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.57-58
The first in a series of posts about the lute.
I would wager that while many, perhaps even most people in our culture have heard of the instrument called the lute and may even know what it looks like, most have never heard one played – either live or on a recording. Yet this paragon of musical instruments, this “instrument of angels” was the most popular instrument in Europe for hundreds of years. Throughout the Renaissance, the lute occupied a position in European society analogous to that of the piano in the nineteenth century. Lute virtuosi played for royalty and popes and were famous throughout the continent, and a rising middle class created demand for the new industry in printed sheet music, providing for music making at home. The art of music took its place at the center of culture on an unprecedented scale. This musical revolution gave birth to the invention of the instruments we use today and intensified the position of music at the heart of both religious and secular ceremonies, while the public and royalty alike acknowledged famous musicians as celebrities and prophets. At the forefront of all this was the lute – a symbol of music’s divine place in human life and the most popular musical instrument of the age.
This is the first in a series of occasional posts about the recorder, its historical and contemporary repertoire, its champions, and its place in music education.
Being a recorder player has been a humbling experience. The recorder is not highly regarded in American musical culture, and most people who know of the instrument only know it because they were given a cheap plastic recorder in elementary school and learned to play a few simple tunes on it in a classroom setting. Occasionally I meet someone who is familiar with it from its occasional use by folk music groups or recognizes the instrument from the opening of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (or perhaps I’ve Seen All Good People by Yes). Most people – including many classical musicians I have met, and many elementary school music teachers who actually teach recorder to their music classes – are unaware of or uninformed about the recorder’s long history, or of its beautiful if modest historical repertoire that includes works written specifically for recorder by masters including J.S. Bach, Händel, and Vivaldi, or of it’s employment in virtuosic avant-garde compositions since the 1960s.