Music has been a part of human life for as long as we know. It fascinates me that we live in a time when advances in technology and the efforts of musicologists and musicians have made it possible to learn about, study, listen to, and learn to perform music from a vast profusion of times and cultures – far beyond what was possible in the past.
The Lute Part XIII
The English lutenist, teacher, and musicologist Diana Poulton, whose long and fruitful life spanned every decade of the twentieth century, is one of the most important figures in the history of the lute.
She was one of the first pioneers in the twentieth century reawakening of interest in the lute. Her contributions include hundreds of radio broadcasts of solo lute music over the BBC beginning in 1926, annual performances at Alfred Dolmetch’s Haslemere Festival between the World Wars, and the founding of The Lute Society with Ian Harwood in 1956.
Her most profound legacies are the pantheon of lutenists who studied with her privately and at the Royal College of Music, and her works of dedication and scholarship devoted to the life and music of the composer with whom she will always be associated, John Dowland.
The Lute Appendix iv b
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:
The Lute Appendix iv 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.
The Lute Part XII
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.
Warning: long, self-indulgent travelogue and photo essay
Not entirely Off Topic
Last week I traveled to the United Kingdom to attend the Association of British Orchestras annual conference, held this year in Cardiff, Wales. I was very fortunate to be able to arrive a few days early so I could spend some time in London.
It was my first visit to the U.K., and I packed as much into it as I could. I logged 46,699 steps in those three days in London, exceeded the fare cap on my Oyster card each day with trips on buses and the Underground, saw places and relics for the first time that have lived in my imagination since I was a child, and was reunited with old friends I haven’t seen for decades. It was thrilling.
The Lute Part V
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?
The Lute Part XI
Music Printer to the King: Pierre Attaingnant
In 1529, Pierre Attaingnant published the first book of lute tablature to be issued in France: Tres breue et famílíere introduction pour entendre & apprendre par soy mesmes a iouer toutes chansons reduictes en la tablature du Lutz. (Brief and simple introduction for understanding and learning for oneself how to play any song reduced to tablature for the lute.) Hereafter: Introduction.
This first volume of lute pieces to be printed in France – a collection of preludes and chansons – was followed less than four months later by a second volume – Dixhuit basses dances: 18 basses dances as well as branles, pavanes, galliards, and other dances in lute tablature.
Together, these two small books comprise the humble beginning of the long tradition of French lute music, which was eventually to dominate the solo lute repertoire throughout the continent. By the middle of the 17th century, “French lute” would represent the apotheosis of refined expression in instrumental music and the repertoire of the French lutenists would in turn influence the fledgling keyboard repertoire… but that’s getting considerably ahead of our story.
The Lute Part X
The French Renaissance is sometimes called the “long sixteenth century” by historians to describe a period from the end of the 15th through the beginning of the 17th centuries. During this period, the arts and culture flourished anew as France imported humanism, artistic ideals, and their proponents from Italy and adapted them according to French tastes and aesthetics. In the first half of the 16th century the French King Francis I – François Premier – was a great patrons of the arts and the epitome of the renaissance monarch: a poet himself, it was under his reign (1515 – 1547) that this cultural transformation took place most dramatically.
It was also during the reign of Francis I that the very first printed music books appeared in France – including the first printed lute books.
The Lute Part IX
In the early 16th century an amateur lutenist in Venice compiled an undated manuscript consisting of lute pieces in Italian tablature composed by his teacher. He names himself Vidal in the book’s preface, and states that in order to ensure that the music contained in its pages is preserved, he has decorated it with “noble pictures” so that it will be treasured for their sake should the book come into the possession of some who may not appreciate music. Indeed, 45 of the manuscript’s 147 pages feature elaborate pastoral illustrations in full color, and the book has been preserved: this is the famous Capirola Lute Book. It is one of the earliest and finest manuscripts of lute music to survive – perhaps the most beautiful – and it contains the only known selection of music by one of the the early 16th century’s finest lutenists, a Brescian nobleman named Vincenzo Capirola.