Walter Bitner

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Simone Molinaro

Title page, Simone Molinaro: Intavolatura di Liuto Libro Primo, Venezia 1599 (click images to enlarge)

The Lute Part XIV

Simone Molinaro (c 1570 – 1636) was the leading musician in Genoa when the Most Serene Republic was at its height of wealth and power. In the early decades of the seventeenth century, he served Genoa first as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, then as court musician and eventually maestro di cappella di Palazzo – the chapel of the ducal palace. Molinaro was the most prolific and highly esteemed composer in the Genoa Republic, and published many volumes of his own works as well as anthologies and collections of compositions by his contemporaries, including the first printing in score of Gesualdo’s five books of five- and six-voice madrigals.

In addition to being a composer and chapel master, Simone Molinaro was a lutenist, and in 1599 published one of the most highly esteemed volumes of music for the lute to appear during the Renaissance.

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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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The Golden Age of English Lute Music

Elizabeth I playing the lute by Nicolas Hilliard, c. 1580 ~ Berkeley Castle, Berkeley, Gloucestershire, UK (click images to enlarge)

The Lute Part XIII

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I – an astounding 45 years from 1558 to 1603 – is often referred to as the Golden Age of English history. The long rule of the Virgin Queen brought momentous advances for England: colonization of the New World and circumnavigation of the globe by English privateers, the dramatic defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Elizabeth and her advisors’ miraculous achievement of reestablishing and maintaining a Protestant state for nearly fifty years in the face of continental Catholic opposition.

England brought forth an artistic and cultural flowering under Queen Elizabeth – most famously in the development of the theatre and the work of the playwright William Shakespeare, whom she patronized. Music, too, flourished during the Golden Age: English musicians were renowned not only at home but abroad for their excellence and virtuosity, and the Queen herself not only patronized court musicians, she played the lute herself.

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The Continuum

The Music of the Spheres, from Practica Musice by Franchinus Gaffurius, Florence, 1496 (click images to enlarge)

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.

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Diana Poulton

Diana Poulton, c 1929 (click images to enlarge)

The Lute Part XV

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.

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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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Three Days in London

 

Trafalgar Square (click images to enlarge)

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.

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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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