Walter Bitner

Home » Music » The Lute (Page 2)

Category Archives: The Lute

The Frottolists and the First Lute Songbooks

Un Concerto, c. 1485-1495 by Lorenzo Costa (1460-1535) ~ National Gallery, London

The Lute Part VIII

continued from
Ottaviano Petrucci and the First Printed Lute Books

From the end of the 15th century into the first decades of the 16th century – a period estimated by historians to be from about 1470-1530 – a secular polyphonic song genre known as frottola flourished throughout the courts of Italy. This poetic and musical movement paved the way for a distinctly Italian musical renaissance style featuring primarily Italian musicians and composers in contrast to the dominance of composers from Northern Europe in Italy from the 14th – 15th centuries, and prepared a fertile ground for the development of the madrigal later in the 16th century.

Hand in hand with the rise of the frottola was the development of a revolutionary technique that allowed musicians to play polyphonic music in 2, 3, or more parts on one lute. By the end of the 15th century, most lutenists had dropped their plectrums in favor of the new style, and plucked the strings with the fingers of the right hand. When Petrucci published the first books of lute tablature beginning in 1507, all of them and all of the tablature that followed for the next next two and a half centuries assumed the new technique.

(more…)

Ottaviano Petrucci and the First Printed Lute Books

Frontispiece of Harmonice Musices Odhecaton ~ Canti A (1501) by Ottaviano Petrucci

Frontispiece of Harmonice Musices Odhecaton ~ Canti A (1501) by Ottaviano Petrucci

The Lute Part VII

He did not compose for lute nor was he known to perform on it, but Ottaviano Petrucci (1466 – 1539) was nonetheless a vital figure in the history of the instrument, and profoundly influenced the course of musical development in the 16th century, and indeed music history in general.

Petrucci was an Italian printer and a pioneer in the publication of music printed from moveable type. In Venice at the very beginning of the Cinquecento, Petrucci produced the first known example of printed polyphonic music: a collection of secular songs titled Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, in 1501.

He also was the first to print instrumental music: several books of lute tablature, produced in 1507 and 1508. Today he is known as the father of modern music printing.

(more…)

The Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, 1996

masterclass with Paul O'Dette, Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, Vancouver Early Music Festival 1996

masterclass with Paul O’Dette, Lute Society of America Summer Seminar West, Vancouver Early Music Festival 1996

The Lute Appendix iii

In the summer of 1996, I attended The Lute Society of America‘s Summer Seminar West in Vancouver, BC. The event took place from July 29 – August 2, 1996 at the Vancouver Early Music Festival held at The University of British Columbia.

Earlier this month the LSA held the 2016 summer seminar at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and as my FaceBook feed was briefly inundated with photos and videos that attendees posted on the LSA FaceBook Group, I found myself reminiscing about my experience in Vancouver twenty years ago. It was one of the most memorable weeks of my life.

(more…)

Petrarch’s Lyre

Petrarch

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

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante's Master Adam

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante’s Master Adam

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.

(more…)

The Medieval Lute

The Lute Part III

two lutenists from the manuscript of Cantinas de Santa Mariaof Alfonso the Wise of Castile (1221-1284)

two lutenists from the 13th century manuscript Cantigas de Sancta Maria of Alfonso the Wise

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?

(more…)

Francesco da Milano

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

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.

(more…)

Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Saturday

Part 2 of 2

This is the conclusion of the story I began in Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday

Participants Chorus - Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo

Participants Chorus – Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo

Saturday

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.

(more…)

Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday

NEMFlogoPart 1 of 2

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of participating in Music City’s first ever festival dedicated to music from before the time of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.  The inaugural Nashville Early Music Festival was held Friday & Saturday, September 25 & 26 at Lipscomb University (the festival’s sponsor), and included copious performances of (mostly) baroque music by local musicians as well as visitors from around the country, as well as more informal presentations, masterclasses, and opportunities for musicians, students, and anyone else interested in Early Music to listen, learn, converse, enthuse, and make friends.

I know that I am not alone in hoping that this is only the first annual event for a festival that will grow into a tradition, bringing Early Music to Nashville for years to come.

(more…)

Meet the Lute

Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?

William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing,  2.3.57-58

musician angel by Rosso Fiorentino, circa 1520

musician angel by Rosso Fiorentino (Giovanni Battista di Jacopo), circa 1520

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.

(more…)

Our Friend Sebastian

Anna Magdalena Bach's autograph of Menuet in G, 1725

Anna Magdalena Bach’s autograph of Menuet in G, 1725

Today is the 330th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Like so many of us, I first encountered his music as a child.  I don’t actually remember the first time I heard it – it might have been at church, it might have been in a piano lesson.  I am pretty certain that the first piece that I became aware of and associated with his name was Menuet in G.  It was only years later that I learned that scholars actually now believe this piece was written by Christian Petzold (1677-1733), but no matter.  Sebastian is still credited as the composer in most piano books one will encounter, and if it was good enough for his children…

(more…)