Walter Bitner

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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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Attaingnant’s Lute Books

facsimile of Attaingnant's Tres brevet familiere introduction... (1529) by Editions Minkoff, Geneva, 1988

facsimile of Attaingnant’s Tres breue et famílíere introductíon… (1529) by Editions Minkoff, Geneva, 1988 (click to enlarge)

The Lute Part XI

continued from
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.

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Music Printer to the King: Pierre Attaingnant

The Lute Part X

portrait of Francis I of France (1494-1547) c.1530 by Jean Clouet (1475-1540)

portrait of Francis I of France (1494-1547) c.1530 by Jean Clouet (1475-1540), Louvre Museum, Paris (click to enlarge)

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.

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2016: What Kind of Blog Is This?

Off The Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts

As I did last year at this time, here I review my experience writing Off The Podium this year and share some statistics, what I have learned, and come clean on what exactly this blog is about.

The year has been a wild ride. Off The Podium has provided a great means to share the activities of the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony and the launch of our Accelerando program with the Nashville community and the world. It has also continued to provide me with a format and incentive to develop my writing on the topics of Music and Education – regular features of Off The Podium that now reach thousands of readers all over the world.

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The Hallelujah Chorus

The Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Symphony Chorus gather onstage moments before a performance of Händel's Messiah, December 18, 2016, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville

The Nashville Symphony and the Nashville Symphony Chorus gather onstage moments before a performance of Händel’s Messiah, December 18, 2016, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

This past week the Nashville Symphony performed our annual string of December Messiah concerts. An annual event featuring a different conductor and vision for the performance of this masterwork each year, it is remarkable to me how resilient Händel’s Messiah is, and how much the community here at the symphony -as well as the larger surrounding community of Music City – looks forward to it every year. It’s one of those monuments of the repertoire that has become part of the collective consciousness.

This year’s performance with guest conductor Christopher Warren-Green brought a historically-informed perspective to the performance, with brisk tempi and the incorporation of a theorbist who doubled on baroque guitar to the continuo section. I was thrilled to hear how excited our musicians were about Messiah this year in conversations I had with them (or overheard) during rehearsals. Sitting in the balcony on Sunday afternoon for the final matinee performance, the enthusiasm of the musicians and the audience was palpable. In the exhilaration following the concert I found myself thinking a lot about this remarkable piece of music, and especially one movement in particular – the unique and absolutely one-of-a-kind Hallelujah Chorus – and why and how it occupies such a singular place in our musical culture.

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The Capirola Lute Book

a page from the Capirola Lute Book

a page from the Capirola Lute Book (click to enlarge)

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.

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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.

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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.

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In Dulci Jubilo

InDulciJubilo

the opening of In dulci jubilo, Piæ Cantiones, 1582

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

In dulci jubilo is a famous medieval Christmas carol. It is a macaronic carol (i.e. the text is in a mixture of languages): the original text alternates between German and Latin. The words are attributed to the German mystic (and student of Meister Eckhart) Heinrich Seuse (1295 – 1366), and describes his vision of singing angels dancing with him.

It is one of our oldest, loveliest, and most important carols. The lilting, singsongy, exuberant melody and the relative ease with which they were able to learn it made it popular with my students of all ages – from elementary through high school. Although not a piece I included as an annual repeating feature of Winter Solstice performances, I would program In dulci jubilo every few years, and most of my students sang or played it in a Winter Solstice production at some point.

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Personent Hodie

PersonentHodie

Part of a series of articles on
Preparing a School Winter Solstice Performance

Personent Hodie is a medieval Christmas carol. The form in which it comes down to us was first published in Piæ Cantiones, a collection of medieval Latin songs that were sung at the cathedral school in Turku (Finland). It was compiled by Jaakko Suomalainen, a Finnish clergyman, and published in 1582. The carol’s melody is very similar to a hymn found in a German manuscript from 1360, and it is assumed that Personent Hodie dates from the mid-14th century.

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