The Luteshop Blog

Are lutenists less HIP than they used to be?

First we had “authenticity”, then we had “historically informed performance” (HIP). What do we have now?

This is a book-length topic, of course, so I can only make a few remarks which relate specifically to the lute.

A bit of history – from the pioneering work of Dolmetsch and others in the early 20th century,

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[Prelude] by Anon. (CUL Add.3056, f.10v.)

Cambridge University Library MS Add.3056 probably dates from around 1610, but most of the music is for a seven-course lute.  The copyist drew on a number of continental and English sources, including John Danyel’s song book of 1606.  This unusual piece, untitled and anonymous, is not found in any other source,

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Frets – Double vs Single

Most people today use rather thick single frets, but it seems in the past it was common to use thin double frets – can we learn anything from this? Lute iconography rarely shows enough detail to be sure whether the frets are single or double.

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A Recercata possibly by Francesco da Milano?

A manuscript of Bavarian origin, now in Paris (Bibliothéque du Conservatoire, Ms. Réserve 429) includes seven pieces attributed to Francesco da Milano (Ness numbers 67, 87a, 88-91, and 95).  There is also a piece on f.109 headed Recercata which has many features of his style.  I have made many small changes,

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Rogero

Rogero or Ruggiero is an Italian ground bass which was popular from at least the middle of the 16th century (and on into the 17th) as a basis for sets of variations and songs. There are several versions for solo lute in English manuscripts, of which two are presented here.

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Coloured Strings

When we look at paintings of lutes from the 16th to 18th century we see quite a variety of coloured strings. Natural gut colour is common, but some strings, particularly basses, are a dark reddish-brown colour. Others are bright red, or blue, or black. It is possible that there is no particular significance to these different colours (other than string identification,

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Dump by Anon. (Dd.2.11, f.12v.)

The first of the lute books copied by Matthew Holmes in the 1590s is about to be published in facsimile by the Lute Society.  Dd.2.11 is the largest of these manuscripts with around 300 pieces.  Alongside well-known pieces by Dowland, Johnson, Ferrabosco and others there are many anonymous pieces, some very substantial and clearly the work of a serious composer.  

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Patience

When I was about 11 years or so old, I remember when relatives came to visit and I showed them my collection of butterflies and moths. They were amazed that someone so young could have amassed so much knowledge about things which were obscure to most adults, but they also almost invariably used a magic word –

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Luteshop’s Summer Concert 2016 – A short report

Richard Barnfield (1574-1627), from Poems in Divers Humours, 1598
To His Friend Master R.L., in Praise of Music and Poetry

If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs (the sister and the brother),
Then must the love be great ‘twixt thee and me,

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Some thoughts on string tension

Like many people, I had always wondered why lute strings look so thin in old paintings. Was it because the artist couldn’t be bothered with showing the details of the strings, or was it because the thickest strings were not as thick as we might expect? We know that lutes were strung with sheep gut (and we have no reason to believe that the density of gut was significantly different in the past),

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