The Luteshop Blog

Almains by John and Robert Dowland

The Margaret Board lute book, written c.1620 and unknown until it was offered for sale in 1970, is a fascinating source, not least because it contains a substantial quantity of John Dowland’s handwriting.  He wrote a theoretical table showing the Gam ut on f.1v. and two pieces: an Almande by Robert Dowland on f.12.v.

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Was Dowland a composer of lute music?

Practically the entire corpus of English lute music exists only in manuscript. It was customary for a composer to include an instrumental piece in a printed book of songs, but apart from those few pieces we have only William Barley’s Newe Booke of Tabliture (1596), Thomas Robinson’s Schoole of Musicke (1603),

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Fantasia by Benedict de Drusina

Benedict de Drusina (c.1520 – after 1573) published his Tabulatura at Frankfurt an der Oder in 1556.  It starts with four fantasias: the first and second appear in publications by Matthäus Waissel (the second also in various other sources including Besard’s 1603 anthology).  The third is cognate with a piece by Melchior Newsidler and a version is also found in the Siena Lute Book (without title,

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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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