The lute appeared in Europe in the Middle Ages. We find its first pictures in the religious books of Utrecht (9th century) and Stuttgart (11th century). The direct predecessor of lute is al-oud (means “wood”), the Oriental lute of the times of the Sasanids, the famous lute of “The Arabian Nights”. Numerous literary works, pieces of painting and sculpture prove that in the Middle Ages the lute was widely spread throughout the European continent. From the same sources of information it becomes clear that the stringed viol was the most favourite and popular instrument at that time. The lute was used as an accompanying instrument in the ensemble of other stringed, wind and percussion instruments and for singers’ accompaniment.
To our regret, it is impossible to make a clear idea of lute music of the Middle Ages. There is no musical notation for lute of those times (probably, it hasn’t been found yet). However, in the 16th century the situation was different. The beautiful music of the Renaissance replaced the Gothic music both in church and in the secular musical practice. Folk music penetrates into all levels of the society while in the medieval times performers of folk tunes were
severely persecuted. For example, in Scotland there existed a law that ordered to cut a man’s ears who dared to play a musical instrument to entertain public; if he didn’t settle and was caught for the second time doing the same, he had to be hung! First being homeless vagrants who wandered throughout Europe, musicians became respected citizens who had their own houses, their professional guilds. They played in palaces, in notable citizens’ houses, at festivals. In some towns they entertained audience from 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. according to a special decree.
A great number of serenades, balls, festivals in palaces and rituals, wedding parties and just merry-making in urban houses and rural taverns required light and joyful music like the ideology of the Renaissance itself. It didn’t take much time for such music to appear; moreover, in 1503 the invention of the notation printing press promoted quick spread of compositions in Europe. Every day thousands of canzones, madrigals, dances for ensemble of several instruments were born in all parts of Europe. They were composed by both the most famous professional musicians such as Palestrina, Lasso and thousands of amateurs.
Judging from the number of pictures and references in literature of the 15th-16th centuries the lute became the most popular instrument because any kind of music of any genre could be performed at those times, one could throw it over the shoulder and travel with it to the most remote parts. It was very good to accompany a singer or for a small instrumental ensemble. In the 16th century one could see a lute in any house – both of a duke and of a modest craftsman. Sailors and soldiers took it in a campaign. People expressed their feelings and emotions with its help. However, there were not many brilliant lutenists. Every king or duke used to employ a virtuoso lutenist and a composer whose mastery defined extraordinary popularity of this instrument and due to their effort the Renaissance lute music was created. According to the preserved bills from some royal houses and the correspondence between the kings these musicians were highly appreciated and kings enticed them form each other. Sometimes they sent “their” lutenist to another monarch as a sign of special respect. These musicians’ work was highly paid. Beginning from 1507 their works were published in great number of copies (for those times) but they were not enough. Book sellers ordered more copies for selling at fairs than publishers could print...
Madrigals, canzones and various dances – from court to vulgar ones – were interpreted and composed again for lute. Besides that sometimes short pieces purely for lute were composed; at times these pieces were rather long - preambles, preludes, ricercares. These plays display the Renaissance spirit to its best and carry us away to the images of Petrarka, Cavalcanti, Boccaccio and Ronsard.
The compositions of Italian, French, English and German musicians of the Renaissance epoch are presented on this CD.
Vincenzo Galilei (about 1520 – 1591), father of the famous astronomer, the author of the
treatises on music, a lute virtuoso, a member of “Florentine Camerata”. The members of “Camerata” played a great role in appearance opera as a genre.
One of the outstanding lutenists of Italy, called “Divine” by his contemporaries, was Francesco Canova da Milano (about 1497 – about 1543), a composer, the author of fantasies, canzonetas and ricercares. His “Seven Books for Lute” assumed all-European importance. Francesco da Milano was a court lutenist of Duke Gonzaga in Mantua, since 1530 till 1535 he served as a lutenist at Cardinal Medici’s in Florence, later he was a personal lutenist of Pope Paul III.
Fabritio Caroso (about 1535 – about 1600) was a musician and choreographer. He composed dances and pantomimes in the palaces of Italy and France all his life. Every dance was named after the lady it was devoted to. At the end of his life Caroso compiled his dances into a book of collection “Noble Ladies” (“Nobiltà di Dame”) and published it with the supplement of description of costumes and pas.
Brothers Hans and Melchior Neusidler are the most famous German lutenists; they composed preambles, chaconnes and various dances. Hans Neusidler is the author of the tabulators (the system of recording sounds for lute). In Germany lute music is represented by works of such great composers as J. S. Bach, H. F. Handel, J. Haydn and others.
In the 16th century France secular instrumental music developed mostly as the court one. The best oboists, lutenists and clavecine musicians performed at the royal court. One of the famous French lutenists Jean-Antoine de Baïf (1532–1589) was a composer, poet, playwright and the founder of Parisian “Academy of Poetry and Music”.
In the 17th century the French lutenists Gaultier by name became famous. Among Denis Gaultier’s (about 1603–1672) works there are many court dances with embellishments characteristic of old music.
The song “As long as I am alive” was one of the most favourite songs of those times. The light graceful melody combined with the frivolous to some extent verse is a typical canzone of Renaissance known in various interpretations.
English folk music of the times of Elizabeth I is represented by “Greensleeves” and the popular dance “Galliard”. English lute school of the 16-17th centuries had prestige in Europe. The name of the outstanding lutenist John Dowland (1563–1626) is well known. He was Queen Elizabeth’s lutenist and composed music for Shakespeare’s plays. His creative work is deeply rooted in the folk music of the British Islands. On the other hand, he develops the national musical traditions formed in England.
Lutenists from Poland, Hungary, Czechia and other European countries left great heritage. These works are waiting for their turn to be deciphered and to be performed by musicians who would revive the beautiful samples of old music for present day listeners.