With a certain approximation, it can be said that the lute is one of the “universals” of music. Certainly, it took a number of different forms and shapes depending on history and geography; yet, instruments whose structure is akin to it are found in virtually all cultures, and at times bear witness to the fundamental importance of this instrument for almost all musical contexts.
In Western Europe, it had one of the highpoints of its glory in the Renaissance. Unquestionably, given the elusive and fleeting nature of music, it is impossible to establish concretely how much, how commonly, and “how” it was played at the time.
Still, in this case we are fortunate, because what music in se loses by waning into an ultimately inexpressible manner, is at least partly recovered through visual arts and treatises. The extent to which the lute embodied the musical soul of the Renaissance and early Baroque era is abundantly witnessed by its pervasive and continuing presence in numerous paintings of the era. Doubtlessly, this is also due to the beauty of its physical shape, which blends magnificently with the harmonious portrayals of the human figure in the Renaissance. Its shape was also invested with a plurality of symbolic meanings, frequently becoming an icon for femininity thanks to its curved lines and elegant silhouette.
Curiously, however, an instrument which was so very common at the time is also very difficult to play. Normally, the more immediate the pleasure an instrument affords, the more widespread it becomes. However, we must correct what has been said above by fine-tuning it. The lute was one of the most common instruments only within a certain social-cultural milieu. Certainly, plucked-string instruments were found at all levels of musicianship, as it constantly happens throughout the musical cultures in history. But the lute proper was an instrument for the upper classes. The wealth of their members afforded them two benefits. On the one hand, they had plenty of leisure time – in certain cases, virtually all of their time was “free”. This allowed them to spend hours upon hours learning the complex art of lute playing. The only thing which distinguished them from music professionals, in certain cases, was that music professionals had to play in order to earn a living, whilst the aristocracy was not paid for playing.
On the other hand, the aristocrats and wealthy could employ salaried musicians to play for them, and also to teach them lute technique and interpretation. Their manors and castles were havens where the arts found generous patrons, very willing to depart from large sums of money in the pursuit of beauty, but also of social acceptance and recognition. (Interestingly, in the Renaissance art and music were a status symbol comparable to today’s yachts; and we owe to this recognition the presence of countless masterpieces of Renaissance art and music).
These aristocrats and wealthy had a lifestyle which virtually all members of the lower social classes would have profoundly envied. Yet, either sincerely – if it is true that money does not give happiness – or affectedly, they delighted in fashioning themselves as melancholic, oppressed by a grief not unlike that expressed by Mona Lisa’s smile. Not the intense pain of despair, or the tortured anguish of the soul; rather, the bittersweet expression of detachment from worldly affairs, of wise contemplation, and of an attitude towards love seen as a Platonic feeling, severed from the power of the passions.
These themes and subjects were also those found in contemporaneous vocal music, and in the poetry inspiring it in the form of lyrics set to music. They derived from Petrarchism, i.e. the Renaissance revival of subjects and manners found in Petrarch’s Canzoniere, where the pangs of love are ubiquitous, but they are so transfigured by beauty that nothing fleshy seems to remain between the lines of their texts.
And it was precisely from vocal music that the lute used to derive a substantial component of its repertoire. Being a polyphonic instrument – i.e. one on which multiple melodies could be played at a time, intertwining with each other in a beautiful fashion – the lute afforded the possibility for a single, individual player, to enjoy the intricacies of vocal counterpoint.
At times, however, this might be really very complex, particularly in the case of a high number of parts. And this applied both to transcriptions after vocal works, and to original pieces inspired by the forms, genres, and styles of vocal music. In that case, the possibility of sharing the difficulty and the pleasure of playing the lute with others was more than an excellent compromise – it was indeed a refined pleasure to be pursued for its own sake. Playing as a lute duet was a fundamental resource through which lute teachers and virtuoso lutenists could teach their noble pupils (or also those commoners who wanted to embark in the musical profession), and, at the same time, enjoy the complexity of musically rewarding works without all the labour and toil of playing them alone.
The works recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album, therefore, are something akin to a time capsule allowing us to glimpse what gave musical pleasure to the musical, economic, and cultural elites of the Renaissance. These pieces were written by composers with diverse provenances and styles, and some of them are best known for other aspects of their output. Still, what virtually all of them have in common is the fact that all were excellent lutenists. And this is hardly surprising, since the lute (at the risk of oversimplifying it) was to the sixteenth century what the piano would be for the nineteenth century. (And it is unsurprising, under this viewpoint, that the repertoire for four-hand piano duet can be interpreted through the same lens we just discussed with respect to the lute duet).
Rather typically, Thomas Robinson was the private music tutor of the Danish royalty, teaching Princess Anne and Queen Sophie’s teacher. Robinson had gotten there after having served the Cecil family of British noblemen, who also sponsored William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. Robinson’s pedagogical interest is also found in his The Schoole of Musicke, a treatise published in London in 1603, and which enjoyed enormous success to the chagrin of its competitors. It was his second publication (the first has been lost) and would be followed, six years later, by a new collection called New Citharean Lessons. The Schoole of Musicke provides information of the performance of a variety of instruments, including, besides the lute, the bandora, orpharion, viol, and singing too. Here we find several pieces written for two lutes, and possibly intended for pedagogical purposes in the broadest meaning of the term. The book includes 38 original works by Robinson along with some arrangements after popular songs; six pieces are duets, half of them based upon a ground. The book is prefaced by a witty and informative dialogue between a Knight who wants his children to be musically educated, and their teacher Timotheus; their conversation focuses on the costs and benefits of studying music, and the lute in particular.
Also Francesco da Milano had at one point an important job as the lute tutor of a noble youth. In this case, the nobility was that of the Roman curia; Francesco was given this role by Pope Paul III and taught the Pontiff’s nephew, Ottavio Farnese. Francesco da Milano was considered as the greatest lutenist of the era, and possibly of all times. He performed for the most important sovereigns, particularly when he followed his employer, the Pope, to Nice where the great of the world were discussing important international affairs. His works were printed in a number of European countries, and his worth was so unanimously acknowledged that he used to be called il divino as a homage to his exceptional talent and proficiency. Francesco introduced many French chansons into Italy. From these models (and particularly from those by Josquin) he derived novel perspectives on the composition of instrumental music. His surviving oeuvre comprises approximately a hundred ricercars and fantasias, 30 intabulations and other works. Francesco’s historical merit is to have favoured the transition from an improvisatory style to one bound to writing, shaped on the refinements of contemporaneous vocal music.
By way of contrasts, the focus of Joan Ambrosio Dalza’s surviving output is rather on dance. His aim seems to be that of creating delight and pleasure in music-making, by avoiding the most extreme difficulties of contrapuntal playing, and favouring instead the immediacy of dance movements. They are normally joined in threes, beginning with a pavane followed by a saltarello and piva.
Other composers were in turn attached to courts. Among them we can cite John Johnson, who worked for Queen Elisabeth, and whose music mirrors Italianate elements. Another example is that of John Dowland, the extraordinary lutenist who would have wished to be in her employ in turn, but failed to obtain the Queen’s favour and settled in Denmark (before obtaining the benevolence of King James I). Or we may cite Orlando di Lasso, who wandered from one court to another (his extreme skill as a composer for the voice was mirrored by his ability as a lute player). In other cases, the composer’s inside knowledge of courtly milieus and his frequent journeys as part of their employers’ display suggest the possibility that these musicians had a second life as spies. This is rather normally accepted as concerns Alfonso Ferrabosco I, who seemingly moonlighted as a secret service agent.
Ferrabosco belonged in a family of musicians, but so did Giovanni Antonio Terzi and Vincenzo Galilei. In Terzi’s case, the Augustinian father who recommended him affirmed that “his special profession is music, through which he was held in high esteem both in Italy and abroad”. He is remembered for his love for instrumental music: “With his voice he reproduced the harmony of heaven, but with his lute the voice of the angels”. Terzi introduced many substantial innovations in the playing techniques and repertoire, and their complexity is witnessed by his publications where his own virtuosity is abundantly demonstrated. Another important family was that of the Galilei, whose best-known member is doubtlessly Galileo. However, his father Vincenzo was one of the finest musicians and thinkers of the era and probably encouraged his son in the pursuit of his historical experiments.
Together, these works allow the full palette of the techniques, moods, genres, and styles of Renaissance lute music to emerge, but possibly empowered and potentiated by the presence of two instruments in dialogue with each other. If a good thing lived in loneliness remains a good thing, one shared with somebody else becomes exceptional.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
graduated in classical guitar at the 'O. Respighi' Conservatorium in Latina. He then dedicated himself to the Renaissance and Baroque lute, the theorbo and the Baroque guitar. He studied with Maestro Andrea Damiani at the S. Cecilia Conservatorium in Rome and graduated with top marks. He then attended the FIMA summer courses of early music in Urbino (with Maestro Paul O'Dette) and participated in Masterclasses held by lutenists Hopkinson Smith, Rolf Lislevand and Joachim Held.
In 2012 he won, as a soloist, the first prize ex aequo at the 2nd International Early Music Competition 'Maurizio Pratola', held at the A. Casella Conservatorium in L'Aquila.
He performs concerts in Italy and abroad, as a soloist and as a continuo player with theorbo and archlute, and participates in several record productions, recording for the Bongiovanni, Brilliant and Da Vinci labels.
In particular, we would like to mention the valuable CD recording dedicated to Lelio Colista's unpublished sonatas, made with the Ensemble Giardino di Delizie for Brilliant.
For the Italian Lute Society, he gave a lecture at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Rome on embellishments in Italian and English lute music.
He then participated, as a continuist, in some productions of the Cappella Musicale di San Petronio in Bologna, while with the ensemble Festina Lente he took part in 'I Concerti del Quirinale', live on Radio3 and Rai Radio Classica.
He has been teaching guitar and music theory for many years.
Passionate about the ancient repertoire Francesco Tomasi decided, at the age of 13, to devote himself to the lute, studying with Marco Pesci and Andrea Damiani, finishing his studies brilliantly at the Conservatory of music "Santa Cecilia" in Rome in 2009. In 2012 he finished the lute Master specializing in baroque guitar and theorbo with Rolf Lislevand in the “MusikHochschule” in Trossingen. He has attended international masterclasses held by Paul O'Dette, Jakob Lindberg and Nigel North. He has an intense concert career thanks to the various collaborations with ensembles as ”I Barocchisti” directed by Diego Fasolis, “I cameristi de La scala”, directed by Giulio Prandi, "Concerto Romano" directed by Alessandro Quarta, "Arte musica" directed by Francesco Cera, "L'Estravagante" and “Enea baroque orchestra” directed by Stefano Montanari, "Pera ensemble", "Soqquadro Italiano", "Abchordis" ensemble, "Musicantiqua Latina". In 2010 he joined the Baroque Orchestra of the European Union (EUBO), playing in many European countries. He had the fortune and the honour of being able to play in many of the most famous concert halls in Europe: Konzerthaus and Musikverein, in Wien (Austria), Casa da Musica in Porto (Portugal), Herkuleszaal in Monaco (Germany),”Opera de Lausanne”, Lausanne (Switzerland), Auditorium “Santa Cecilia” in Rome, “La Fenice” Theatre, “Arena di Verona” (Italy), Kharkov Opera House and Kiev Philharmony (Ukraine) . He recorded cd's for "Brilliant Classics", "Deutsche Harmonia Mundi", "Christophorus". He constantly improves his practice, studying and working as continuist, especially in the accompaniment of renowned and emerging singers and instrumentalists, as well as solo performer, with lute, theorbo and Spanish guitar. With his group "Ricercare Antico" he recently start a project of monographs on several baroque composers, focusing particularly on roman baroque music .
(b Bologna, bap. 18 Jan 1543; d Bologna, 12 Aug 1588). Italian composer, eldest son of (1) Domenico Maria Ferrabosco. He served Queen Elizabeth I as a courtier between 1562 and 1578, and for musicians in post-Reformation England he came to personify the more serious side of Italian musical art.
Francesco da Milano
(b ?Monza, 18 Aug 1497; d 2 Jan 1543). Italian composer and lutenist. He was a member of a family of musicians, including his father, Benedetto (d before 1 Sept 1555) and his elder brother Bernardino (d after 1562). The date of his birth is given in three horoscopes, the earliest in a marginal note by Girolamo Aleandro (dated 1525), the others published by Girolamo Cardano (Libelli duo … item Geniturae LXVII. insignes casibus et fortuna, Nuremberg, 1543) and Luca Gaurico (Tractatus astrologicus, Venice, 1552). Gaurico also wrote that Francesco was taught by Giovanni Angelo Testagrossa, though this cannot be confirmed; if it is true, the instruction must have occurred in Milan between about 1505 and 1510. Francesco spent most of his career in the orbit of the papal court. The earliest indication of his presence in Rome is a listing as ‘Franciscus mediolanensis’ or ‘de Millan’ among the ‘esquires’ in the roll of the papal household prepared in May 1514. He and his father were among the private musicians of Pope Leo X between October 1516 and December 1518, succeeded by Francesco alone until March 1521. In a letter of 14 March 1524 the Ferrarese ambassador to Rome mentioned Francesco's participation in a banquet attended by, among others, Baldessare Castiglione and Paolo Giovio. In the same year there is a record of a ‘Barbero che sona di liuto con Francesco’; it is not clear whether a North-African Berber or a barber (like the 15th-century lutenist Pietrobono) was meant.
Giovanni Antonio Terzi
(fl Bergamo, c1580–1600). Italian lutenist and composer. Terzi’s output comprises two large collections of lute music published in Venice by Amadino in 1593 (dedicated to Bartolomeo Fino) and Vincenti in 1599 (dedicated to Sillano Licino). Both collections contain compositions in a wide variety of genres including fantasias, French, Italian and German dances, and intabulations of motets, madrigals, chansons and ensemble music. The second book also contains transcriptions of ‘canzonette a 3, 4, & 5 voci, con le sue parole’, with texts printed beneath the tablature. Terzi’s arrangements of motets and madrigals closely resemble the intabulations of Vincenzo Galilei (Fronimo, Florence, 1584) in reproducing all the voices of the vocal original. Many of these intabulations are technically demanding, with thick textures and the clever use of chord formations in high positions that include the stopped seventh course. Terzi also arranged madrigals and chansons by Palestrina, Striggio, Ingegneri, Lassus and Willaert as duets for two lutes, pitched either at the unison or a fourth apart; the first lute part contains a literal intabulation of the madrigal and can be played on its own, while the second lute part (‘contrapunto’) proceeds in a florid improvisatory style. Some of the second lute parts are labelled as suitable for performance ‘in concerto’, perhaps meaning that this part could also be used in a performance of the vocal original. Terzi appended a similar designation to his arrangement of Striggio’s Chi farà fede for bass lute, made ‘in the style of the viola bastarda’ (division viol) and displaying an idiomatic arpeggiation of chords. Among the intabulations of instrumental music are 11 four-voice canzonas by Florentio Maschera (Brescia, 1584) and three canzonas by Claudio Merulo arranged as duets. The 1599 book closes with a canzona in double choir style scored for four lutes, using two pairs of instruments tuned a fourth apart.
Joan Ambrosio Dalza
(b ?Milan; fl 1508). Italian lutenist and composer. He was the composer and arranger of Petrucci’s Intabolatura de lauto libro quarto (Venice, 1508), in the preface of which he is called ‘milanese’. Dalza's book was the fourth of Petrucci's series of lute tablatures and is one of the precious few surviving sources of Italian lute music from the crucial period leading up to the first printed works by Francesco da Milano in 1536. Whereas intabulations of Franco-Flemish music had dominated Petrucci's earlier lutebooks by Spinacino and Giovan Maria, Dalza's book favoured dance forms and presented mostly original music that was almost entirely instrumental in conception. Moreover, Dalza's music differs from Spinacino's by its deliberately accessible style, the author justifying his choice of ‘simple’ pieces on the grounds of popular demand and promising to publish pieces for more advanced players at a later date. There are 42 dances (three for two lutes), nine ricercares, five tastar de corde, four intabulations of vocal pieces, and a piece called Caldibi castigliano (see BrownI). All pieces except the ricercares and intabulations are edited in Die Tabulatur, vi–viii (Hofheim am Taunus, 1967). The book is significant for being the first to contain the pavana and for giving useful information about the grouping and linking of pieces. Following the explanation of tablature notation that appears in all Petrucci’s lutebooks, there is a note that each of the nine pavane (five alla venetiana, four alla ferrarese) has its own saltarello and piva. The grouped dances share a common modality as well as harmonic and melodic characteristics. Further grouping occurs in the free-form pieces; all but one of the tastar de corde are followed by a ‘recercar dietro’, which in turn can be associated with the dances, while the calata spagnola on f.48v concludes with a short ‘recercar detto coda’. The Spanish influence evident in Caldibi castigliano and the calate ala spagnola may reflect the cultivation of the vihuela in early 16th-century Italy.
John Dowland (b ?London, 1563; bur. London, 20 Feb 1626). English composer and lutenist. He was one of the finest players of his time, and while his music was soon superseded in England, it had a profound influence on the Continent, where he spent much of his career. He is now recognized as the greatest English composer of lute music and lute songs.
English lutenist and composer, father of robert Johnson (ii). He was appointed ‘one of the musicians for the three lutes at 20 li[vres] a year’ to Queen Elizabeth in 1579. He may have been the ‘Jonsonum’ included in John Case’s Apologia musices (Oxford, 1588) in the list of great English musicians of the time (p.44). Ballads published in 1588 were to be sung to two of Johnson’s most admired pieces, The Medley and the Flat pavan, proving that these pieces had been in circulation long enough for the poet to assume that the ballad-singing public was acquainted with them. Johnson’s ability as a musician was appreciated at court, as is shown by the 50-year lease granted in reversion in 1595 ‘to Alice, widow of John Johnson, one of the Queens musicians for the lute’ of Cranborne Manor in Dorset and of lands in Cornwall, Lincoln, Staffordshire, Wiltshire and Flint ‘in consideration of her husband’s services’.
Johnson’s compositions are widely disseminated in both English and continental sources. The popularity of his music is reflected in the many rearrangements of his works by contemporaries and near contemporaries. Indeed it is often difficult to distinguish between Johnson’s own work and that of other composers. Even his contemporaries sometimes mistook his music for someone else’s; witness the ascription of A pavane to delight to ‘Ed. Jhonson’ in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, to ‘Richard Jhonson’ in one of the Walsingham partbooks and to ‘Jhon Johnsonne’ in other sources. Johnson’s style is an amalgam of native and foreign (especially Italian) elements. His works show the English taste for cross-relations, surprising harmonic and tonal relationships and, above all, variation. Indeed, without exception, all his compositions include some form of variation procedure and often more than one kind at a time; variation techniques range from an entire piece being based on a single motif, to the varied reprise, to discanting on English and Italian grounds, to variations of popular tunes such as Walsingham and Carman’s Whistle. He is now best known, especially among lutenists, for his treble variations of grounds and duets for equal lutes. The latter combine the tripartite dance with varied reprise and role exchange, each lutenist performing the secondo part against the other’s primo, a novel procedure at this time. 18 trebles to grounds are ascribed to Johnson, most if not all dating from the late 1570s and early 1580s. They belong to an old-fashioned kind of music that is far removed in spirit and style from his pavans and galliards which are much more complex and are technically more demanding.
English composer or composers. A ‘John Marchant’ was admitted Gentleman in Ordinary of the Chapel Royal on 14 April 1593, but is not mentioned in chapel records thereafter. A letter endorsed 8 December 1611 from William Frost to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, states that ‘Mr Marchant is latelie deceased who taught the princes [Elizabeth] to play uppon the virginalles’.
(fl 1589–1609). English lutenist, cittern player, composer and teacher. From the dedication to James I in his Schoole of Musicke (1603) we know that he was ‘once thought (in Denmarke at Elsanure) the fittest to instruct your Majesties Queene’. This must have been before Anne's marriage to James in 1589. In the dedication of his second publication, New Citharen Lessons (1609), to Sir William Cecil, he made it clear that both he and his father enjoyed the patronage of several members of the Cecil family. He wrote that he was ‘sometime servant’ to Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter, and that his father had been ‘true and obedient servant’ to ‘your Lord and Grandfather’, William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Robinson was one of 12 lutenists who played in the Merchant Taylors' banquet given in honour of James I on 16 July 1607.
Robinson's importance lies in the clear exposition of his lute method set forth in The Schoole of Musicke. Before its publication it is likely that lute technique in England had, for some time, been based mainly on J. Alford's translation (A Briefe and Easye Instru[c]tion, 1568) of Adrian Le Roy's method (now lost), published in Paris in 1567. Robinson's method shows some important differences from Le Roy's, chiefly in his treatment of right-hand technique. He advocated the use of the thumb more consistently in passages on the lower courses where, according to earlier instruction books, alternating thumb and first finger would have been used; his use of the third finger in some passages of single notes on upper courses was a complete innovation. He explained with care the graces to be used in playing his music and included sections on playing the viol and on singing. He also indicated left-hand fingering for five pieces.
One other work of Robinson's, Medulla Musicke, was entered in the registers of the Stationers' Company in 1603, but no copy is now known. The full title of the work indicated that it contained his intabulations and arrangements for voices of the ‘40tie severall waies’ by Byrd and Ferrabosco on Miserere (see Wayes). Robinson's music is fresh, charming and often witty; some is of outstanding quality.
(b S Maria a Monte, Tuscany, probably in the late 1520s; d Florence, bur. 2 July 1591). Italian theorist, composer, lutenist, singer and teacher. He was the leader of the movement to revive through monody the ancient Greek ideal of the union of music and poetry.