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Lute Solos

The group of pieces by German Baroque composers for the lute, Kellner, Weiss, Straube, Bach, all stem from a circumscribed period - the 1740's. Listening to a cross-section in time, we can compare generations of successive art works. The smaller-scale music of Kellner is played on a smaller 11-course lute; the music of Weiss is written in a more Roccoco style, on played on a later, larger flat-backed lute 13-course. The thickly -textured keyboard style of Bach calls for an extended-neck lute, also used for the music by Leipzig contemporary lutenist Adam Falckenhagen. This large instrument adapts well to playing in the most serious music imaginable, as well as the lightest.

The theorbo is an instrument which is rarely heard, though it has regained favour as a bass instrument in period opera and chamber music. Its distinctive gut-string richness and its lack of "treble" strings, comes uniquely alive in recording. In Les Sylvains, De Visée adapted a famous rondeau by F. Couperin, a low-pitched gigue which depicts the sylphs dancing in the forest.

Dowland's pieces show the Renaissance lute's versatility. In many of his lute pieces he adopted the principle of elaboration of simple material. The slow moving style of the ayre is alternated with rapidly articulated and complex groupings of notes.


There are three of these musical monuments, intended as commemoration and lamentation pieces, a long tradition among players of the lute and keyboards. The Froberger Lamento for Ferdinand III, is a slow Allemande ending with three F's. Ennemonde Gaultier's Tombeau for Mezangeau has striking pauses mixed with passionate outcries, ending with the ringing top note of the lute. My own Tombeau for Glenn Gould puts a traditional lute form in the remote key of F sharp minor against the fragments of Bach's Goldberg Aria played on the harpsichord. The two tonalities clash, then meld, then leave, unresolved.

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