I actually purchased this disc in order to make a comparison of the styles and trends that were emerging in Renaissance Italy with those of the English lutenists. These styles and trends would have been key influences on the likes of John Johnson: Lute Music and Dowland - The First Booke of Songes, whose works have become so precious to me. Indeed, it is the distinct variance of these pieces from the English style that is most immediately striking, despite the obvious structural similarities imposed by the instrumental medium itself. In this sunny Mediterranean music there is a freedom of line and an openness to exotic modes, that make it more warm-blooded than its more angular and formalistic Northern counterpart.
This is music from a time when the laws of harmony and counterpoint, which have since come to be definitive of the glories of Western music, were still being invented by the sheer inspiration and intelligence of its most talented practitioners. What laws there were, were transmitted by a vibrant oral tradition and in the music itself. The commercial publication of lute music for the delectation of amateur players was still a matter for entrepeneurs, made possible by a still evolving tablature notation. Music at this level was considered `Art', in that the most gifted musicians were sought out and valued by the most wealthy, and although it drew on the music of the street it was not the music of the street. Its patrons were desirous of forms of musical expression that reflected the values of refinement, which now included a progressive intellectual component, and above all a boldness of innovation that was intrinsic to the atmosphere of the Renaissance. But this music was not yet art in the ponderous and weighty senses that it would assume over the coming centuries. It was art in the sense of being more than entertainment, was intended to be listened to for its own sake and not just an adjunct to other activities, and to be an aid to the leisured listener's enjoyment of his own subjectivity. But this art is not yet bound up with notions of glory or infinitude, which at this time was the sole preserve of the sacred music of the church. It is sublime in only the most surface of senses.
One hears so many echoes in this music. One fancies oneself to be sampling styles and idioms that have their sources from all around the Mediterranean basin, and stretching back to historical eras that include, alongside the inevitable influences of Medieval Europe, Moorish North Africa, Byzantium and the East, and harking right back even to Rome itself. One hears music of the utmost artistic sophistication alongside that of sweetly naïve simplicity, bought together in a spirit of artlessness, in an age where art as we understand it was still being invented. One can imagine some of the counterpoint in these works recast for a modern string orchestra, and the result would sound entirely familiar, but with a zest and optimism that is so seldom found emulated in our own anxious day. Yet juxtaposed with this we might hear sections that are little more than a drone with a single foreground line of brilliant improvisation. So reminding us that music of this form, jamming music basically, is to be found in all times and places where instruments are sufficiently developed to allow musicians the delight of excelling themselves and each other. We also hear how the repetition of a snatch or phrase that is particularly pleasing has not yet been made a temptation to be avoided by the self-consciously earnest artist. Thus we hear fragments of what were obviously popular songs, emerging from the fabric with unashamed frequency, and again we are reminded that the popular songs of today, particularly of the more romantic ilk, are not so very different from these distant ancestors.
If I had a hundred lifetimes then for sure, one of them would be spent in an obsessive quest to absorb all the music I could track down of these marvellous times, and to formulate an understanding of the historical and social contexts in which such pieces flourished. Venice still remains on my list of places yet to see before I die. If and when I go, it will be with these beautiful pieces in my mind and on my iPod.
I discovered this CD quite by accident. I had been listening to two solo albums by Jan Akkerman, at one time the guitarist in Focus. Amid all the rock and jazz-rock tunes, it was clear that his solo lute recordings were much the best aspects of the two CDs. I resolved to buy a John Dowland CD, and this album also came up in the search. This has quickly become the favourite of my lute CDs. The others feature singing -- usually by a counter-tenor -- and while that is pleasant enough, it places the music firmly in another time. Without the singing, we can place this album almost anywhere we want: ambient, rock, classical, music to work to. There's a nostalgic quality to several of the pieces here: they are so close to musical scales that they distantly remind me, as a child of the 1960s, of the themes to 'Camberwick Green' and 'Trumpton'. This is music that it is impossible to dislike. Until we see the advent of 'The Only Lute Album You'll Ever Need', this has to be the main contender for that title. But please also look up 'John Dowland -- In Darkness Let Me Dwell' on ECM.
I would definitely recommend this recording of lute music; if you enjoy early music then add this disc to your collection. The period of lute music represented here involved the plucking of strings rather than lutenists using a plectrum. The result is finely nuanced tone and versatile interpretation.
This collection of unaccompanied lute pieces is ideal for using as background music or to unwind. The soothing yet stimulating voice of the lute never jars yet there is great variation in tempo. The main composer featured is Joan Dalza although little is known about any of the contributors apart from Capirola. As the pieces flow on it is impossible not to start to relax and go with the music. This CD is a bargain and is well-worth adding to your collection
Exciting and peaceful at the same time - is this supposed to be possible. I make lutes and this transforms my workshop from a workplace to a slice of heaven. Well delivered and satisfyingly devoid of gratuitous decoration.
The most peaceful, lovely, music and a rewarding accompaniment as background but, more specially, to be played as an entire pleasure in itself with no distractions. The lute is so seldom played and heard, a sad neglect.
Although a fan of early music in general, I tend to find the sound of lute especially comforting, so if you're after calming music, you'll appreciate these lovely, gently uplifting tunes. I only wish Naxos had produced a double CD for a similarly budget-friendly price.