Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lute Fantasias

In my last post on guitar repertoire, I mentioned some earlier periods where the lute flourished, but I forgot to mention one of the greatest of these: the lute music of Elizabethan England. Let me rectify that. The greatest lute composer was probably John Dowland (1563 - 1626) who in addition to his superb music for solo lute, wrote an extraordinary series of books of songs for voice and lute. Some of these songs were enormous 'hits' at the time like "Flow My Tears":

Or "I Saw My Lady Weep":

But he also wrote some extraordinary solos for lute--some in dance forms like "The Frog Galliard":

But his finest lute music is probably his fantasias:

They combine strict vocal counterpoint with florid figuration in the later sections and are masterpieces of instrumental music. Here is another on a descending chromatic theme:

Allowing for the differences in style, Dowland at times reminds me very much of J. S. Bach. Here is my favorite fantasia:

But Dowland wasn't the only one writing great lute fantasias. There was also the Hungarian Valentin Bakfark. Here is a sample:

Formidable and almost completely unknown...


Anonymous said...

Andreas Scholl, the voice of an angel! Ah, if only Gardiner could have locked him up and forced him to sing all the countertenor parts in his Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. No one else even compares...

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, what an amazing sound! But I think the finest early music singer I have heard is Nigel Rogers. I attended a recital he gave once of 17th century music. He was the one who revived those elaborate vocal ornaments. He had to do seven encores!