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Lute Songs in 16th and 17th century Europe
Jana Lewitová, Rudolf Měřinský

Loutnové písně 

F10017  [8595017401725]   released 8/1991, remaster reissue 2005

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Jana Lewitová - mezzosoprano
Rudolf Měřinský - Renaissance & Baroque lutes, archlute, alto

We shall probably never know when it was that a human voice first joined a musical instrument in song. ___ Classical antiquity was familiar with the combination, and though we may feel that the divine Apollo with his golden lyre is not convincing evidence, the poets who accompanied their lyrics with a lyre or kithara in Olympic contests are historically attested. The biblical David with his harp, singing to allay the wrath of King Saul, became the symbol of the human and the divine principles in art. From time immemorial the human voice, a gift from above – from God, Nature or the Fates – accompanied by a musical instrument devised by man (perhaps to feel himself closer to the Creator), has given expression to the inexpressible – the very essence of music. ___ In the early Renaissance, the most popular instrument chosen to accompany the human voice was the lute. Brought from the Arab world by the Crusaders, by this time it was technically and acoustically so advanced that it put the harp and contemporary keyboard instruments quite in the shade. The lute existed in several sizes, gradually the main types were established – the lute, the archlute, the chitarrone and the theorbo. ___ Renaissance man thought the lute could express his most intimate feelings, which perhaps explains the vast number of pieces for the instrument which have come down to us – for solo lute and lute ensembles, in all styles from the Renaissance to late Baroque. Musicians throughout Europe wrote music for the lute – in the 18th century Balthazar Janovka wrote of Prague that there were enough lutes in the city to roof all the houses! Each nation developed its own style, as individual as the national character. Their differences were most pronounced in songs with lute accompaniment. Language gives expression to national individuality, and set to music, words offer infinite stylistic variety. ___ Drawing on the wealth of 16th and 17th century music for voice and lute, this recording presents only three of these characteristic national styles. The earliest is that of Spain in the first half of the 16th century, despite its remarkably high standard, this music is as yet little known. The “villancicos“ for several voices were based on old folk songs (“villano“ in Spanish was a peasant). These songs, immensely popular with all levels of Spanish society during the Renaissance, have been preserved in the “Concionero de Palacio“, the Palace Song Book, along with courtly songs by aristocratic composers, to words by famous poets. Most of the songs are written in tablature for the “vihuela da mano“, a Spanish instrument shaped like the modern quitar, but tuned like the lute. ___ The next group of songs comes from Italy, written in the Mannerist or early Baroque style. Italian songs, unlike those from Spain, were well know throughout Europe, many of them are included in the unique collections of the Prague University Library. They tell us what aristocratic society in Prague was listening to and performing in the years before the Thirty Years War. ___ The Renaissance Elizabethans, followed by the great Baroque composer Henry Purcell, present the finest moments in the history of English music. ___ During both these periods, although influenced and inspired by the Italian vocal style, this music was so thoroughly English in its introvert melancholy that it would be hard to find a more eloquent example of the closely woven strands of different cultural traditions in the fabric of European music. ___ A lute solo from the manuscript collection of the Prague lutenist Aureo Dix serves as an example of Baroque music for the lute, composed in Bohemia.

Daniel Špička

Another recordings by Jana Lewitová:

Solo album by Rudolf Měřinský:

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