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The Lute Calendar


To the Reader


The Idea of The Lute Calendar

The enormous amount of music for the renaissance lute is well documented in bibliographies by Ernst Pohlmann (Laute Theorbe Chittarone), Howard Mayer Brown (Instrumental Music Printed Before 1600) and Wolfgang Boetticher (RISM B VII). Thanks to publishing houses like Boethius Press, Minkoff Reprint, Silver Sound and Lyre Music, many of these sources are available as facsimiles and/or in modern editions. For the lute student, however, this is the point where the question arises: What pieces are suited for me to start off with and which one will I play the next? And when a piece has been found, there still are questions concerning fingering, especially for the left hand. Of course, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher, you can ask him. But we are not always that lucky. This need for a pedagogical collection — with the most beautiful and well known lute works side by side with less known but equally charming compositions — where the pieces become gradually more difficult, inspired the idea of The Lute Calendar.


This You should know

Although The Lute Calendar can be used as a lute manual if you have a teacher at your side, I recommend you to start your studies with working through a standard lute method. There you will learn the basics of position, sound production, tablature and tuning and go through many exercises, very worthwhile for your technique, but of no use when "the request of honest friends to shew thy cunning" (Besard/Dowland, 1610) comes up.


About "making easie"

The biggest effort was to play through thousands of pieces — very fascinating, like a journey without end — and to select what to use and what to leave. At this stage the decision also fell what to leave out in very beautiful compositions that many lute players want to play, but where some passages are too hard for non-professionals. Thus for example in "Woods so Wild" some variations are left out and in "Lacryme" the diminished repeats are passed over.

The next step was to bring all the chosen pieces into a music notation program. Pieces originally written in German or Italian tablature were now transcribed into French tablature and at the same time many corrections of faulty notes and corrupted rhythmic symbols in the originals were made.

The third step was to print out all the pieces and sort them into different levels of playing difficulty, with these wise words ringing in my ears: "but I had rather an easier Lesson were set them at first, which is not intricate by reason of many Gripes or stops (as you call them) and in displaying whereof one shall not neede to lay his fingers crosse the necke of the Lute. And this I would have used untill the hand be a little brought in use. And in this Lesson I would not have many or divers changes of the Time: for I have knowne by experience that this hath been more hard to many then all the rest." (Besard/Dowland, 1610).

The fourth step was to add left hand fingerings in tricky passages and to thin out uncomfortable chords, usually by taking away doubled notes.


What is Missing and Why

Ornaments: "You should have some rules for the sweet relishes and shakes if they could be expressed here, as they are on the Lute: but seeing they cannot by speach or writing be expressed, thou wert best to imitate some cunning player, or get them by thine owne practise, onely take heed, least in making too many shakes thou hinder the perfection of the Notes ..." (Besard/Dowland, 1610). In some sources you can find a lot of ornaments and in some none at all. I have chosen to leave them out because for me ornaments are something personal and should be added when you feel in the mood to do so, like an improvisation. However, as a starting point you can find information and examples in my "New Method for the Renaissance Lute"

Holding lines: I have added holding lines only at the very beginning of The Lute Calendar. Although this is very important for performing lute music well — "because nothing is more sweete, then when those parts (the mothers of Harmonie) are rightly combined, which cannot be if the fingers be sodainely taken from the strings: for that voyce perisheth sodainely, when the stopping thereof is ended ..." (Besard/Dowland, 1610) — I have not added them later in this collection. The reason is this: the rule is very simple — "Generally take this for a Rule, the fingers must not be taken from the strings, without it be necessary: yet take heed whilst you play Diminutions, that one Note give place to another, and be not held with the Note following." (Besard/Dowland, 1610) — and you should listen to the voices that you are playing and so, by holding down the fingers, make the polyphony audible. And if you're "running short of fingers" take this for a rule: "take away that finger for the most part stops the Treble: for it were better that Note perish then a Base." (Besard/Dowland, 1610).

Right hand fingering: Here also the rules are very simple and instead of "over-killing" the pieces with dots for the index finger I will give you a short example of the striking rules and also show the change in playing technique that took place around 1600. "These things being well observed, know that the two first fingers may be used in Diminutions very well insteed of the Thombe and the fore-finger, if they be placed with some Bases, so that the middle finger be in place of the Thombe, ... But if with the said Diminutions there be not set Bases which are to be stopped, I will not counsell you to use the two first fingers, but rather the Thombe and the fore-finger ..." (Besard/Dowland, 1610).

(Here follows a musical example.)


How to use The Lute Calendar

I'm sure that every one of you will find his or hers personal creative company with The Lute Calendar, "For a man may come to the same place diuers wayes;" (Besard/Dowland, 1610) perhaps as the daily starting point for your lute studies, perhaps as a source for your next recital, or just a good place to easily learn to know a lot of pleasant music composed in different styles and periods. However, if you are a beginner or just in your first year of studying the lute, you should avoid going too fast and jumping from piece to piece.

"Chuse one Lesson thy selfe according to thy capacitie, which give not over by looking over others, and do not onely beginne it by going through it to the end at first sight, but examine each part of it diligently, and stay upon any one point so long (though thou play it over a thousand times) till thou get it in some sort. The like you shall doe in all parts of the said Song, till you shall finde your selfe prettily seene in it." (Besard/Dowland, 1610).

" ... Especially if you be a beginner be not too hastie in handling the Lute, for I dare promise you faithfully and without deceit, that nothing is more fit to second this businesse then patience in the beginning: for nothing can be gotten in an instant, and you must not thinke to play your lessons presently at first sight, for that is impossible. Wherefore take no other care but onely to strike all the Griffes and Notes that are in the middle betwixt them well and plainely, though slowly: for within a while, whether you will or not, you will get a habit of swiftnesse. Neither can you get that cleere expressing of Notes, unlesse you doe use your selfe to that in the beginning: which cleane delivery every man that favours Musicke, doth farre preferre before all the swiftnesse and unreasonable noyse that can be." (Besard/Dowland, 1610). "

"... for in older times they strove (onelie) to have a quick hand upon the Lute, to runne hurrie hurrie, keeping a Catt in the gutter upon the ground, now true then false, now up now downe, with such painfull play, mocking, mowing, gripeing, grinning, sighing, supping, heaving, shouldring, labouring, and sweating, like car Iades, without any skill in the world, or rule, or reason to play a lesson, or finger the Lute, or guide the bodie, or know any thing, that belongeth, either to skill or reason." (Robinson, 1603).

"For true Art maketh hard things easie, labour maketh hard things perfect, or (to speak more truely) ready." (Robinson, 1603).

" ... remember alwaies to keepe your hands cleane, and your nailes short, and also earely and late to practise ... " (Robinson, 1603).



Stefan Olof Lundgren
München, 2005


My best thanks to Margaret Hiley and Stewart McCoy for their advices concerning my english.

Sources: Robert Dowland: "Varietie of Lute Lessons", London 1610. Thomas Robinson: "The Schoole of Musicke", London 1603.


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