Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

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Jason

Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Jason » Tue Jul 21, 2015 9:06 am

I am trying to repeat the popular topic about acquiring a lute for beginners. I have been playing classical guitar for about 10 years and now become increasingly interested in trying out lute. The Bach lute suites fantasizes me the most but I am still greedy about playing Dowland, too.

Having read over discussions, advices from luthiers and lutenists institutions, it appears to me that it would nearly be a default for beginners to start with a 6- or 7-course Renaissance lute as they would be appropriate for Dowland pieces. However, they have often remarked that there would be nothing wrong to start with a Baroque lute if the Baroque suites attracted you the most. But I do get an impression that Baroque lutes are not meant for beginners. Some even mentioned that not to think of playing Dowland pieces on a lute with 10 or more courses, and these two kinds of lutes seem to be largely "incompatible" with each other. Is it just going to be a lot easier to start with a Renaissance lute? Comments appreciated. :D

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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Stephen Kenyon » Tue Jul 21, 2015 10:16 am

A renaissance lute is likely to be less of a culture shock, because it has fewer strings, generally, plus the tuning is closer to what you are used to. The baroque lute is typically tuned in a D minor tuning (with some variants!) and as far as I'm aware you can't play both renaissance and baroque repertoire on the same lute.
I certainly wouldn't go ahead and buy a baroque lute without trying one first. In fact I wouldn't buy a ren lute without trying one first either; you may simply find you don't get on with it - the string spacing, neck width, number of, double, courses (unless a 6 course ren lute), hard to hold body, can be quite a shock. Quite apart from whether or not to use nails.
Another alternative, in case you have not considered it, is an alt-guitar type guitar, as developed by Bolin.
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Michael.N. » Tue Jul 21, 2015 11:10 am

Well, you aren't a beginner. Only a beginner on the lute. The baroque lute usually has a string length of near 70 cm's. That sounds awfully long compared to a Classical Guitar. It is if you were playing some of the crazy stretches found on some Classical guitar pieces. Thankfully baroque lute tends to be a bit easier on the left hand. In fact many lutenists think that the baroque lute is easier to play than it's renaissance counterpart.
7 or 8 course lutes can be found relatively cheap, around $1,000. I don't know of any equivalent with the baroque lute, they are made by individual luthiers and therefore are going to cost. The other alternative is to look for a used instrument, that is a way of minimising financial loses if you find that you don't take to the instrument.
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Scot Tremblay » Tue Jul 21, 2015 2:16 pm

Jason wrote:....The Bach lute suites fantasizes me the most but I am still greedy about playing Dowland, too.

Having read over discussions, advices from luthiers and lutenists institutions, it appears to me that it would nearly be a default for beginners to start with a 6- or 7-course Renaissance lute as they would be appropriate for Dowland pieces. However, they have often remarked that there would be nothing wrong to start with a Baroque lute if the Baroque suites attracted you the most. But I do get an impression that Baroque lutes are not meant for beginners. Some even mentioned that not to think of playing Dowland pieces on a lute with 10 or more courses, and these two kinds of lutes seem to be largely "incompatible" with each other. Is it just going to be a lot easier to start with a Renaissance lute? Comments appreciated. :D


The Bach lute suites don't really work any better on the Baroque lute than they do on guitar except one can play the full range of notes. So they wouldn't be my first motivating factor in getting a Baroque lute. However, there is a huge repertoire for the instrument, written by lute players, which is well worth getting one for.

There are two main configurations of the baroque lute, 11 course and 13 course. The 11 is often considered a bit of a transitional instrument which covers much of the French and some of the German (Early Weiss etc) with the 13 course considered the culmination of the instrument...not quite, there were other configurations but this is an acceptable generalization.

The 6 -7 course lute does cover the majority of the Renaissance repertoire, including much of Dowland. However, Dowland did write for up to 10 courses, as did many others and there is great late renaissance/Early baroque Italian repertoire which requires a 10+ course instrument. It's a bit of a purists myth that the earlier repertoire of Da Milano through Dowland cannot be played on 10 course lutes. It is a similar myth to the guitarist one that states, don't even think about playing the 19th century repertoire or renaissance lute music on a modern guitar. You can play what ever you like on what ever you like as long as the understanding is that the experience is not what the original player and listeners would have had.

As a side note on lute tunings, the Italians didn't adopt the D minor tuning during the Baroque period but maintained the renaissance tuning and extended the range by adding more bass strings.

The main issue with switching from guitar to lute, especially Baroque lute, is that the task of dealing with a larger number of strings/courses can be formidable. This seems to be why the recommendation from most lutenists is to start with a 6 or 7 course, maybe an 8, move on to 10 and then transition to the Baroque tunings with the 11 or 13 course. By the time you get the 13 course Baroque lute you have a fine stable of instruments with which to cover the entire repertoire. :twisted:
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby pogmoor » Tue Jul 21, 2015 2:23 pm

Stephen Kenyon wrote:...as far as I'm aware you can't play both renaissance and baroque repertoire on the same lute.

That's not entirely true. Have a look at Jakob Lindberg's site http://www.musicamano.com. He has a 1590 lute made by a luthier called Sixtus Rauwolf and painstakingly restored by 3 experts (a story in itself). As he says, this would originally have been a 7 or 8-course lute but it was later "updated" into an 11-course lute. Lindberg now plays it either as an 11-course baroque lute or as a 10-course renaissance lute. I have heard him play it both ways and it works very well but the catch, of course, is that he has to completely restring the instrument to go from one to the other. This completely rules out using it for both renaissance and baroque music in the same concert programme.

This illustrates a problem with lutes in that they developed considerably over the course of time. Dowland's earlier pieces were created for a six course lute and his later work for a 7-course lute. However if you want to play later renaissance composers (eg Robert Johnson) you will need a 9 or 10-course renaissance lute. A 10-course instrument (in different tuning) would do for many baroque lute works, but once you get to Weiss you are better off with 12 or 13 courses. I'm not sure about Bach; his 'lute' works were probably not written for the lute but I think modern lutenists who play Bach can get by with a 10-course instrument.

[PS I see Scot Tremblay was writing at the same time I was and covering much the same ground!]
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Polifemo de Oro » Tue Jul 21, 2015 2:48 pm

The Bach lute suites don't really work any better on the Baroque lute than they do on guitar except one can play the full range of notes. So they wouldn't be my first motivating factor in getting a Baroque lute. However, there is a huge repertoire for the instrument, written by lute players, which is well worth getting one for.


+1

Achieving the proper physical coordinates, while playing Bach, on a Baroque lute is the same mess as it is on guitar. However, there is all of the absolutely splendid Weiss that will delight you with how idiomatically it falls on the Baroque lute! Have fun! :mrgreen:
Last edited by Polifemo de Oro on Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Tonyyyyy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:04 pm

Jason wrote:I am trying to repeat the popular topic about acquiring a lute for beginners


Where are you, Jason? In the UK there is the lute society which rents out very playable lutes by the month - a good way of trying it out.

In a way, the more strings, the easier it is for the left hand....... but for some time the RH thumb spends a lot of time getting lost :?

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Lamonteaj » Tue Jul 21, 2015 3:35 pm

Jason wrote:I have been playing classical guitar for about 10 years and now become increasingly interested in trying out lute. The Bach lute suites fantasizes me the most but I am still greedy about playing Dowland,


Hi Jason,
I share the same interest as you. I recently reserved a 11 course baroque lute to be built by Paolo Busato for next summer 2016. His price range is around $2000 for a new baroque lute. baroque music is one of my favorite eras in music and much of the repertoire is very fascinating. Also, having the access to read directly from many well preserved manuscripts with the decorative writings of lute tablature makes it a very unique musical experience. I enjoy Bach too, but as mentioned earlier, Weiss is an exceptional composer. For an 11 course lute, it is possible to play his compositions up until about 1720, which is when the 13th course was adopted. There are also many great french lute composers which span a good amount of repertoire. No to mention, you can still make your own arrangements on the baroque lute just as you would on the guitar with Bach and many other composers! Good luck

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby AndreiKrylov » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:02 pm

Very interesting question! In this case I decided that Renaissance Lute is more suitable for me. I play mostly 7 string guitar anyway, therefore it is almost no difference for my hands movements and thinking . Sometimes though I add more strings (basses) , but maintain similar tuning. Baroque Lute seems like lot more different instrument for me, therefore if I change from guitar to lute then I need time to adjust and then the same again when to adjust back. I love both periods of music and play a lot of it, but my main purpose is to compose music for both instruments and as far as Lute I am completely satisfied with Renaissance one.
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Stephen Kenyon » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:23 pm

pogmoor wrote:
Stephen Kenyon wrote:...as far as I'm aware you can't play both renaissance and baroque repertoire on the same lute.

That's not entirely true. Have a look at Jakob Lindberg's site http://www.musicamano.com. He has a 1590 lute made by a luthier called Sixtus Rauwolf and painstakingly restored by 3 experts (a story in itself). ....l but the catch, of course, is that he has to completely restring the instrument to go from one to the other...
...

Indeed, I was being insufficiently clear in that the tuning is what would need to change (except as mentioned, for Italian baroque) aside from the number of strings.

Everyone I know who has experimented with guitars with more than 6 strings has found it quite a hurdle - one unconsciously comes to associate the string nearest one's nose as being the 6th. I even had a hard time taking one away and coming to think of it as A, for the baroque guitar.

Tangent; How much Italian baroque repertoire is there? I remember reviewing a fine composer a while back, but forget the name!
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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Emil Krasich » Tue Jul 21, 2015 4:36 pm

I'm a former lutenist and have played both an 8 course Renaissance lute and a 13 course baroque lute (Burkholtzer by John Rollins). One thing to consider is that achieving good tone with nails on a lute is really not possible in my experience. Nails cause the course to not be sounded in unison and to be brash and banjo-like. I definitely had to focus on lute for several months then regrow my nails for guitar when I switched back to it.

Nothing wrong at all with starting baroque lute and in my opinion it is a very fun instrument on account of the different tuning and arpeggiation that feels very natural. I just really suggest spending the first week learning to tune it effectively. You get REALLY good at using your thumb and learning to dampen strings and bass notes to quiet sympathethic vibrations or notes that will conflict with other harmonies. Lots of Renaissance music you can just tune down your third sting on you guitar, put a capo on, play more tasto, and have at it. I've also found baroque lutes to be more forgiving on pressure when "plucking" a course where as some Renaissance lutes can be unforgiveably twangy. The lute requires a far softer touch than guitar with both hands (tied on frets can easily shift on you and notes bend out of tune if you are not super light with the fretting hand!).

Really it comes down to which repertoire you love playing more. I'd definitely pick the one you love more as your first lute...
Last edited by Emil Krasich on Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Tonyyyyy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:09 pm

AndreiKrylov wrote:... Baroque Lute seems like lot more different instrument for me, therefore if I change from guitar to lute then I need time to adjust and then the same again when to adjust back. .

Yes the tuning for baroque lute is totally different- 6 courses in D minor open tuning, and the rest a descending scale. Very beautiful effect, and it is surprisingly easy to improvise a little with no knowledge.

Of course with tablature one could be like a robot and just play without knowing what the notes are, but I do like to know. Just playing a short scale and naming the notes is still a bit of a challenge for me as i have been neglecting my practice!

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby mc1 » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:13 pm

pogmoor wrote:...This completely rules out using it for both renaissance and baroque music in the same concert programme.
...


maybe even in the same month. :lol:

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Tonyyyyy » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:14 pm

Emilio_K wrote:.....I'm a former lutenist and have played both an 8 course Renaissance lute and a 13 course baroque lute (Burkholtzer by John Rollins). One thing to consider is that achieving good tone with nails on a lute is really not possible in my experience. Nails cause the course to not be sounded in unison and to be brash and banjo-like....


Definitely true of Ren lute. I find my particular Baroque lute to be rather more forgiving of nails

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Re: Baroque Lute or Renaissance Lute?

Postby Emil Krasich » Tue Jul 21, 2015 5:26 pm

Tonyyyyy wrote:Definitely true of Ren lute. I find my particular Baroque lute to be rather more forgiving of nails


Agreed, nails were more tolerable sounding on the baroque lute, but you miss out on the gorgeous tone you can get and of course the courses are not sounded in unison. Also, another issue is that lutes strings are so close to the soundboard. Nails scratching the top are then a pretty common occurrence.


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