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The Golden Age of the Lute in Bohemia

F10057     [8595017405723]
TT = 70:26     released 7/1995

Rudolf Měřinský
Renaissance lute (1-7,23-27), 10 choirs, Jiří Čepelák 1993 (after M. Tieffebrucker, Venezia 1604)Baroque lute (8-14,19-22,28-38), 13 choirs, Jiří Čepelák 1994 (after J.Ch. Hoffman, Leipzig 1716)
theorbo (15-18), 16 choirs, Jiří Čepelák 1993 (after M. Sellas, Venezia 1637)

  1. Intrada   1:40
  2. Courante Gothier   1:39
  3. Volta Tambourina   2:08
  4. Ballet   2:35
  5. Galliarde   2:13
  6. Courante della Gothier   2:14
  7. Passamezo   2:12

    anonymous / Suite G minor (c.1670)
  8. Prelude   0:52
  9. Allemande   2:46
  10. Courante   1:29
  11. [Gavotte]   1:56
  12. Boureé   0:55
  13. Sarabande   3:07
  14. Gigue en Angloise   1:08

    Pietro Paolo Melli (1620)
  15. Capricio detto il Capricioso   4:50
  16. Gagliarda detta la Generosa   1:18
  17. Gagliarda detta la Traurich   1:38
  18. Corrente detta la Retrosa   1:03

    anonymous (c.1700)
  19. Rigodon (St.Luc)   1:28
  20. Menuet   0:56
  21. Rigodon C.Q. (Comte Questenberg)   1:19
  22. Courante Carillon (Losy)   1:41

    anonymous (1623)
  23. Courante Lepin   1:40
  24. Toccata   2:17
  25. Courante   1:49
  26. Ballet Lepin   1:24
  27. Courante Lepin   1:39

    anonymous (c.1700)
  28. Menuet   0:58
  29. Sarabande e Double   2:05
  30. Menuet   1:14
  31. Rondeau   1:38
  32. Passapié   1:17

    anonymous / Suite D minor (c.1700)
  33. Allemande   4:13
  34. Menuet   1:05
  35. Courante   2:18
  36. Sarabande   2:51
  37. Menuette   1:27
  38. Guigue   1:05

    The titles have been taken from the original manuscripts.


The lute is the most well-known instrument in this country, for in every household, wherever you go in the three royal towns, there are so many lutes that it could be said that they would be enough to cover the roofs of many great palaces ...
(Key to the treasures of the great art of music, Prague 1701, p.283) 

     These words were written at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the organist of the Týn church in Prague , author of a popular musical encyclopedia of the day, Tomas Balthasar Janovka. Although there is no doubt that there is some poetic exaggeration in his account, it is a fact that this musical instrument, the lute, was a great favourite in Bohemia throughout the 17th century, attested by the great number of tablatures for the lute and similar instruments which have survived in Bohemia to this day, as well as by the archives.
     The great majority of the pieces recorded here have come from Czech archives and libraries. They were composed during the years of the "Golden Age" of the lute - from 1620 to 1700. The earliest works come from a manuscript of 1623-27, preserved in the National Museum of Prague. From the "ex libris" it seems to have belonged to a little-known gentleman, Joannes Aegidius Berner de Retenwert in Lampoting. The manuscript seems to have come to Bohemia , in some way, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Over two hundred pages present works for the lute by Italian, French, Polish and English composers. They are written in the Italian and French tablatures, and are an exceptionally valuable guide to music for the lute, as played at the height of the Renaissance and in early Baroque times. The composers represented in this collection are already of the generation who were no longer bound to the vocal model, and could compose as instrumentalists. The works are written in the Renaissance tablature, and this recording is performed on the Renaissance lute. None of the works of the Italian lutenist and composer Pietro Paolo Melli have survived in Bohemia , although his life was closely bound up with the region. From 1612 Melli was the court musician of the emperor Matyas, and on the latter's death passed into the service of his successor Ferdinand II. Serving these monarchs he certainly visited Bohemia often, and the third volume of his works for the lute (1616) proves this with its pieces dedicated to Czech noble ladies. His as yet unpublished correspondences confirms this. The pieces recorded here come from his fifth book of intavolaturas (1620), published in Venice by Alessandro Vincenti. It is dedicated to the emperor Ferdinand II, and is intended for the theorbo.
     In seventeenth century France the lute underwent a dynamic development, becoming the most popular instrument; even the king was taken by the fashion. Around 1630 French lutenists developed a new style of playing and composing, introducing tuning in thirds and fourths and the new "style brise", which made use of the specific tonal qualities of the instrument. Not least, French lutenists established specific instrumental genres which were for the most part cleverly stylized dances. By the middle of the seventeenth century this French style ruled all over Europe , and the Gaultier and Gallot family tradition conquered music-loving society and many aristocratic courts as well.
     Among the greatest admirers of the new French style of lute playing was the Czech Lobkowitz family, spread throughout Europe . Thanks to their interest in the instrument, one of the most extensive and interesting private collections of French lute music was collected at their seat in Roudnice in Bohemia . The Lobkowitz family was not just passive consumers; several of the family were lutenists themselves, in close personal contact with players, composers and lute-makers. Unfortunate decisions during the fifties scattered the Lobkowitz tablatures to various places, but the material is valuable not only for the number of compositions preserved, but also because the individual works and the suites are unique in the European material. This album presents a selection from two manuscripts in this collection. The lute solos which are recorded here represent a very individual repertoire, one which was performed in an intimate setting, for a select audience. Although these are short pieces, they played a decisive role in forming the musical taste of the period. In the early eighteenth century instruments of the lute family became somewhat clumsy, and lost favour to the faster keyboard instruments and the technically simpler, more folksy guitar. Listeners today appreciate the specific timbre of the lute, the opportunities it offers for ornamental performance, and the special type of repertoire. And they will perhaps understand why the lute, in its day, was "the royal instrument".
     The guitar ruled for more than two hundred years, but in the early fifties the lute began to find its way back on to the concert platform; slowly and cautiously at first, as guitar players used the lute to add variety to their programmes. From the seventies onwards, however, a growing number of musicians began to devote themselves to the instrument professionally. In Bohemia and Moravia , too, the tradition of lute playing is being revived, thanks among others to the Prague musician RUDOLF MERINSKY (1960) you hear in this recording. He has been studying the lute for over ten years, privately, under such teachers as Nigel North, Jacob Lindberg, Anthony Rooley and Hopkinson Smith, and in such specialized courses as the Summer School in Innsbruck and that in Dartington , England . His repertoire is taken mainly from Renaissance and Baroque music; he performs as a soloist, in small ensembles and is much in demand for thorough continuo parts. He has made several successful recordings: Lute songs of 16th and 17th century Europe (1991), with Jana Lewitova; a very well-received recording of Sephardic songs (1993) with the same singer, in a five-member ensemble (both by ARTA Records); an anthology entitled Musica temporis Rudolphi II (1994) with the Capella rudolphina.
     Rudolf Merinsky is an active researcher of musical archives, principally for his concert repertoire. He is also a teacher, as the younger generation of lutenists will testify.

Petr Daněk


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