Monday, March 15, 2010

Lautenschlagen du edle Kunst

I've just been listening to Paul O'Dette's lovely CD of solo lute music by Melchior Newsidler.

Newsidler's Teutsch Lautenbuch (Strassburg, 1574) is an ambitious book. It's written in German tablature, an unintuitive system of notation that makes even lutenists shudder. Most of the content is arrangements for solo lute of polyphonic vocal music: nine big motets by Josquin, Willaert, Verdelot and others, various chansons, madrigals, and German songs. There's also a set of German dances, and several passemezzos and fantasias.

In his foreword, Newsidler explains why he published two books in Italian tablature some years before [in 1566]. Firstly, because he hoped by this means to make the music most accessible to art-lovers in Germany and elsewhere; also, since he wanted to make his music available in countries to which German lute tablature hadn’t spread, and to counter the reputation that the Germans had only coarse, peasant, and drunken music (“ein grobe, Pewrische und Bachantische Musicam”). But then he learned that some people thought this displayed a contempt for his dear Fatherland; so he wanted to shake off this accusation, and to address the remaining portion of lute-lovers. Hence this Teutsch Lautenbuch.

Amazingly, Benedictus de Drusina in 1573 published a version of Newsidler's first two books transcribed into German tablature; maybe it’s this that prompted the Teutsch Lautenbuch the following year.

The Teutsch Lautenbuch contains some fairly early examples of music for seven-course lute. Newsidler explains the need for the seventh course, and why he prefers it to be tuned to F (on a G instrument), rather than the more logical D.

Although it doesn't sound so in O'Dette's hands, the music is pretty difficult. Newsidler's advice? If you find these pieces difficult, he says, study the simpler ones first – there are some – then the others will become easier.

There's a most impressive portait of Newsidler at the front of the book, together with a rather endearing motto:

Lautenschlagen du edle Kunst /
Erfröwest s Herz und machest gunst /

Lute playing, you noble art
You gladden the heart and create goodwill

p.s. Like Shakespeare, Newsidler's name appears in various spellings. He's Newsidler in the German book; Neysidler in the Italian ones (misspelt as Neysdler on the title page); and Neusidler on the CD. His more famous father, Hans, favoured the Newsidler spelling in his various books.

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