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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2009 The parable of lute
The parable of lute PDF Print E-mail

di Sandro Boccardi

«Among all musical instruments, the lute is extremely popular and dignified; there does not exist, intelligent or mediocre, anyone committed to music who does not know this instrument, both for its soave melody and for its musical perfection… …». This is the passionate eulogy that Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1639), popular lute player and composer from Bologna, wrote on a margin of a collection of his works. This happens during the central years of the Seventeenth century, a moment of extreme splendour for lute music…
To arrive to Weiss and Bach a century must still pass. The parable of lute is very long indeed. As long as the history of viola da gamba, very similar and with some early repertoire in common... From the Arabian prototype –
al oud means wood, instrument made up of wood, therefore the lute – to the “conquer” of the following countries between the XIIIth and the XVth century in Europe: Iberic peninsula, Italy (cited in Boccaccio’s Decamerone), France, Germany, Great Britain; from the vortex of popularity touched during the Renaissance (how many lute playing angels in the paintings of Foppa, Melozzo, Gaudenzio Ferrari, Caravaggio..) to the slow but inevitable decadence in 1700: yes, precisely after Bach and Weiss. But, attention please: for the viola da gamba the swan’s chant will be sung in Versailles by Marin Marais, for the lute it will be the extraordinary figure of Sylvius Leopold Weiss to crown it with laurel, giving it the last splendid tribute.
Born in Breslau (today called Wroc
law, in Poland) in 1686 (an year after Bach), Weiss begins in 1708 his service at the court of Count Carlo Filippo of Palatinato and begins composing an impressive opera omnia for lute that shall reach the number of 237 manuscripts for soloist lute; only 26 of these compositions are conserved in London and in Dresden. In general, making a quick sum of the single scores, there are about one thousand pieces: the biggest musical corpus ever written for the lute, without adding the pages for lute and other instruments, missing from the catalogue because definitively lost. A trip with Polish prince Alexander Sobieski brings Weiss in Italy where he meets Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti… In 1717 he is in Dresden at the court of Sassoon, appreciated and well paid, and he meets Bach several times.
What do these two Masters have in common? Where are the differences among Weiss’ and Bach’s style? Probably they had a different view of the reality in which they lived. The musician from Leipzig, with his equally monumental production, looked at his present through the lenses of his past; the musician from Dresden saw his present as fragment of his future. Speaking instead about musical form, the suite or the partita, or the sonata intended as a series of scores, generally six, written in the same tonality, are common to both composers. Suite and partita flaunt a series of dances in French style. In the first composition of the programme, titled L'infedele (The unfaithful) – the title is in Italian – the last piece is in evidence and alludes to a village dance. I could say that this is an example of Weiss’ general aspirations: it includes the desire of testing picturesque, gallant, Rococo tones; in general the news promised by the future.
Bach’s compositions for lute instead are not part of a homogeneous collection, but are suites or single scores coming from different periods. None of these scores have been written originally for lute. They are transcriptions or arrangements of music written at first for other instruments; in certain cases made by Bach as
Prélude, Fuga and Allegro in E flat major BWV 998, also written for the harpsichord. Bach often writes music to be played by more than one instrument.
The Sonata in G minor (modern transcription from the First Sonata for violin solo BWV 1001) in its original version requires a virtuoso performer, that must confront himself with unusual technical problems – in the Fugue for example, both if playing on the violin and on the lute. «Not without fatigue we shall arrive at the end», says Girolamo Frescobaldi at the beginning of 1600 warning the organist and the harpsichord player. The instrument is different but the message remains the same, and the goal is always beauty.