Thoughts on the Lute

I was born with twin passions for classical and popular music. By the time I first took up the lute, I had already worked both as a classical guitarist and a rock musician. It seemed impossible to reconcile these two musical lives I was leading. But I found that with the lute and its music my love for classical and popular music were finally joined together.

On the classical side, the first thing to strike a listener is the poetry of the lute's sound. Its tone is shaped by subtle shadings of the fingertips, creating a wide palette of tone colors. The moods and emotions of the music are expressed through direct contact between fingers and strings.

I have always seen the lute as a spiritual instrument: one that can take its listeners into a finer, more delicate and beautiful world. Indeed, sixteenth century listeners seem to have had the same thought. The greatest Renaissance masters of the lute were credited with having semi-divine powers to move the souls of their listeners. The legendary Francesco da Milano is described in an old account as lifting his listeners into a "divine frenzy," then gently returning their earthly senses once again.

I was also drawn to the lute by its magnificent repertory. Unknown to most people, the lute has one of the largest and most richly varied repertories of any classical instrument.It includes thousands and thousands of compositions extending from about 1500 until 1790 - not only lute solos, but also songs for lute and voice, duets for lute and flute, chamber music for lute and a variety of other instruments (such as viol, recorder, flute, cittern, bandora, violin and cello), concertos for lute and orchestra, and music for two, three and even four lutes to play together.

The lute's music also has a strong popular and folk element. It seems that the popular music of each century has much in common: strong rhythms, uncomplicated melodies, a refreshing directness of expression and the opportunity for on-the-spot improvisation. The lute was often used to accompany dancing. Some of the lute's most rhythmically compelling music originated as dance music.

In the lute repertory, there is no strong dividing line between classical, popular and folk music. Particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these happily existed side by side, often blending popular and classical elements together in the same piece. For me, the lute has it all. With my love for popular, folk and classical styles, the lute has music to fulfill all these tastes. I have attempted, through my recordings, to convey a broad range of these styles. For popular music - both gently lyrical and rhythmically earthy, there is Between Two Hearts. For sublime music in a classical vein, there is A Distant Shore and The Lute Music of John Dowland. For lute music with a strong folk tradition there is The Scottish Lute and Highland King. And for a variety of all these styles, there is The Renaissance Lute.