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8.578183 - DELICATE DELIGHTS - Best Loved Classical Mandolin and Lute Music

Delicate Delights
Best loved classical mandolin and lute music


The mandolin and the lute are both plucked chordophones, stringed instruments of great antiquity. Each is distinctive in its characteristic shape, the body having a flat soundboard and a vaulted symmetrical shell as the main components.

The name ‘mandolin’ refers to an instrument which historically has been known by various names in different countries (such as the German mandore, the French mandoline, the Italian mandolino, the Spanish bandolin, etc.). In terms of tuning, following evolution over centuries, the mandolin settled on four courses (i.e. four sets of two strings, the ‘courses’ being tuned in pairs), the instrument becoming known as the ‘Neapolitan’ mandolin. It is tuned to the same pitch and intervals as the violin and ultimately players favoured steel strings always played with a plectrum.

Though for many, the contemporary mandolin represents images of romanticism and the light music of Mediterranean cafes, the instrument can claim a distinguished heritage with many great composers adding to its repertoire. Mozart, for example, used the mandolin for the accompaniment of the serenade in Don Giovanni (1787), Beethoven wrote some pieces for it with piano accompaniment, while Verdi included it in Otello (1887). Mahler featured the instrument in his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies and Das Lied von der Erde, while Schoenberg gave the mandolin a significant part in his Serenade and Stravinsky brought it into Agon.

The mandolin has become popular worldwide in the realm of folk music from Eire to the US (where it is played in blue grass, country, and other styles) and from South America to Japan, as well as throughout Europe.

Whereas the mandolin is still an instrument in active use in many present day musical settings, the European lute has come to be regarded as a historical instrument whose general popularity expired in the late 18th century. The lute’s origins extend far back into antiquity being of Arabic origin under its name of oud or d, an instrument which in contemporary Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Armenian, and Azerbaijani culture is still a principal musical element. The d is believed to have evolved to become a five course instrument in the 8th–9th century, and this still remains the customary stringing among today’s leading performers. As an instrument without frets it is ideal for the microtonal nature of Middle Eastern music.

The European or western lute has passed through various evolutions since the instrument was introduced by the Moors and the Crusaders into Europe during medieval times. At first it was played with a plectrum, favouring a melodic style. But during the second half of the 15th century players began to pluck with the fingertips of the right hand which encouraged the creation of a contrapuntal approach to its music.

In the 16th century, the development of the printing press enabled lute music (written in tablature) and instruction books to be published. The early printed books stemmed from various countries including France, Italy, Germany and England, most of them catering for the six course lute. The highest art of the Elizabethan lute in England was the music of John Dowland (1563–1626) and his contemporaries in publications which became popular throughout European courts.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, further courses were added to the lute’s basses and by the time of J.S. Bach the instrument had become a formidable array of complex stringing and tunings, some critics complaining that the Baroque lute cost more to keep than a horse and practitioners spent most of their life tuning. Despite this, much superb music was produced, the pinnacle being the lute works of Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686–1750) and J.S. Bach.

The advent of the harpsichord, and the existence of the lute-harpsichord (a keyboard instrument strung with gut which sounded like a lute), steadily displaced the lute as the most popular means of music making. In the early 20th century the lute became the subject of great research and pioneers such as Arnold Dolmetsch (1858–1940) built lutes and searched for the compositions of the past to perform. The coming of virtuoso lute players such as Julian Bream, Nigel North, Paul O’Dette, Lutz Kirchhof, Hopkinson Smith, Christopher Wilson, etc., revived the glories of both the Elizabethan lute and the Baroque lute and made Early Music enjoyable and relevant worldwide.

 1  J.S. Bach: Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971 ‘Italian Concerto’ – I. Allegro

The Italian Concerto was published as part of the second volume of Bach’s Clavierübung in 1735. Bach had previously arranged a number of Italian orchestral concertos by Vivaldi and others for keyboard though this remains his only original concerto for solo keyboard. The Italian Concerto is in three movements and in this work Bach simulates orchestral playing divided between the tutti (full orchestra) and the solo instrument performing with the orchestra.

 2  Vivaldi: Mandolin Concerto in C major, RV 425 – I. Allegro

Antonio Vivaldi, composer, violinist and priest, born in Venice, was the most influential Italian composer of his generation. His music was neglected for many decades after his death but rediscovered in the 20th century and works such as The Four Seasons now rank worldwide among the most frequently performed and recorded Baroque music.

Vivaldi’s prolific output comprised over 500 concertos. Furthermore Vivaldi contributed a huge quantity of vocal music with Masses, psalms, motets, solo cantatas, and over 20 operas. Mandolin Concerto in C major is brimming over with vitality and melodic inventiveness while allowing the mandolinist scope for expressiveness and virtuosity.

 3  Hoffmann: Mandolin Sonata in D minor – III. Allegro

Little is known of Hoffmann’s life, except that he resided in Vienna, and his various compositions were entirely for mandolin combined with other instruments in various ensemble figurations from duets to concertos.

In this final movement of the Sonata in D minor the mandolin is accompanied by the archlute. Beginning with a straightforward statement of the theme, the piece evolves as a showcase for the mandolinist’s instrumental brilliance.

 4  Beethoven: Mandolin Sonatina in C major, WoO 44

Beethoven wrote his handful of pieces for mandolin and keyboard on his tour of Prague and Berlin in 1796. They may have been intended for his Viennese friend Wenzel Krumpholz (1750–1817), an eminent mandolinist who often performed for Beethoven.

The Sonatina in C major, WoO 44 reveals a jocular aspect of the great Beethoven with light interplay between mandolin and harpsichord and an abundance of vivacious melodic lines rich in gentle wit.

 5  J.S. Bach: Lute Suite in G minor, BWV 995 – III. Courante

In April 1723, following the death of Johann Kuhnau (1660–1722), Kantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, Bach was appointed as his successor. During this time, Bach is believed to have been in contact with two esteemed lute players, Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687–1750) and Johann Kropffgans (1708–c. 1770).

Of all Bach’s compositions only seven works (BWV 995–1000 and 1006a) are listed as being for lute. Out of these it is not certain that each composition was intended for the lute. What is known is that three works (BWV 995, 997, and 1000) are extant in 18th-century tablature copies.

The Suite in G minor, BWV 995 is an arrangement of Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011. On the autograph copy (at the Bibliotheque royal de Belgique, Brussels) is the heading Pièces pour la Luth à Monsieur Schouster par J.S. Bach, while inside are the words Suite pour la Luth par J.S. Bach.

The third movement, Courante, is in the French style with strong statements and its own lively dotted rhythms.

 6  Albéniz: Suite española No. 1, Op. 47 – No. 5. Asturias

Isaac Albeniz, born in Camprodon in northern Spain, spent much of his childhood in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Yet, though Catalan by birth, his celebration of the great cities of Andalusia remains a perennial evocation of Iberian Romanticism. Albeniz composed mainly for piano, writing nothing directly for the guitar, but ever since Tarrega first transcribed some of his pieces, Albeniz’s music has remained at the very heart of the guitar repertoire.

In his autobiography Andres Segovia relates how around 1918 ‘I was retranscribing Leyenda by Albeniz…’ Under the title of Asturias (Leyenda) this is acknowledged as one of the most idiomatic of all the various guitar arrangements of Albeniz's piano music.

In ternary form, it begins as an arpeggiated episode with percussive flamenco-like chords. This is contrasted against a more subdued middle section evoking both the singer and the dance. After the full reprise of the first section, a short nostalgic coda echoes into silence.

The transcription here presents a sweet blend of mandolin and guitar sonorities providing some pleasant surprises within the context of one of Albeniz’s best loved evocations of Spain.

 7  Febonio: Water Ballads, Op. 47 – II. Sprite

Tom Febonio, born in Salem, Massachusetts, began his musical career at the age of 16 playing electric bass in a rock band. Following this phase he began to compose. His works are mostly tonal and structured along Classical or Romantic lines.

The composer commented: ‘The Water Ballads were written in the winter of 2009 and are dedicated to Birgit and Daniel. I did not intend a suite or a programme when I began composing, but about midway through the process I realised that the work was taking its own course, which I then followed to conclusion.’

 8  Hoffmann: Mandolin Concerto in D major – III. Rondo

The delicate voice of the mandolin is contrasted here against the larger forces of an orchestra. The mandolin begins with a solo entry before the orchestra intervenes and Hoffman continues to balance the fine shriller voice of the plucked instrument with the supporting power of sonorous bowed strings.

 9  Weiss: Lute Sonata No. 14 in G minor – VI. Chaconne

Silvius Leopold Weiss, born in Breslau, capital of Silesia, (now Wrocław, Poland), is acknowledged as the greatest Baroque lutenist of his epoch. Taught by his father, he studied the lute from an early age and eventually entered the service of aristocrats in Germany and Italy as a court musician. In 1718 he was appointed to the Dresden court where he joined the famous orchestra of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Weiss remained in this post until his death in 1750.

Weiss composed over 600 pieces for solo lute organised into suites or Sonaten. Weiss was also a renowned teacher, and among his pupils were the youthful Frederick the Great as well as the renowned lutenists Adam Falckenhagen and Johann Kropfgans.

Weiss a close colleague of Johann Sebastian Bach and J.F. Reichardt (1805) documents a meeting of the two great musicians: ‘Anyone who knows the difficulty on the lute of harmonic twists and counterpoint must be amazed, even incredulous, when those who were present and heard with their own ears assure us that the great Dresden lutenist Weiss competed in improvisation and elaborated fugue themes with Sebastian Bach, who was also a great master of the keyboard and the organ.’

This Chaconne, the last movement of Lute Sonata No. 14 in G minor, is performed by mandolin and Baroque lute, with fresh tonal colours entirely appropriate to the music.

 10  Vivaldi: Concerto for 2 Mandolins in G major, RV 532 – II. Andante

The French musicologist and Vivaldi scholar Marc Pincherle observed that the composer ‘was the first to bring the pathos of the most impassioned Venetian opera arias into the slow movement, which became the culminating point of the concerto. Henceforth the adagio was to be less a structural abstraction than a great lyrical outpouring: in it the soloist gives himself up to his own feeling with a force that the orchestra is no longer able to restrain’.

This beautifully inspired Andante exemplifies Vivaldi’s lyrical gift and his supreme ability to express poignant emotion within the concerto form.

 11  J.S. Bach: Lute Partita in E major, BWV 1006a – III. Gavotte en Rondeau

The Partita in E major, BWV 1006a has been regarded as one of the most technically challenging of the lute works. The instrumentation of the autograph copy, now in Tokyo, is not explicitly stated. Wolfgang Schmieder, author of the Bach catalogue, the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV), even wondered if it was intended for harp, though it could be for keyboard, Baroque lute or even lute-harpsichord.

In the Staatsbibliothek Berlin-Dahlem are two 18th-century copies and an autograph copy in a violin version. Bach twice orchestrated the Prelude as part of Cantatas, BWV 120a and BWV 29. In the 18th century, composers were accustomed to making arrangements of specific pieces for a wide range of instruments. For that reason it is not surprising that this suite is appropriate for the expressive qualities of the lute.

The Gavotte en Rondeau, presents straightforward dance rhythms and strong melodic lines.

 12  Fasch: Lute Concerto in D minor (arr. R. Chiesa) – I. (Allegretto moderato)

Johann Friedrich Fasch, German composer Kapellmeister, is acknowledged as one of the most significant contemporaries of Bach. He began his musical studies as a boy soprano and later studied at the University of Leipzig. In 1711 the Duke Moritz Wilhelm of Saxe-Zeitz recognised his compositional talent and commissioned him to write operas for the Naumberg Peter-Paul festivals.

Fasch travelled around Europe and studied in Darmstadt before taking up posts as violinist in Bayreuth (1714) and ultimately court Kapellmeister in Zerbst where he stayed for the rest of his life. During his 36 years in Zerbst, Fasch wrote many church cantatas and his fame quickly spread. None of his music was published in his lifetime but his output includes much sacred vocal music and 64 concertos, as well as 16 symphonies, 18 trio sonatas, and four operas (now lost).

The Lute Concerto in D minor is a brilliant example of his bold, assertive style and his mastery of the Baroque concerto form.

 13  Calace: Mandolin Concerto No. 1, Op. 113 – III. Rondo

Raffaele Calace and his brother Niccolo (1898–1914) were born in Naples, the sons of Antonio Calace, a stringed instrument maker. Both Raffaele and Niccolo became virtuosi mandolinists and also continued their father’s role as luthier, as well as publishing music. Raffaele studied composition at the Regio Conservatorio di Musica in Naples and graduated with distinction.

In 1924 he travelled to the Far East to play concerts in Japan, appearing at the royal court of Emperor Hirohito who conferred on him the Order of the Rising Sun. On returning to Italy Calace also performed for Mussolini who presented him with a signed photograph.

Raffaele wrote nearly 200 pieces for the mandolin including two concertos, a mandolin tutor, and many solo pieces.

The work is performed by Alison Stephens (1970–2010), the eminent English mandolinist who was the first graduate on the instrument at the Trinity College of Music, London and gave the first performance of a mandolin concerto at the Barbican in 1987. She also played for opera and ballet companies and was the performer in the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Her premature death from cancer at the age of 40 came as a great shock to all those who knew and loved her music.

The Mandolin Concerto No.1, Op. 113 was dedicated to the mandolin virtuoso Laurant Fantauzzi (1870–1941). Alison Stephens commented: As far as we can gather Calace never intended the concertos to be orchestrated. He appeared to use the label ‘Concerto’ to signify a substantial three-movement concert work rather than the traditional format of soloist and orchestra. Indeed, the piano writing in these works is far more than an accompaniment. Calace makes great use of the instrument’s natural strengths, characteristics and colours. Both instruments play equal parts and constantly interact, each frequently alternating between melody, accompaniment and countermelody.

 14  J.S. Bach: Lute Partita in E minor, BWV 996 – V. Bourrée

In June 1708, Bach was appointed chamber musician and organist at the court of Wilhelm Ernst, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (1707–17). Suite in E minor, BWV 996, is dated within this period, shortly after 1712. Two years later he was promoted from court organist to Kapellmeister, which obliged him to ‘perform new works monthly’.

The Suite in E minor, BWV 996 can be found in two copies, one in the handwriting of Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748) and the other in the hand of Heinrich Nikolaus Gerber (1702–1775). The words ‘aufs Lautenwerck’, added to the manuscript some time after the original copy was written, has led to speculation that Bach may have intended the work for the lute-harpsichord.

For an understanding of what the lute-harpsichord was like we must rely on descriptions by historians of Bach’s time. In an annotation to Adlung’s Musica mechanica organoedi, Johann Friedrich Agricola describes a lute-harpsichord belonging to Bach: ‘The editor of these notes remembers having seen and heard a Lautenclavicymbel in Leipzig around 1740, designed by Mr Johann Sebastian Bach and made by Mr Zacharias Hildebrand. This was smaller in size than a normal harpsichord but in all other aspects was similar … It is true that in its usual setting … it sounded more like a theorbo than a lute. But if one drew the lute-stop (such as is found on a harpsichord) together with the cornet stop … one could almost deceive professional lutenists.’

The Bourrée, earthy and sparse, presents in a two-part contrapuntal texture a catchy melody instant in its appeal.

 15  Hoffmann: Mandolin Sonata in G major – III. Rondo

This skittish and witty Rondo, with the mandolin ably supported by the archlute, combines the melodic elements of the Baroque with the structural qualities of classical music of the early 19th century.

 16  Carosio: Flirtation Rag

Ermenegildo Carosio, born in Alessandria in 1886, composed songs and dance music for piano and small ensembles, and an operetta, as well as pieces for mandolin and for guitar, achieving great fame before his death in 1928.

The essence of ragtime, the rhythmic energy and melodic inventiveness, and its brilliant evocation of the dance hall, are well represented in this slightly raunchy rag with its provocative title.

 17  Beethoven: Mandolin Sonatina in C minor, WoO 43a

The Sonatina in C minor, WoO 43a, is marked Adagio, each phrase repeated, as it goes on, with a section in C major, before the final coda. The piece contains a nostalgic element as well as a strength and assurance characteristic of all Beethoven’s works.

 18  Hummel: Mandolin Concerto in G major, S28 – II. Andante con variazioni

Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist, was a pupil of Mozart in Vienna and later studied with Albrechtsberger, Salieri and Haydn. His immense output comprised operas, ballets and pantomimes, Masses and cantatas, songs, orchestral works, chamber music, piano pieces, and a great number of concertos. In his day Hummel became one of the most acclaimed composers but that esteem failed to stand the test of time and his music is rarely performed today.

The Mandolin Concerto displays the dignity of the Viennese school of the early 19th century. The piece was written for Barthol Bartolazzi (1772–1846), maestro di mandolino, in 1799, who after a highly successful career as a recitalist in Europe settled in Brazil. The manuscript for the Concerto is in the British Museum, London.

 19  Bach: Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 – I. Vivace (arr. for 2 mandolins and mandolin orchestra)

This concerto is believed to have been written while Bach was at Cothen around 1720 and was later arranged as Concerto in C minor, BWV 1062, for two keyboards. Thus, this transcription for two mandolins and mandolin orchestra is entirely appropriate and the lyrical grandeur of this concerto is beautifully created by the plucked string instrumentation for both soloists and orchestra.

Graham Wade
© Naxos Rights US, Inc.

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