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Lute Music in the Netherlands


During the first half of the seventeenth century, the young Republic of the Seven Provinces flourished with unprecedented vigour. In this “Golden Age”, the lute and its music occupied a position of great cultural importance, as can be seen in many paintings from the time depicting the instrument; however, this was a new phenomenon. Of the lutenists themselves we have scant information: few are known by name and hardly any of their music has survived, one exception being “Master David”, who can probably be identified as David Janszoon Padbrué (ca 1553–1635), from whom a handful of pieces are still extant (no 5 in this recording). His works have come down to us in the famous Thysius Lute Book, one of the very few extant Dutch lute manuscripts. Consisting of 521 folia, with 907 pieces of music in all, it is one of the most extensive collections of lute music in the world. Its name derives from its later owner, Joan Thijs, but the book itself was compiled by Adriaan Joriszoon Smout (1578/9–1646), who started it in 1595 when enrolled as a student at Leiden University and continued adding music to it for the rest of his life, in the meantime becoming a rather controversial Protestant clergyman and theologist. The collection consists of dances, fantasias, psalm settings and intabulations of vocal music from France, England and Italy, as well as simple settings of Dutch folk songs (nos 1–4, 6).

With the turn of the century came an influx of foreign lutenists to the Republic, especially to Holland, undoubtedly attracted by the favourable economic prospects, as well as a musical climate hospitable to the instrument. One of the most prominent among them was the Frenchman Nicolas Vallet (ca 1583–after 1644) who settled in Amsterdam sometime around 1613. Initially, he found success as a musician, lute teacher, founder and manager of a dancing school and, along with his ensemble, was often invited to play at feasts and weddings. Between 1615 and 1620 he published four beautifully engraved lute books, containing his own compositions and settings of popular tunes from the French and English repertoires (nos 8–11). In later years, Vallet’s fortunes declined and in 1633 even part of his property was confiscated. Thereafter, his situation seems to have improved, for he was able to publish a further two collections of music in the 1640s.

Long before the instrument’s ascendancy in the Republic, the southern Netherlands enjoyed a rich tradition of lute playing where, from the mid-sixteenth century onwards, a great quantity of lute music was published. During the 1580’s Antwerp was at the hub of this lute culture and its most prominent lutenist Emanuel Adriaenssen (ca 1554–1604) who, between 1584 and 1600, published three important lute books comprising his own compositions, many of which were based on Italian, French, and English models. Nos 24–26 are taken from Pratum Musicum, the first of these published collections.

During this same time, the Netherlands were the scene of conflict between King Philip II and the (mostly Calvinist) rebels. In 1585 Antwerp was taken by Spanish troops and the city plunged into an extended period of decline. For his own protection, Adriaenssen converted to Catholicism and remained loyal to his homeland, but other lutenists preferred to leave and try their luck elsewhere, although not necessarily for religious reasons. Adriaen Denss, for instance, took up residence in Cologne, and Gregorio Huwet (before 1550–ca1616) served several German princes. In the 1590s he was present at the courts of the Duke of Brunswick in Wolffenbüttel and the Landgrave of Hesse in Kassel, during the same time that John Dowland was active there. This could explain the English connections of some of Huwet’s music: of the two fantasias included here, no 7 was published in Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute Lessons (London, 1610), whilst no 12 clearly owes a stylistic debt to John Dowland.

Perhaps the most important of the lutenists to emigrate from Antwerp was Joachim van den Hove (1567–1620). He settled in Leiden where he remained from 1593 until 1616, at first in a rented house, then later, as his wealth increased, in a property he purchased which was situated near Saint Peter’s Church. Little is known of his private life, except that he was married to Anna Rodius of Utrecht and that he had several children (including one born out of wedlock). A much respected figure in Leiden, Van den Hove consorted with nobility and the local upper classes, and was invited to play at municipal and university festivities. He also taught the lute to students of the university, including the young Prince Frederick Henry of Nassau.

Van den Hove published three books of lute music: Florida in 1601, Delitiae musicae in 1612, and Praeludia testitudinis in 1616. The third collection consists entirely of his own compositions, whilst the two earlier books reflect the international orientation typical of lute music in the Netherlands at the time. In these publications, we find not only his own works, in the form of preludes, fantasies (nos 13, 20), settings of vocal music (often Italian madrigals), variations on the Italian Passamezzo ground basses, and dances (no 14), but also pieces composed by others, such as the Favorito by Diomedes Cato (no 18). The song intabulations, probably made by Van den Hove himself, are based on international repertoire as well as Dutch tunes (nos 16, 23).

Van den Hove’s music has survived exceptionally well: in addition to the three printed books, other works by him can be found in two manuscripts compiled by German students staying in Leiden. One of these, the Ernst Schele lute book (Hamburg, 1619), includes Van den Hove’s elaborate setting of John Dowland’s famous Lachrimae Pavane (no 15), in addition to several Farewell pieces composed for friends departing from Leiden (no 17). By an exceptional stroke of luck yet another lute manuscript, now in the State Library of Berlin, has also survived.

This autograph collection, which Van den Hove must have written out between 1614 and 1615, was most probably compiled for his “friend and maecenas” Adam Leenaerts, a wealthy lute pupil. In it we find many dances, such as Almandes and Gaillardes either composed or intabulated by Van den Hove (nos 21, 22), and, again, settings of popular songs (such as no 19, which, despite its Dutch title, is based on a French tune). As had been the case with Vallet, so Joachim van den Hove’s fortunes, too, suffered a reversal. Perhaps it was as a result of his costly publications, that his financial situation deteriorated and his properties were confiscated in 1616 to pay his debts. Whatever the cause, in 1618 his Leiden home was sold by public auction, by which time Van den Hove had fled to The Hague, where he died in 1620, a poor man.

Jan WJ Burgers

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