Unusually, this lesson focuses on a duet, to draw attention to the launch of a new series of duet videos which are gradually being uploaded to the Lute Society’s YouTube channel. The first piece I have chosen is the anonymous ‘Drewries accordes’. There are two videos, one for each lute part, plus a separate tuning video to help you get your lute perfectly in tune with mine before you start to play. The music - newly edited and typeset - for both parts can be downloaded from the society’s website. Links to both the videos and the sheet music are at Lute duet video backing tracks In this lesson I will give some technical tips for both parts, plus some advice on playing duets.
Let us look first at lute 1. The parts are quite equal, in that they alternate lead and accompanimental duties. Lute 1 leads off with a straightforward treble line, but one quickly runs into a situation where shifts are required. I always advise shifting after a weak note whenever possible, rather than after a strong one, as the shift will be less audible that way, but that still leaves a choice of left hand fingerings in bars 2-3. One can play both the 2nd and 3rd notes in bar 2 with the index finger, shifting in the middle of the bar, or one can play both the last note of bar 2 and the first note of bar 3 with the 4th finger, shifting over the barline. My preference is to shift on the 1st finger; it is larger and stronger than the 4th, and most people have better control of their index finger than of their little finger. However, I would use the 4th finger for both the 3rd and 4th notes of bar 3, rather than shifting down on the barline, because I have more time for the shift after a 2-flag note than after a 3-flag note. These details together encapsulate most of my shifting policy, and the principles will be applicable in many places (and in both lute parts).
The accompanimental bars contain quite a lot of 3- and 4-note chords, where every note needs to be heard, for example, in bars 9 and 10, where one also has to switch between this full texture and single notes. When learning the piece, it can be helpful to spread each chord very slowly to hear clearly which notes should be present, then play the chord with no spread and check that each note is still audible. If one note is missing or is too quiet, increase the contact between the relevant finger and the course, and make sure that you have a good grip on both strings of the course, not just one of them.
There are a couple of mildly intricate fingerings. In bar 24, the two lower notes need to be held throughout the bar whilst the upper voice moves, so be sure to hold down those fingers. In bar 31, the middle note of the first chord needs to be held through the 2nd chord, where it will create a suspension, which is then resolved by the last note in the bar. This means the left hand has to ‘fold’ around the finger which plays this note. Returning to the subject of shifts, some very quick and accurate shifts are required in the middle of bar 63, and between bars 64 and 65. Make sure that these shifts are accomplished by your left arm moving towards or away from you, not by twisting your wrist; the left thumb must not be left behind, and the angle of fingers to strings shouldn’t change as you shift.
The Lute 2 part has a full texture to begin; as above, make sure that every note of every chord speaks clearly. Many treble phrases are echoed between the parts, and the same shifting advice applies. Lute 2 actually gets the more difficult left-hand shifts, as this part goes higher than lute 1. The most difficult shift is between bars 23 and 24; some rapid left arm movement is needed here to get the hand from 7th position to 2nd. If you find this problematic, try the movement first concentrating ONLY on the arm movement, taking your index finger from the 7th fret to the 2nd and back again. When the arm movement is swift and smooth, and the hand retains its aspect relative to the strings, put the other fingers and notes back in. There are some difficult shifts required also in the 3 last bars; again focus first on the arm movement, and where your index finger needs to land. To get into the final bar, the hand needs to contract from the normal extension required in the penultimate bar to the tightly spaced final chord shape Practise this slowly and neatly, and speed it up only when every finger knows exactly what it has to do.
There are particular challenges involved in playing duets - especially when one part is recorded rather than played live. I have already mentioned the issue of spreading chords; for the bass of the chord to co-ordinate with the other part, any spreads will probably need to start later than you might choose if you were playing a solo. Bass notes will need to be projected particularly clearly, as they need to support the sound of two instruments rather than just one. If you choose to add ornaments (which I encourage you to do in both parts), the beginning of the ornament will also need to co-ordinate with the other part, and again you may find that you need to start them later than you would in a solo. Since many players automatically place ornaments before the beat, it can be a very valuable exercise co-ordinating them with a duet partner. Finally, tuning is even more critical than when playing solo, especially in a piece like this where the two parts trade much of their material. It can be cringe-inducing to hear the same little phrase echoed at a slightly different pitch. Make use of the tuning video, hit ‘replay’ as often as you like, and make sure that your unisons and octaves within your courses are perfect before you move onto the next course.