The Lute Society: Early Lute Society Summer Schools

Early Lute Society Summer Schools Remembered

by Bill Samson

The first Lute Society Summer School took place at Lodge Hill in Pulborough, Sussex in August 1967 and was organised by Adrienne Simpson.

I was one of the thirty participants. Many are no longer with us, or have drifted away from the lute so I thought it might be a good idea to dig out the notebook I took with me to jot down everything that was of interest. Essentially, that is based around the programme for the week:

5th August – In the evening, Robert Spencer gave a recital of lute songs and solos on his Maurice Vincent lute.

6th August - lessons in the morning (I was lucky enough to have Diana Poulton as my tutor).

  • In the afternoon, Ian Harwood gave a talk on lute construction, and had brought along many of the tools and jigs he used to build lutes. This led several of the attendees into lute making, some professionally and some as amateurs.
  • In the evening the Nathalie Dolmetsch ensemble entertained us with dances.

7th August – The afternoon lecture on Shakespeare’s Lute Songs was given by F. W. Sternfeld.

  • In the evening, the Ely Consort (Ian Harwood and his broken consort) gave a concert.

8th August – The afternoon talk on the history of the lute was given by Ernst Pohlman (author of ‘Laute, Theorbe, Chitarrone’.

  • The evening recital of Campion’s lute songs was given by Graham Saunders, accompanied by Diana Poulton on the lute.

9th August – The afternoon was free. It was originally planned that Ian Harwood and David Channon would perform a set of duets, but this was postponed until the last evening.

  • In the evening, Diana Poulton delivered a talk on lute technique and style.

10th August – The afternoon talk on Archives and Paleography was given by Diana Poulton.

  • The evening talk was given by Michael Morrow (director of Musica Reservata) with recorded musical illustrations.

11th August – In the afternoon we had an open forum for suggestions regarding the organisation of future summer schools.

  • The Student Concert took place in the evening and included the duets by Ian Harwood and David Channon that had been postponed earlier in the week. My notes don’t include every performer (slap my own wrist!) but one highlight was “Musica Lepidoptera” (geddit?) – a ‘fractured consort’. Gusta Goldschmidt stole the show with a performance of pieces from the Robert Ballard tablatures.

Sandro Zanetti, Luthier

Gusta was playing on a beautiful 10c lute made by the Swiss luthier, Sandro Zanetti. Zanetti lutes were much sought-after at the time, and were used by several distinguished lutenists, including Eugen Dombois. Zanetti came to the summer school himself and showed us his lutes. He liked to use very old wood for their construction – reclaimed piano soundboard wood, for example, and there’s a story of him and Dombois seeking out an ancient barn door that was about to be scrapped. His lutes were unusual in that he made his scalloped multi-ribbed backs from softwoods, such as larch, spruce or cedar. He left most of them unvarnished.

Zanetti’s lutes would nowadays fail the test of authenticity, but nevertheless, they were meticulously crafted and very light, were fine instruments to play and they produced a wonderful sound quite unlike the guitarry sound that was so common at the time. He used gut strings for the trebles and gut overwound with silver wire for the basses, while the rest of us tended to be using nylon, so in many ways he was ahead of his time. His lutes were selling for £300 at the time, while most other makers were charging about half that amount.

Who attended?

In addition to the tutors (Diana Poulton, Ian Harwood, David Channon and Gusta Goldschmidt) I remember a number of other participants very well. These included Eph Segermann, David Van Edwards, Michael Lowe, Maurice Vincent and Joe Skeaping.

What followed?

This was the first of many annual Lute Society Summer Schools, and the following two took place, I believe at York University. After that they moved to St Pauls’ College, Cheltenham where they remained until 1982. A final summer school, held at City University in London in 1983 was the last of these week-long events. Francesca McManus organised most of the summer schools and oiled the wheels behind the scenes to make sure that they ran smoothly. She didn’t have an easy job; organising musicians is like trying to herd cats. The summer schools had a profound influence on the dissemination of lute playing, both nationally and internationally. Many of the tutors came from abroad and included Jorn Jorkov, Michael Schaeffer, Eugen Dombois, Jim Tyler, Jacob Lindberg, Donna Curry, Gusta Goldschmidt and Anne van Royen. UK-based tutors included Diana Poulton, David Channon, Ian Harwood, Nigel North, Bob Spencer, Chris Wilson, Tom Finucane, Doug Wootton, Tony Rooley and Tony Bailes and Martin Eastwell. There was also a good show of luthiers at these events, including Ian Harwood, John Isaacs, Henry Holmes, Chris Doddridge, Bob Hadaway, Stephen Gottlieb, Michael Lowe, David Van Edwards, Martin Bowers, John Gorrett, Malcolm Prior, Philip Macleod-Coupe, Paul Thomson, Maishe Wiseman, Donald Gill, and Peter Forrester as well as many amateur luthiers. Every year at Cheltenham Eph Segermann set up a workshop/studio on the first floor of the college – a treasure house of instruments and strings, drawings, musical resources and a venue for impromptu music-making as well as a comfortable place to chew the fat. Eph was a key figure at all of the summer schools.

Brian Jordan set up a music shop each year with all the lute-related stock from his Cambridge business.

It’s also worth noting that a young Paul O’Dette travelled from the USA to attend the summer school in 1973.

Of their time

The Lute Society Summer Schools took place just as interest in the lute was burgeoning. At the start of the period, lutenists were so rare that when an ensemble included a lute, the lutenist would be named on the programme when other members wouldn’t be. By the end of the period, the lute was more familiar to audiences and lutenists not such rare birds as they once were.

The summer schools were the only opportunity most aspiring lutenists had to find world-class tuition and get together with kindred spirits. By the early ‘80s it was nothing like as difficult to find a lute teacher at no great distance as well as other lutenists to swap ideas with. So the demand for the summer schools faded away.

It would be hard to overestimate the influence these summer schools had on the way we build and play our lutes today. There were heated debates in the mid-seventies about whether nail technique was appropriate for the lute, with as many for as against – which seems odd to us nowadays when we have settled on much more historical techniques.

The late ‘60s to the early ‘80s was an exciting time to be involved in early music and I feel privileged to have attended many of the Lute Society Summer Schools which, it seems to me, were pivotal in the process of bringing early music to general acceptance by the musical community.

The author’s apology

I should like to add that these are recollections of events that happened many years ago, so if my memory has failed me in any way, please excuse me.


My thanks are due to Chris Larvin, Philip Lord, David Van Edwards and Thea Abbott for reading a draft of this piece and reminding me of attendees and events that I had forgotten about, though any errors are, of course, Bill Samson’s fault.