The Lute Society: English Renaissance Lute Music

English renaissance lute music

by Chris Goodwin, first printed in Lute News 90-91

In its long history the lute experienced not one, but a series of ‘Golden Ages’, and Elizabethan and Jacobean England certainly enjoyed one of these. The chief glory and ornament of the Elizabethan lute is of course the music of John Dowland (1563–1626) which, if no other lute music at all had come down to us, would amply justify the study of the instrument. Happily, a good deal more music has survived, however. The following sketch is intended to convey useful information for the beginner.

Background reading

The first sytematic study of the repertoire was David Lumsden’s doctoral thesis, ‘The Sources of English Lute Music (1540-1620)’ completed in 1955 (some earlier researches having been disrupted by the Second World War); this endeavour was revisited by Julia Craig McFeely in her 1994 thesis, ‘English Lute Manuscripts and Scribes 1530-1630’. This latter thesis is accessible online. More recently, Matthew Spring’s doctoral studies led to a published book, The Lute in Britain, A History of the Instrument and its Music (OUP, 2001)—a nice present if you have generous friends and family! If you are interested in how it all started, there is John Ward’s Music for Elizabethan Lutes (Clarendon/OUP, 1994), covering the period up to the first major Elizabethan composer, John Johnson; with a staggering amount of information in footnotes. And then of course there are significant articles scattered in back issues of the Lute Society and Lute Society of America journals, Early Music, and the New Grove dictionary of music. But do take all this learned research with a pinch of salt. So little survives, really, from the long, complex and flourishing culture of the lute—far fewer than 1% of lute manuscripts can survive—so all it takes is one dog-eared manuscript fragment to turn up in a muniments room or auction sale and the scholars have to go back and rewrite their theories. If you don’t have the time or inclination for any heavy reading, don’t worry; you will pick up a great deal by osmosis, from CD booklets and concert programmes, and conversations with other lute players!


The lute probably arrived in England in the late 1200s. The first named lute player we know of, ‘Jean le luteur’ was playing at court in 1285; thereafter court records for most of the later kings show that there were generally one or two lute players at court throughout the middle ages. They would have played with a plectrum—single lines and the occasional big strummed chord. Besides the general paucity of written music before the 15th century, no special notation was required for such music, so we do not have evidence of a specific repertoire. Pictures in church windows seem to show lutes playing duets with gitterns (lute-like, teardrop-shaped instruments, with a body carved from solid wood, and a sickle-shaped pegbox) and indeed the inventory of Henry VIII mentions a paired lute and a gittern in a case together.

The heyday of the lute began in the late 15th century, with the arrival of new, elegant, long-bodied instruments, the realisation that polyphony (the musical obsession of the age) could be played with fingertips, the invention of tablature to write out polyphonic music in an economical form for the lute, and a re-awakened interest in Classical learning, which gave tremendous cachet to the lute, as presumed heir to the ancient lyra and kithara. Douglas Alton Smith has remarked that the lute was an emblem of the renaissance, and rose and fell with it. So at the same period that Erasmus, More and others were bringing in the ‘new learning’ and royal palaces were starting to be decorated with classical motifs, the fashion for the lute was beginnng to gain ground. Henry VIII received noted continental players such as Albert de Rippe at court, counted the Flemish lutenist Philip van Wilder (the first English-resident player whose music has come down to us) as a personal friend, and set his children to play the lute. Meanwhile one of his court poets, Sir Thomas Wyatt, seems to have been experimenting with singing his poetry to Italian-style lute ground basses played on the lute. English lute manuscripts start to appear from around 1529; the early ones are often barely musically intelligible, as the mysteries of tablature were initially only half understood. But from early in Elizabeth’s reign the sources become more competent and confident, as English lute players begin to digest the lessons from continental lutenists (a number were employed at court, and about 10% of lute music in English sources is by foreign composers) and to write their own music. A milestone seems to be John Johnson’s ‘Pavan and Galliard to Delight’ in the Willoughby lute book (1570s) ‘the first fully extended piece by a known English composer in a completely English idiom’. From around 1580, English lute music was sufficiently good to start appearing in Continental sources.

The Golden Age repertoire: composers, modern editions, and some recordings

Down the centuries England has produced a number of world-class intellectuals, notably in the more concrete, less fanciful, disciplines such as economics, biology and physics, yet the English have never liked to be thought of as intellectuals; one 20th century poet wrote that for the Englishman an intellectual is someone who thinks up clever excuses for seducing other men’s wives. So it is interesting to note that English lute players largely eschewed the more ‘academic’ or ‘intellectual’ forms, such as the contrapuntal fantasia or the madrigal intabulation which dominate many continental collections, in favour of dance-form pieces and popular song arrangements. Of the 2,100-odd solo pieces in the English renaissance repertoire, pavans (658), galliards (750) and almains (196) account for just over half of the repertoire, with song arrangements accounting for a further 289 items; and other dances (masques, volts, jigs, sarabands, ballets, bransles, canaries, hornpipes and a single gavotte) acounting for 270 more pieces, plus 247 variation sets on popular grounds. The English always liked a nice tune, and tunefulness is certainly one of the strengths of the repertoire. Pavans and galliard dominate the Elizabethan repertoire; the lighter forms, such as corantos and volts start to appear in the early 17th century. A composer like Dowland was actually rather cosmopolitan in writing contrapuntal fantasias. But there is a great deal of lyricism and poetry in English lute music too; a piece like Holborne’s ‘Countess of Pembroke’s Paradise’ seems like a poem without words, its musical argument, replete with little moments of rhetoric, unfolds in three sections, like the quatrains of a sonnet.

In a repertoire largely preserved in manuscript sources, chances of survival are, happily, skewed in favour of quality, as the more popular a piece was, the more it would be copied, and the more likely it was to survive, so it makes some sense to consider lute composers in terms of their extant output.

Not surprisingly then, the largest surviving oeuvre is that of ‘the English Orpheus’, John Dowland, with 75 pieces (plus 16-odd possible attributions). His collected lute music, edited by his great scholar and apostle, Diana Poulton (with Basil Lam) is published by Faber, and should be on every lute scholar’s Christmas list. More of him hereafter.

Daniel Bacheler comes next in the league table with 55 extant solos. It is surprising that to date there has been no complete edition of his music—the sources are considered problematic—Chris Morongiello is working on one, and has been supplying pieces by him for our Lute News music supplements. Much of the music requires more than seven courses, and is not terribly easy; Paul O’Dette, who has made a recent recording on the Harmonia Mundi label, points out that it is hard to find a tempo that suits both the slow passages in his music and the fast divisions. So perhaps not a composer for the beginner to worry about unduly.

Next comes Anthony Holborne, with 52 extant solos, mostly pavans and galliards. He was also a noted composer for metal-strung instruments, the cittern and bandora. His solo music was edited first by Masakata Kanazawa some years ago, and published by Harvard, and more recently has been edited by Rainer aus dem Spring, for the Lute Society (this edition is out of print at the moment, but should be reprinted later this year.) His works include a sprinkling of pieces, especially some of the galliards and almains, which the early intermediate player could begin to tackle. There have been attractive recent recordings by Jacob Heringman, on the ASV label, and Christopher Wilson and Shirley Rumsey, on Naxos.

Then Francis Cutting, with 43 solo pieces. Selected works were published by Oxford University Press some years ago; now his complete works have been published by Tree Editions. Some of his pieces would be approachable for the relative novice; his setting of Greensleeves is widely considered as the best.

Next, John Johnson with 31 solos, ‘The Queen’s Luter’ first really great English lute composer. There have been two complete editions of his works, one published by Orphee Editions, the other by Tree. There is some debate about attributions and the boundaries of his repertoire, and the contents of the two editions differ. He wrote many pavans, galliards, and ground-based pieces, but also some very tuneful variation sets on popular tunes. His duets are notable; a hallmark of his treble-and-ground writing is that they run the whole gamut of the instrument—good student material! Christopher Wilson and Shirley Rumsey have recorded a selection of his works on Naxos.

Next, Thomas Robinson, with 23 solo works, mostly in his Schoole of Musicke (1603); which also has some lovely duets. As the title suggests, there are some good study pieces for the novice here, though not all are beginner’s fare, but his music has wonderfully lyrical character—in his introduction he castigates the laboured, mechanical, variation style of the preceding generation of composers. There have been two editions of the Schoole of Musicke; one long since out of print, from CNRS of Paris, the other a facsimile from Theatrum Orbis Theatrum, until recently available from OMI (Old Manuscripts and Incunabula) of New York. If you can’t get a new copy, you might get one from your library (perhaps on inter-library loan) or from the AbeBooks website.

Robert Johnson, with 20 extant solos, was the son of John Johnson, and evidently inherited his father’s melodic gifts. A major figure in the organisation of Jacobean court masques, he wrote dance music (published in Sabol’s Four Hundred Songs and Dances from the Stuart Masque) and songs, including some for Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men (published by Stainer and Bell) as well as lute solos. An edition of his lute music edited by Albert Sunderman was formerly published in the OUP lute music series; now an edition is available from Seicento Notenversand. Some of it is approachable for the early intermediate player. Lynda Sayce made a father-and-son album of the two Johnsons’ music, The Golden Age Restor’d, some years ago, and Matthew Wadsworth has recorded some solos on a album of songs and solos, Away Delights, on the Avie label.

The works of the remaining, ‘lesser’ composers are mostly available in Lute Society editions, or Lute News music supplements or free tablature sheets. Alfonso Ferrabosco I, Elizabethan spy, not to be confused with his son, Alfonso Ferrabosco II, left 15 solo works. An edition was included in the aformentioned OUP series, but now John H. Robinson is editing his works in Lute News supplements. Francis Pilkington’s 15 solos (mostly intermediate level) are available as tabsheet A19. Richard Allison (15 solos) was one of the slightly earlier composers; some of his pieces could be approached from early intermediate stages onwards. His ‘Sharp pavan’ was one of the smash hits of the day; an edition of his solos is available from the Lute Society. Edward Collard (9 solos) famously pipped Dowland at the post for a job as court lutenist; Chris Morongiello is working on an edition of his music, but in the meantime the Secretary can supply copies of the Lute Society tablature sheet transcriptions on request; mostly intermediate level works. The works of Philip Rosseter (8 solos) and John Danyel (6 solos) are not for the most part easy, but are exceptionally beautiful, and repay study, from early intermediate level upwards; there are Lute Society editions of both. Some of John Sturt’s 7 solos, available as tabsheet A11, are not too hard; but Maynard, tabsheet A26 is really difficult. The works of Dr Thomas Dallis, who taught at Cambridge, are available on tabsheet A25; of early intermediate to intermediate difficulty.

As for the really small fry, the indefatigable John Robinson, has been gradually trawling them up in Lute Society tablature sheets over the years, and there are some ‘one-hit wonders’ there certainly. Ask for our catalogue if you want to investigate further.

To summarise then, Dowland, Holborne, Cutting, John Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Thomas Robinson in particular each wrote some things that the novice could start to enjoy from a relatively early stage in their studies; Rosseter and Danyel are a treat in store, while some of the other composers, such as Bacheler or Maynard, can safely be left for another day.


But let us get back to the great master! It is cliché to refer to Dowland as a melancholy composer, exasperated, and effectively exiled by his failure to get a court post in England, on account of his religious heterodoxy; tactless and temperamental, out of joint with the times both artistically and professionally, expressing his sadness in his music. But is this really a sensible characterisation? David Pinto has pointed out (in The Lute, 2002) this melancholy—a rather fashionable emotion at the time—looks in some ways suspiciously like an artistic pose. Dowland had his setbacks, as most of us do, but he was feted in the royal courts of Europe; his First Book of Songes, and his ‘Lachrimae’ pavan were the smash hits of the day. Thomas Fuller in his The History of Worthies of England says that ‘A cheerful person he was, passing his days in lawful merriment’, while he himself, in his address ‘To the courteous reader’ in The First Book of Songes makes his travels across Europe sound like one long holiday, undertaken for wholly positive reasons, and he closes the address ‘To the Reader’ in A Pilgrimes Solace wishing his music ‘will be no lesse delightful to all in generall, then it was pleasing to me the composition’, which gives the distinct impression that he did after all enjoy his music. He seems to have had easy and friendly relations with women, dedicating far more pieces to them than any other lutenist. And his music itself is full of warmth and humanity; it is not so sugary as, say, a Wilbye madrigal, but nor is it (to my ears!) so sober and grave as Byrd’s, while John Danyel’s songs are far darker. Dowland never stoops to spite or excessive cynicism or misogyny, as for instance Robert Jones does. He often ennobles his subject; the peddlar in ‘Fine knacks for ladies’, unlike the other musical mountebanks of the day, is looking for love, not money, while the punchline of ‘The lowest trees have tops’: ‘and love is love, in beggars and in kings’ was considered unacceptably democratic by some of his contemporaries, who wrote ‘answers’ to the effect that a king’s love is greater than a beggar’s! If we want a one-word label for Dowland one might propose ‘Shakespearian’ rather than ‘melancholy’—for the range of his emotions and expression, and for his magpie-like willingness to absorb all the varied cultural influences of his artistic world in order to produce a new synthesis. There are other parallels with his exact contemporary. The increasing rhythmic freedom and naturalness of his later songs seems exactly to match the development of Shakespeare’s verse, and like Shakespeare, Dowland seems to want to essay every genre, from the street song (‘Fine knacks for ladies’), to the hexachord song (‘Lasso mia vita’), the chromatic fantasia (‘Forlorn Hope Fancy’) and the In nomine (‘Farewell’), and so on.

Be all that as it may . . . besides the complete lute solos, mentioned above, the Lachrimae (1604) collection for viols and (very difficult) lute has been published in facsimile by Boethius, and in modern editions, most recently by Fretwork Editions, while his other consort music is available in a boxed set of partbooks from Schott. His solo songs, first transcribed in the 1920s by Edmund Fellowes, are published by Stainer & Bell, who also publish a (shockingly mistake-ridden) new edition of his four-voice ayres in the Musica Britannica series (the 1953/1976 edition has far fewer mistakes and bad page turns, but has no tab, for which the lute needs the solo song editions). Facsimile editions of the songbooks have been published both by Scolar Press, latterly in association with Brian Jordan of Cambridge, and now also by Broude Brothers, in their Performers Facsimile series. Not forgetting Diana Poulton’s fascinating biography of the man, published by Faber.

His easiest lute solos are probably ‘Mistress winter’s jump’, ‘Orlando sleepeth’, ‘Fortune my foe’ and ‘Mr Dowland’s midnight’, then the ‘Preludium’, (P98). After a year or two (of regular practice, that is!) you could start to look at some of the easier song accompaniments, such as ‘Burst forth my tears’, ‘White as lilies was her face’ or ‘Faction that ever dwells’. You will be popular with sopranos at summer schools if, after two or three years of practising, you can master the accompaniments to some of the songs in the First Book of Songes.

Dowland’s discography is extensive, of course. There have been four recordings of the complete lute solos to date: a multi-artist boxed set, released in 1980 on the Oiseau Lyre label; and more recently recordings by Jakob Lindberg (BIS), Paul O’Dette (Harmonia Mundi) and, just finished(!) by Nigel North, on Naxos. A notable recent single disc recording is Hopkinson Smith’s rhapsodic Dowland, A Dream (Naive). The songs have been endlessly recorded of course, and you may take your pick according to your taste in singers, but recently Dowland seems to have attracted some rather unorthodox recordings—and I’m not talking about Sting’s mid-Atlantic accent, but rather John Potter’s Dowland-with-saxophones disc, the Capella de Ministrers’ Lachrimae-with-tambourines, and some more remarkable effects on ‘Jana Lewitova & John Dowland & Vladimir Merta, Ve Tme me Zanechte’.


One of the distinctive features of the English Golden Age repertoire is the predominance of dances and popular tune arrangements (contrasting with the emphasis on fantasias and intabulations in Continental sources); another is the large number of duets in English lute books. Julia Craig McFeely’s thesis lists over 150 duet parts, though some of these would be lute parts for larger mixed ensembles; it is not always easy to tell which is which. While Continental duets tend be for ‘unequal’ lutes tuned in different keys, English duets (helpfully) are generally for two lutes tuned in the same key. English duets fall into two categories: ‘equal’ duets where both lutes play harmonised parts, often with some imititative dialogue between the two lutes, and treble and ground duets, where one player plays a single ornate melody line, while the other plays the ground, a repeated pattern of chords, providing the bass and harmony. These seem to have been widely used as teaching material, since the treble part allows the student to concentrate on reading a single line of notes, right-hand technique, sound production and phrasing, and the ground permits concentration on chordal playing. And the student is encouraged by the experience of participating in ‘real’ music making at an early stage in his or her studies.

The most important composers of duets were John Johnson, and the immortal ‘anon’, though Allison, Cutting, Dowland, Danyel, Ferrabosco, Robinson and Pilkington all contributed to the genre; Allison’s ‘Sharp Pavan’ seems to have been one of the great European hits of the day, while Robinson’s duets are particularly attractive and lyrical.

There are three main currently available editions of the English lute duets. Stefan Lundgren has edited most of the English duets, published in four albums by Lundgren Edition. Lundgren has chopped the treble and ground duets about, to share out treble and ground sections between the two players. This certainly makes for more challenging and stimulating playing, even if it dilutes the didactic concentration of the originals. Secondly, there is Tablature for Two Lutes published by Stainer & Bell, in three volumes edited by Nigel North and the late Robert Spencer. Volume 1 contains easier anonymous treble and ground duets, volume 2 has slightly harder treble and ground duets by named composers, including three by Robinson and four by John Johnson, and volume 3 contains ten of the finest ‘equal’ duets. Thirdly and most recently, Gordon Gregory has edited a selection of treble and ground duets for The Lute Society, O Happie Ground, aimed specifically at the student, with fingering indications throughout.

If you get hooked on duets, the John Johnson and Thomas Robinson editions noted in the previous instalment of this article would be worth acquiring. The Lute Society catalogue of tablature sheets contains a further sprinkling of duets, English and Continental; ask the Secretary if you are interested. One of the charms of the lute is the opportunities it offers for social as well as solo music making and the student is commended not to be shy, but to seek out duet partners!

Larger ensembles

Pictures and written accounts depict all sorts of weird and wonderful ensembles, including lutes, performing in the 16th and 17th centuries. Lute trios and lute quartets may have been quite common, though only a little music survives for each of these ensembles; while large bands of lutes played on stage in 17th century masques. One notable ensemble, which may have grown out of adding extra instruments to lute duos, and which was much in vogue after its inclusion in entertainments staged for Elizabeth I, was the ‘consort of six’: lute, cittern, bandora, violin, flute and bass viol. This line-up, shown in the famous painting of Sir Henry Unton’s Funeral in the National Portrait Gallery, was perhaps the first in music history for which ‘instrument-specific’ partbooks were published, only useable by the specified instruments. There are four main sources, mostly incomplete but reconstructable: Thomas Morley’s Consort Lessons (1599, 1611, modern edition by Sydney Beck), the Walsingham and the Cambridge manuscript partbooks (partial modern edition: Musica Britannica vol. XL) and the fragmentary Philip Rosseter’s Lessons for Consort (1609). Ian Harwood, the leading authority on the subject, is working on a monograph on the English consort, and on reconstructions of Rosseter’s Lessons. Ian Gaskell has made performing partbooks of much of the repertoire, available from him on request. The consort of six was also used to accompany songs (for instance in Allison’s and Leighton’s printed books of psalms and religious songs), in the theatre, and perhaps also for dancing. There is a good essay by Ian Harwood on the English consort of six in Lute News 62.

The Lute Society has the rarer instruments (lute, cittern, bandora and wooden flutes) for hire, and can supply sheet music. The lute parts are very hard, but after a couple of years of playing the lute you might well be able to manage the bandora parts without too much difficulty—ask to have a go on a bandora next time you go on a lute-based summer school!


It is worth remembering that the in the ‘Golden Age’ printed books of lute songs far outnumbered printed books of solo lute music; the lute is a wonderful accompanying instrument for a singer. Beethoven and his successors may have got away for about a century and a half with persuading people that orchestral music is the most ‘important’ kind of art music, but song has always been the form of music most ordinary people like best! The craze for published lute ‘ayres’ ran from 1597, with Dowland’s First Book, to John Attey’s songbook, of 1622. A number of earlier manuscript sources survive, the very earliest of these probably dating from around 1529, and I (CG) have edited a selection of these in two volumes for the Lute Society. They are a mixed bag, but there are few real gems among the lesser works. Far and away the biggest early English lute song source is the five manuscripts of accompaniments compiled for Sir Thomas Paston, mostly now in the British Library. Hector Sequera is working on an edition of these. They have been rather overlooked; they contain hundreds of arrangements of the lower voices of all kinds of polyphony: consort songs, continental madrigals, English and European motets. The voice part books have been lost, but the voice parts can mostly be found in modern editions of the same works in their original vocal form. What they show, principally, is that every kind of vocal polyphony was arranged for lute and voice in the 16th century. Besides this derivative way of producing lute songs, lutenists seem also to have sung to simple chordal accompaniments of their own devising. After 1622, up until the time of Purcell, people carried on singing to the lute, and especially to its long-necked offspring, the theorbo, but would generally have improvised chords from a bass line, without tablature.

But lute song is a whole subject in itself and will be the subject of a future essay; all I will say here is that the place to start English lute songs is Campian’s Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres, published by Broude Brothers in their Performers Facsimiles series (or you might find a copy of an earlier edition from Scolar Press). At the same time, learn to play the commonest chords (G, C, D, etc) from folk guitar notation, and then you will be able to play from collections such as the recent Faber book of Broadside Ballads. Some pop musicians have become millionaires seldom playing more than three chords, so this will take you a long way! The Lute Society is planning to reissue Donna Curry’s long-out-of-print book of easy lute songs, probably next year.

Printed sources

Music printing in general, and lute tablature printing in particular, came late to England. In Italy the first known tablature was printed in 1507; in Germany, in 1511, and in France in 1529, but in England, not until 1568. In fact, not much solo lute music (as distinct from ayre accompaniments, after 1597) was ever printed in England, though what there is is historically quite important. Happily, all the (five!) English printed sources have been published in facsimile. (Perhaps 25-odd Contintental lute prints contain items of English music). English translations of Le Roy’s A Briefe and Easy Instruction (1568) and A briefe and plaine Instruction (1574), (the latter being on intabulation, rather than playing, but it contains some nice music) are published by Fuzeau in vol. 19 of their series Méthodes et Traités: Série I, France 1600-1800: Luth. The former contains some genuinely easy and worthwhile student material. Barley’s A New Booke of Tabliture (1596) has been published several times in various editions, and is currently available from Cornetto Verlag. It was partly a retranslation of Le Roy’s 1568 work, with the (piratical) addition of a good selection of the best English lute solos of the 1590s. Dowland complained at the unauthorised inclusion of corrupt versions of his pieces, but in fact Barley is useful in presenting slightly simplified versions of the pieces (as many people probably played them) without quite so many fiddly divisions! Thomas Robinson’s The Schoole of Musicke (1603), a beautifully conceived and printed book for the lute student, with some fingering indications and playing advice, duets, and pieces to suit all levels, has been published in a modern edition by CNRS of Paris and in facsimile by Walter T. Johnson / Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, available from OMI of New York. I fear it may be out of print at the moment; but buy a second-hand copy if you see it, or check Amazon or the Abe Books websites from time to time.

Last and greatest, Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute Lessons (1610) self-consciously presents a selection of some of the finest European lute music of its time; it is available in facsimile from Schott. In spite of the title, there is no beginner’s music here; it represents something to work towards in your studies.

Manuscript sources

The musician Thomas Whytehorn, in his autobiography of c.1575 marvelled at the wide currency of printed music he had seen on his Continental travels; in England, you had to write everything out by hand. About 50-odd English lute manuscripts with music in renaissance tuning survive in the British Isles, plus maybe 15 or 16 Continental manuscripts with items of English lute music, plus various odds and ends. Another fragment turns up every year or two.

In fact the dominance of manuscript sources can be seen as something of a blessing in disguise. While printed sources represent polished versions of what the publisher thought customers might want, manuscripts show what diverse individuals actually played. Printed music tends to be hard, because music printing was incredibly expensive and laborious and it would have been seen as a waste of precious resources to print very easy and slight beginner’s pieces. Manuscripts, however, are more likely to contain easy pieces that amateur players could actually manage. Happily too, survival is skewed in favour of quality, because it was the best music (notably Dowland) that was copied from manuscript to manuscript and therefore had the statistically best chance of surviving down to our times.

Lute manuscripts are as richly varied as the people who played from them. A recently discovered fragment in the Westiminster Abbey archive looks like a lesson of several pieces written out on a loose sheet of paper for a student; the Dallis lute book is a Cambridge student’s workbook, from the very beginning of his lute studies; the Giles Lodge book is the musical sketch book of musically semi-literate amateur, perhaps a schoolmaster; Jane Pickering’s and Margaret Board’s lute books are the collections of more competent and serious amateur players; Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s lute book reveals a refined gentleman amateur who, by modern standards at least, would have been good enough to play professionally; the Welde lute book seems to have been written by a professional scribe, either speculatively or as a commission for a wealthy amateur lute player, while Royal Appendix 58 is a performing partbook and score, one of a set of partbooks in use in at court by multi-instrumentalist court musicians.

Some of the English lute manuscripts make for satisfying self-contained musical programmes, and have attracted single-source recordings. Some years ago Anthony Rooley made a record (on the Oiseau Lyre label) of the Cozens lute book. More recently Paul O’Dette has made a CD from Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s lute book (Harmonia Mundi); Jacob Heringman has made a CD from Jane Pickering’s lute book (Avie); Oswald Hebermehl has made a disc from Margaret Board’s lute book (AMU records), and most recently Liz Kenny has made a CD Flying Horse, Music of the ML Lute Book (Hyperion). From among the Continental sources with quite a lot of English music, Joachim Held has made a CD of the Schele MS (Hannsler).

The beginner will want to know which manuscript sources, in facsimile or modern transcription, contains music suitable for novices. Quire a few sources, even the mighty Cambridge Dd.2.11, have ‘toys’ and other easy pieces filling up a blank stave or two at the bottom of many pages. Jane Pickering’s lute book is notable in this regard. One drawback of the beginners and amateurs’ sources is some of the real beginners were beginners at writing tablature too, and had difficulties with notation which is not now easy to interpret. Moreovre some did not own a music book as such, but just scribbled a few fragments of music in other documents—so not really worth making facsimile editions of. The most pleasing single source of easy music is probably the Ballet lute book (bound in with another similar manuscript); there is as yet no facsimile but it has extensively ‘mined’ for anthologies (notably our own 58 Very Easy Pieces). The same is true of the Dallis lute book (which also contains a rather a lot of uninteresting music, so a facsimile is not imminently expected). Giles Lodge’s lute book is a mess, notationally, but has been transcribed as a Lute Society (free) tablature sheet B3, as have BL Stowe 389 (B1) and Royal Appendix 58 (B2) and Westminster Abbey Library MS 105 (B5). The Folger Dowland, Board, Marsh, Pickering, Mynshall and Sampson lute books each contain at least something for the student in the early stages of lute studies, as does Osborn Fb7, the Lute Society edition of which also contains transcriptions.

Facsimiles of English Lute manuscripts

Many lute players like to go to the original sources for their music. But facsimile publishing of manuscripts is a specialist business, and publishers are rather few. The pioneers in the field were Boethius Press; they ran into financial difficulties and were refounded as Severinus Press. Remaining stocks (and the possibilities of short-run reprints) now lie with Jacks, Pipes and Hammers

The Lute Society publishes five English facsimiles, with plans for many more, plus free transcriptions and/or photographs of some of the very minor sources.

Omitting song books and Scottish sources (to be discussed in future issues) facsimile publishers and the lute books they publish are (please correct me if I’m wrong) currently as follows:
Boethius/ Severinus/ Jacks Pipes and Hammers: Willoughby, Trumbull, Sampson, Pickeringe, Board, Brogyntyn, Hirsch, ML, Marsh, Mynshall.

The Lute Society: Krakow 40641, Folger Dowland, Welde, Osborn fb7; Wickhambrook; in preparation: Cambridge Dd.2.11 (and ultimately we hope the rest of the Cambridge MSS: Dd.3.18, Dd.4.22, Dd.5.78.3, Dd.9.33, Nn.6.36), Herbert of Cherbury; in transcription: BL Stowe 389, Royal Appendix 58; Giles Lodge, Westminster Abbey MS 105; fragments photographed in The Lute (1992): BL Add MSS 60577, 6402, 41498 (1993) Magdalen, Edmund, Och 1280, Occ 254 (1999) Westminster Abbey MS 105; journal article in preparation: William Skypton’s MS.

Minor sources and fragments in academic works: Andrea, Mansell, Northants FH.3431.c, in Julia Craig-McFeeley’s thesis; Royal Appendix 58 in John Ward, JAMS 13, pp. 117-24; Royal Appendix 76, transcribed in MB 44, ed. Paul Doe.

No edition that I know of—please let us all know if you know otherwise: Trinity, Thistlethwaite, Richard, Osborn (aka Braye), Ballet (and 408/2, bound with it), Cambridge 2764, BL Add MS 31392, Cozens, Dallis, Euing,

A survey of English music in Continental prints and manuscripts, which are available in facsimile, is beyond the present writer’s competence. Publishers include Tree, Minkoff, Frits Knuf, and the Dutch Lute Society. Would anyone care to write a short piece on this?