by Simon Lambert, April 2010
Like every other field of specialised interest, the world of the lute has been transformed by the internet. Anyone with internet access can find an enormous richness of material of interest and value to lutenists, including freely downloadable music, essays, audio and video recordings of performers both professional and amateur, and discussion forums and mailing lists.
This article will briefly survey what is available; the aim is not to present an exhaustive list—that would be impossible because there is so much and things change so quickly—but to give an idea of the variety on offer, illustrated with a few examples, and to suggest how to keep abreast of the scene.
An obvious starting point is the websites of the various (inter)national lute societies. These offer information about the societies’ publications, events, and membership, as well as other material: typically listings of instruments for sale, advice for beginners (such as the Lute Society’s page on ‘Thinking of taking up the lute?’) or lists of teachers. Many lute society websites also function as portals, containing a wide range of links to other resources on the internet, and so can be useful starting points for further exploration.
Selection of other lute society websites:
Many individuals connected with the lute have their own web pages. Professional lute players and lute makers (e.g. see makers listings) can be expected to have their own websites (though there are exceptions) —a Google search on the name of the individual plus the word ‘lute’ will usually turn up their personal website near the top of the list. These offer the expected contents: for players, lists of recordings, concert dates, interviews, perhaps a blog; and for makers, catalogues of their instruments, price lists and so on.
In some cases, though, there is more. To give just a few examples: the lute maker Martin Shepherd has a page dedicated to the music of Francesco da Milano with tablature and MP3 files of recordings; the Italian player Diego Cantalupi presents the tablature and commentary on a complete concert programme ‘Il liuto del Caravaggio’; Rob MacKillop offers in-depth discussions of the Spanish vihuela repertoire.
Some other individuals have particularly rich websites, either because they have many outward links of interest, or because of some particular contents. Again a few representative examples follow; of course there are many more. Arto Wikla of Finland has an extensive set of web pages on the lute that also serve as a portal, with many links to the websites of music publishers, ensembles, lute enthusiasts, etc. Wolfgang Wiehe (Germany) has created an online ‘lute folder’ with tablature for a variety of less-known pieces for Renaissance lute and his own recordings of them. Monica Hall presents a large amount of material about the Baroque guitar including essays on composers and an introduction ‘The Baroque Guitar Made Simple’.
One question that often arises is the availability of lute music for free on the internet. It is there, and in large quantities, though it is necessary to be a little cautious. A number of libraries are digitising parts of their collections, and these may include original lute-related manuscripts or prints. These digitised facsimiles generally lack the scholarly introductions and critical commentaries that would be expected in publications such as those issued by the Lute Society. The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek has a particularly important collection including prints of Neusidler, Paladino, Waissel, Denss and Bakfark (though be warned—mostly in German tablature). The books can be downloaded in whole or in part as PDF files. Meanwhile the Biblioteca Virtual de Andalucia contains Fuenllana’s Libro de Musica para Vihuela and the Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance de Tours offers Spinacino’s Intabulatura de Lauto Libro secundo.
For music set in modern tablature, there are a number of websites that have extremely large amounts for free download—sometimes complete original sources have been entered into one of the various tablature setting programs by dedicated individuals. However it is important to remember that these are not critical editions, and most lack detailed commentaries on the sources and editing that has been done: errors might go uncorrected, or the tablature might have been adapted from the original. In most cases PDF files are available for download, as well as the original file for whichever software was used to create it, the most popular being Wayne Cripps’ TAB program, Fronimo and Django.
In the so-called ‘Web 2.0’ world, usage of the World Wide Web has evolved in the direction of online communities interacting and sharing information, a two-way process in which the distinction between producer and consumer of content is blurred. The lute world has joined this trend with enthusiasm, though one active community of lutenists online predates the rise of the World Wide Web: the lute mailing list run by Wayne Cripps. Subscribers to the list receive a copy of every email sent by other subscribers, and of course can also send their own messages for distribution. The list is lively and an excellent place for raising specific queries or airing opinions for debate. Recent topics include the sound of modern lute recordings, advice to a guitarist on whether to learn thumb-inside technique on the lute, the tempo of Francesco da Milano’s fantasias, and the perennial favourite of gut strings versus synthetics! Sometimes the discussions can become acrimonious or veer off at a tangent, but overall it is a good way of keeping one’s finger on the pulse of the lute world.
The social networking site Ning hosts the networks ‘lutegroup’ and ‘earlyguitar’. These allow members to set up personal profiles, to post photographs and videos and to discuss topics of interest on the forums—someone will start a discussion and others reply, with the whole conversation being visible on the web page. There are also sections for uploading music in tablature for others to access. The lute network currently has 809 members. The Lute Society itself has a Facebook group offering similar facilities, currently with 335 members.
The popular video site Youtube, which allows uploading of videos by users, has an immense amount of lute-related material—searching for just the word ‘lute’ returns over 13,000 results, and ‘Renaissance lute’ over 1,800. There are many videos of lutenists of all levels of ability, though those one might consider the really big names are in fact not well represented. A special mention must be made of Valéry Sauvage who has uploaded around 500 videos of his playing of the lute and other plucked instruments! David van Ooijen has created a Youtube channel devoted to videos of the pieces from the Lute Society’s book 70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute, concentrating on technical aspects.
In summary, there is an astonishing richness available online. One can find much with judicious use of a search engine, but a good way to keep abreast is to join one or more of the online communities set up specifically for the lute and other early plucked strings. Even while putting the finishing touches to this article, an email arrived pointing to a web page with chronological listings of lute, vihuela and guitar prints and manuscripts from the 16th to the 19th centuries—typical of the unexpected and immensely valuable resources that are available for the lutenist on the internet.