The modern revival of the lute, and particularly the Renaissance lute, was pioneered by Arnold Dolmetsch around the turn of the 20th century. His star pupil, Diana Poulton, continued his legacy well into the 20th century establishing a technique and repertory for the lute that would inspire generations to come. However, lute-playing remained a relatively esoteric niche, overshadowed by the popularity of the modern classical guitar.
This being said, many lutenists in recent times have begun their musical life as guitarists. Switching from guitar to lute can seem like an accessible pathway, but it is also fraught with technical and aesthetic obstacles. It is my aim to write a practical lute guidebook geared toward the novice lutenist or adventurous guitarist.
The Lutenist’s Journal does not aim to provide a structured curriculum, nor contain practical exercises for lute players as this has been well-covered by modern lute methods such as those by Andrea Damiani and Diana Poulton. However, these sources only briefly discuss the technical problems inherent with transitioning from guitar to lute, and insist that the most fundamental elements of a guitar technique be immediately abandoned in preference for techniques that can seem quite foreign and unnatural. This is potentially off-putting to many guitarists who are attracted by the prospect of transitioning to lute but perhaps unsure whether they are ready to cut off their fingernails or sell their guitar.
While The Lutenist’s Journal attempts to be more accessible to guitarists, it is also firmly grounded in discussion of the primary sources. The discussion is mainly limited to English Renaissance lute treatises as these require little or no translation, and because the early Baroque lute technique is substantially different—raising other complexities outside the scope of this present study. Where translations are available, and where the information contained is of particular significance to my arguments, I have included Renaissance lute treatises of French and Italian origin. There are also two sources of such historical significance, elegance, and rarity that, despite being published in the mid to late 17th century, provide valuable insights into Renaissance lute playing. These are The Mary Burwell Lute Tutor and Musick’s Monument by Thomas Mace.
For the remainder of this series , my historical scope has been defined (excluding iconography) to the following treatises:
Key Primary Sources Relevant to the English Renaissance Lute (Chronological)
Virdung, S., and B. Bullard. Musica Getutscht: A Treatise on Musical Instruments (1511) by Sebastian Virdung. Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Vidal. Capirola Lute Book. Newberry Library, ca.1517.
Roy, Adrian Le. A Briefe and Easye Instruction to Learne the Tableture. Paris, 1571.
Barley, William. A New Book of Tablature. London: British Library, 1596.
Robinson, Thomas. The Schoole of Musicke. London, 1602.
John Dowland, Robert Dowland, Jean Baptiste Besard. A Variety of Lute Lessons. London, 1610.
Piccinini, Alessandro. Intavolatura Di Liuto Et Di Chitarrone. 1623.
Early Baroque Treatises
Rogers, J., and E. Burwell. The Burwell Lute Tutor: Reproduced under the direction of Leslie Hewitt for Boethius Press. 1660.
Mace, Thomas. Musick's Monument. London: T. Ratcliffe & N. Thompson. 1676.
While this selection of treatises encompasses the most significant historical writings on lute playing from the 16th to early 17th century, it does not comprise all of the extant lute manuscripts available to scholars. Some notable omissions (due to a lack of accessible translations) are Matthaus Waissel’s Lautenbuch (1592), Hans Gerle’s Musica Teusch (1532) and Musica und Tabulatur…, Hans Judenkünig’s Ain schone kunstliche underweisung (1523), Pierre Attaingnant’s First Lute Book (1529) and Intabulatura di lauto by Melchiore Barberiis. Although I was unable to acquire complete (English) translations of these treatises, references in secondary literature suggest that these sources reinforce most of the Renaissance treatises covered here and do not present radically different material.
The Need for a Well-Researched, yet Flexible Guidebook
The Lutenist’s Journal aims to be an authoritative guidebook that lays out the historical evidence, provides practical advice on aspects of technique, and provides novice lutenists with a flexible array of choices in light of the historical evidence. I aim to give musical and practical justifications for certain aspects of lute playing supported by period literature, while providing some alternative solutions for those wanting to continue to play the guitar. In essence, this approach allows the players themselves to choose how far they wish to compromise their modern guitar technique, and shows the path to gradually transition via a series of technical adjustments.
The lute, “the prince of instruments”  enjoyed a prosperity and popularity in the Renaissance that was rivalled by no other instrument. The classical aura surrounding the lute, its sonorities and its ability to play solo polyphony made it the preferred instrument of Renaissance nobleman. It seems therefore a great shame that much of the enormous repertory of extant music for the lute and related instruments remains unexplored by modern guitarists, for either lack of accessibility or limitations of modern instruments.
For a guitarist all too used to the luxury of a single staple technique and well-prepared modern notation, making the switch to read handwritten pieces in French, Italian and German tablature, as well as standard notation can be very daunting. While it is true that many of the idiosyncrasies of each notational style and technique become apparent with time and repetition, it is also true that authentic lute playing is still a highly-debated and contentious field, one with few absolute truths. As such, I have found that the existing literature could do more to justify why, aside from the sake of ‘authenticity’, one should adopt the techniques of Renaissance lutenists. Poulton, for example, looks only briefly at the notions of purchasing an instrument, which as a beginner, is one of the single most important and varied parts of lute playing. Should one get a lute or an arch lute? Should it have courses or single strings? Should it have six, seven, eight, nine, or even ten strings? Should It be tuned to G, A or D minor? How many ribs should it have? In Poulton’s method, she simply says “if you have not already bought a lute it is most desirable that you should first seek expert advice.”
This research aims to address some of these gaps, by providing an on-line resource about lute playing that can benefit novice lutenists or guitarists with a more detailed overview of purchasing an instrument, using historic techniques direct from primary sources, and interpreting manuscripts and repertoire. I aim to look at the notions of authenticity and practicality, examining what aspects of historic lute playing can perhaps be sacrificed for the ease of the performer. With reference to iconography and primary treatises, this series will present guitarists with historical facts and allow one to decide how far into the field of early music they wish to go, perhaps picking and choosing those most appropriate techniques or articulations that best suit them.
 Andrea Damiani, Method for Renaissance Lute, trans. Doc Rossi (rome: Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 1998), Manual.
 Diana Poulton, A Tutor for the Renaissance Lute (the University of Michigan: Schott, 1991).
 Whilst these two treatises are published in the later half of the 17th century, they often make reference to unfashionable or outdated techniques and styles of lute playing. These ‘archaic’ techniques are likely to have been in vogue for most of the 16th century, therefore, they are of particular significance and relevance to scholars studying Renaissance lute technique.
 D.A. Smith and Lute Society of America, A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Lute Society of America, 2002).
Whilst the associations with Orpheus are a fictitious part of the lute’s history, such associations (arguably) had significant cultural resonance at the time.
 Smith and America, A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance.
 When discussing nails on the lute, Poulton states: “The fingernails must be short and must not touch the courses in playing… this point is constantly emphasised [by the lute treatises]”. She goes on to say “The long nails of the present-day guitar player will produce an entirely unauthentic sound.” Whilst I completely agree that it is almost impossible to properly contact the courses when one has long nails, I would assume that a guitarist (perhaps less concerned with the notion of authenticity) may require a better argument than (essentially) ‘that’s what everyone did’ before making the leap to cut off their nails.
Poulton, A Tutor for the Renaissance Lute, 7.