Lutes in Duo

Thor Harald Johnsen


Thomas C. Boysen

A. de Cabezon - Tiento

V. Galilei - Contrapunto primo

Th. Robinson -  Passamezo galyard

A. Carbonchi - Calata per cantare

Relying on an ancient tradition, Thomas Boysen and Thor-Harald Johnsen wish to present some of the best pieces of the lute repertoire. They not only interpret works originally written for two lutes (as for instance the Francesco piece based on the famous 15th century tenor La Spagna), but they choose to extend this practice to later repertoire through achieving arrangements and adaptations for their duo, or improvising along a solo piece.

One can distinguish different types of compositions in the presented program, where the function of each instrument varies. Sometimes both lutes play completely similar parts, as in the well-known form of the canon. Sometimes they play equally weighted parts, responding to one another virtuosic ally in a musical dialog, as one can hear in the Terzi duet. The dances by Dalza are constructed on bourdon-like accompaniment, played by one lute, while the other carries out the melodic lines. Later repertoire illustrates the typical use of grounds or obstinate basses that consists of inventing variations upon a fixed repeated harmonic pattern.

Through music history, the lute has been an instrument of multiple functions. Comparable to the guitar today the members of the lute family were instruments that could play virtuoso solo repertoire, as well as accompany any kind of song, dance and instrumental piece in all different kinds of level or style.

Lute players were to play a part in a polyphonic score, to play masterpieces either thoroughly composed or expertly improvised, accompany within an ensemble or as a self-sufficient instrument, this also often requiring skilful improvisation. Briefly, lute players were to be able to perform and produce almost anything.

Back in the 15th century a certain form of performing the lute developed and was most appreciated. The lute duo, associating the melodic and harmonic qualities of the instrument, offered the possibility of interpreting almost all the existent repertoire (polyphonic pieces being songs or dances), exploring in the numerous sound shapes proper to plucked instruments. One specific luteinise of the 15th century, Pietrobono del Chitarrino, was renowned for improvising virtuosic upper lines in duet with a tenorista, who took care of the tenor line, being the foundation of the piece.

Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, changes took place simultaneously in lute building, performing and compositional techniques. More and more strings were added to the instruments, increasing considerably its range, musicians substituted finger playing to plectrum playing, harmonic conception replaced polyphonic texture. But the lute duet remained a well-liked formation, adapting -thanks to the multiple possibilities of the lute instruments- to all these fundamental changes.

Thor Harald Johnsen