Luting the past

A BBC Radio 4 Documentary presented by Emma Kirkby and produced by Chris Taylor, broadcast on August 18, 2009

The soprano Emma Kirkby tells the story of a unique musical instrument, a 400-year-old lute whose ancient wood offers a glimpse into a golden age of music-making. Originally made by Sixtus Rauwolf in Augsburg around 1590, the instrument is thought to be the world's oldest lute now in playing condition. Since 1989 it has been owned by Jakob Lindberg, who bought it at Sotheby's. After many years of painstaking work on the wood and varnish by the lutemaker Michael Lowe with Stephen Gottlieb and David Munro, Lindberg was able to reveal a ravishing tone. He has since used the instrument in concerts and recordings, some with Kirkby herself.

This programme looks at the context of lute-players and -playing, especially at royal courts and in diplomatic entourages in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ferrabosco, Froberger, Dowland and Lanier figure in the story until economic, technological and aesthetic change, as seen through the rise of public concerts in ever-larger halls, began to displace the lute. When its popularity fell away, so did the tradition and craftsmanship of lute-making. Kirkby recounts how new life was breathed into this particular instrument and discovers the intriguing part lutenists played in Britain's history.

Leanne explains how the rise of 'orchestras' made the lute's harmonic function and accompanying role redundant, but also how this particular lute opens ears to an earlier sound world. Other contributors include Jakob Lindberg, Michael Lowe, Julian Bream, Ian Harwood, Stephen Gottlieb and David Munro.

'how great it was to hear you ... lucid and interesting'

Joan McGavin, poet and lecturer

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