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John M. Ward., 2 vols.

As John M. Ward explains, this study grew out of a planned edition of the Osborn lute manuscript (also known as the Braye lute book) at Yale University. To put the music into context the author found it necessary to make a similar study of other English lute sources of the mid-sixteenth century, and the result is that "what began as a smallish anthology of mid-century music for the lute, gittern, and guitar has become a much larger one and the introductory essay a short history of music for plucked stringed instruments (the cittern apart) from the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 to the last decade of the sixteenth century". Hitherto our picture of English lute music before the golden age of John Dowland and his contemporaries has been an obscure and fragmentary one. Music for Elizabethan Lutes provides the fullest account yet, together with transcriptions of nearly all the music, of the pre-Dowland era.

The book begins with a chapter on Henry VIII's lutenist, the Franco-Fleming Philip van Wilder (ca. 1500-1553). Professor Ward argues persuasively that only one or two surviving lute pieces can be confidently attributed to him. Nevertheless he characterizes Philip as "the most eminent of the professional lutenists active in England during the first half of the sixteenth century" and makes out a strong case for Hans Holbein the younger's Man with a Lute being a portrait of the musician at the height of his career.

Chapter 2 consists of a series of source studies of lute manuscripts dating from the middle of the century, each with its own inventory. Here the Osborn manuscript takes its place along with British Library MSS Stowe 389 and Royal Appendix 58, Folger MS V.a.159 (the Lodge lute book), and Nottingham University MS Mi LM 16 (the Willoughby lute book). Four of these, as Ward demonstrates, date from the 1550s and 1560s and are the work of musical amateurs. The Willoughby lute book is rather later, probably 1570-75, and though it too is the work of a gentleman amateur it displays more expert handling of the tablature.

By contrast, Edinburgh University MS Dc.5.125, which is the subject of chapter 3, is a "professional's miscellany," and the author gives good reasons for supposing that the main contributor (Scribe C) was an Italian resident in England, perhaps one of the Bassano family. Ward untangles the provenance and describes the scribal characteristics of these sources, before analyzing their musical contents. As he says, in general the musical quality is not high. Not until chapter 4, devoted to John Johnson--an immediate predecessor of Dowland--do we encounter a lutenist of quality whose work has survived in some quantity, so that the author is able to take a broad view of his style. He concludes that Johnson "was not a melodist, composed no notable tunes. . . . [he] draws us on by the ways in which he manipulates chords; he was a harmonist".

Following the main text there are seven appendixes, some of them substantial, including one on the musical marginalia (preserved by George Nott) in the lost Wynne copy of Tottel's Miscellany, one on musical settings for poems in the same collection, and one on music for the poetry of Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard Surrey. Volume 1 also contains a detailed commentary on the music printed in volume 2. Anyone familiar with Ward's work will look forward to the wealth of material to be found in his footnotes, which are particularly extensive in appendix F.

Ward's knowledge of the sources of English lute music is without rival; he also brings to this work a broad knowledge of the culture of the Renaissance, not only in musical matters and not only in England, so that apparently trivial details find a context and gain in significance. Thus his wide knowledge of the repertory (not only of lute music) enables him to place The Duke of Somersettes Dompe in Royal Appendix 58 into the broad context of English variation technique. Some of the most illuminating material is to be found in his characteristic excursions into seemingly tangential areas. Students of balladry and "words and music" will find much to engage their interest in some of these excursions, Specialists in lute music will find points with which they wish to take issue, and there are a fair number of minor errors which need correcting in a second edition; nonetheless this is an important contribution to English musical studies.

DAVID GREER University of Durham
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Author:Greer, David
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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