Lute Music in C17 Cornwall

Lute players were highly prized musicians in this period. Their significance is perhaps illustrated by the fact that ”Il Divino”, a Lute player at the French Court, was the second highest paid member of the French Court. The French court itself often employed instrumentalists who were familiar with innovations currently being made in Italy. Players of the lute, harpsichord and violin were all highly prized for their services at weddings, festivals and feasts. Besides this type of popular music, which was often the subject of adaptation and improvisation, a more aesthetic variety of what might be termed art music was performed in the richer, grander houses of Lanhydrock, Trerice and Cothele.

Lutenists who developed their skills in Cornwall, like Charles Farneby, were drawn to London as is evidenced by the fact that they were, at the end of their days, buried there. It appears that children acquired knowledge of the lute, an expensive instrument which included its strings made from the small intestine of sheep, shipped from Venice, either at school or from private tutors. Their instruction was frequently passed on to children who in turn instructed servants so that they might entertain on a regular basis.

In 1978 a book of lute music was discovered at Lanhydrock which Brian had photocopied at a local solicitor’s office and has now been published as the Robartes Lute Book, 1654-1668 and contains pieces for the French lute in D minor tuning / with an introductory study by Robert Spencer. In general early C17 pieces were extravert in style. Later in the century the French influence of Queen Henrietta Maria showed itself in a livelier, more elegant manner as was illustrated by the performance of “La Maribelle”, a piece which gave some insight into the ambience of courtly refinement. A French painting of James Robartes, shows him fashionably depicted with his Lute at Lanhydrock. As the century moved forwards, the taste for the more complex and plangent tones of Dowland and pieces like “Merry Melancholy”, which Brian performed became more prevalent.


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