1902 Encyclopedia > Lute


LUTE. The European lute is derived in form and name from the Arabic "el `d," "the wood," the consonant of the article " el " having been retained in the European languages for the initial of the name (French, loth; Ital., Unto ; Span., laud ; German, Laute; Dutch, luit). The Arab instrument, with convex sound-body, pointing to the resonance board or membrane having been originally placed upon a gourd, was strung with silk and played with a plectrum of shell or quill. It was adopted by the Arabs from Persia, the typical instrument being the two-stringed " tanbur," and ultimately found its way to the West at the time of the crusades. The modern Egyptian " `Ad " is the direct descendant of the Arabic lute, and, according to Lane, is strung with seven pairs of catgut strings played by a plectrum. A specimen at South Kensington, given by the Khedive, has four pairs only, which appears to have been the old stringing of the instrument. When frets are employed they are of catgut disposed according to the Arabic scale of seventeen intervals in the octave, consisting of twelve limmas, an interval rather less than our equal semitone, and five commas, which are very small but quite recognizable differences of pitch.

The lute family is separated from the guitars, also of Eastern origin, by the formation of the sound body, which is in all lutes pear-shaped, without the sides or ribs necessary to the structure of the flat-backed guitar and either. Observing this distinction, we include with the lute the little Neapolitan mandoline of 2 feet long, and the large double-necked Roman chitarrone, which not unfrequently attains to a length of 6 feet. Mandolines are partly strung with wire, and are played with a plectrum, indispensable for metal or short strings. Perhaps the earliest lutes were so played, but the large lutes and theorbos strung with catgut have been invariably touched by the fingers only, the length permitting this more sympathetic means of producing the tone.

The Neapolitan is the hest known mandoline ; it was indicated by Mozart in the score of Don Giovanni, to accompany the famous serenade. The four pairs of strings sera innpri vinlin in fifths The mandola or mandore is larger than either, with eight pairs of strings. This name has been derived from the Italian word, similarly spelled but differently accented, signifying almond, which the mandola is supposed to resemble in shape, but ban, man, pan, and tan are first syllables of lute and guitar instruments met with all over the world, the oldest form of which is the borrowed Greek " irae8ofi'pa," an Asiatic word, which the Arabs changed to " tanbur." Przetorius (Organographia, Wolfenbiittel, 1619, a scarce work, of which the only copy in Great Britain is in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh), writing when the lute was in universal favour, mentions seven varieties distinguished by size and tuning. The smallest would be larger than a mandoline, and the melody string, the " chanterelle," often a single string, lower in pitch. Preetorius calls this an octave lute, with the chanterelle C or D. The two discant lutes have respectively B and A, the alto G, the tenor E, the bass D, and the great octave bass G, an octave below the alto lute which may be taken as the model lute cultivated by the amateurs of the time. The bass lutes were most likely theorbos, that is, double-necked lutes, as described below. The accordance of an alto lute was LUTE of time, been added. A later addition was the known as diapasons, which, descending to the deep C of the violoncello, were not stopped with the fingers. The diapasons were tuned as the key of the piece of music required. The illustration represents an Italian instrument 128 made by one of the most celebrated lute makers, Venere of Padua, in 1600 ; it is 3 feet 6 inches high, and has six pairs of unisons and eight single diapasons. The fingerboard, divided into approximately equal half tones by the frets, as a rule eight in number, was often further divided on the higher notes, for ten, eleven, or, as in the woodcut, even twelve, semi-tunes. The head, bearing the tuning pegs, was placed at an obtuse or a right angle to the neck, to increase the bearing of the strings upon the nut, and be convenient for sudden requirements of tuning during performance, the trouble of keeping a lute in tune being proverbial.

The lute was in general use during the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th it declined ; still the great J. S. Bach wrote a " partita " for it, which remains in manuscript. The latest date we have met with of an engraved publication for the lute is 1760.

The large double-necked lute, with two sets of tuning pegs, the lower for the finger-board, the higher for the diapason strings, was known as the theorbo ; also, and especially in England, as the archlute ; and, in a special form, the neck being then very long, as the chitarrone. Theorbo and chitarrone appear together at the close of the 16th century, and their introduction was synchronous with the rise of accompanied monody in music, that is, of the oratorio and the opera. Peri, Caccini, and Monteverde used theorbos to accompany their newly-devised recitative, the invention of which in Florence, from the impulse of the Renaissance, is well known. The height of a theorbo varied from 3 feet 6 inches to 5 feet, the Paduan being always the largest, excepting the Roman 6-feet long chitarrone. These large lutes had very deep notes, and doubtless great liberties were allowed in tuning, but the strings on the finger-board followed the lute accordance already given, or another quoted by Baron (Untersuchung des Instruments der Imam, Nuremberg, 1727) as the old theorbo or " violway " (see Mace, Musick's Monument, London, 1676) : - 128 We find again both these accordances varied and transposed a tone higher, perhaps with thinner strings, or to accommodate local differences of pitch ; Prtorius recommends the chanterelles of theorbos being tuned an octave lower on account of the great strain. By such a change, another authority, the Englishman Thomas Mace, says, the life and spruceness of airy lessons were quite lost. The theorbo or archluto had at last to give way to the violoncello and double bass, which are still used to accompany the " recitativo secco." in oratorios and operas. Handel wrote a part for a theorbo in Esther (1720) ; after that date it appears no more in orchestral scores, but remained in private use until nearly the end of the century.

We cannot refrain from admiring the beauty of decoration of ivory, mother of pearl, and tortoiseshell, the characteristic patterning of the " knots " or " roses " in the sound-boards, all of which was so well allied with the extremely artistic forms of the different lutes, rendering them, now their musical use is past, objects of research for collections and museums. The present direction of musical taste and composition is adverse to the cultivation of such tenderly sensitive timbre as the lute possessed. The lute and the organ share the distinction of being the first instruments for which the oldest instrumental compositions we possess were written. It was not for the lute, however, in our present notation, but in tablature, "lyrawise," a system by which as many lines were drawn horizontally as there were pairs of strings on the finger-board, the frets being distinguished by the letters of the alphabet, repeated from A for each line. This was the English manner; the Italian was by numbers instead of letters. The signs of time were placed over the stave, and were not repeated unless the mensural values changed.

Consult Grove's Dictionary of Music, arts. "Lute," " Frets " Stainer and Barrett's Dictionary of Music, " Tablature" ; and the admirable museum catalogues of Carl Engel (South Kensington), G. Chouquet (Faris), and Victor Mahillon (Brussels). (A. J. H. )

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