Instruments | Lute | Renaissance | Classical
The Renaissance lute had a flat front and a rounded back made out of a series of curved strips of wood (usually yew or sycamore) fitted together. At the centre of the front was the soundhole, called the ‘rose’, which was round and intricately decorated. The instrument’s neck was glued and nailed to the top block of the body, a thick lump of wood. The strings ran from where they were fixed to a bridge across the front, up the fingerboard (which was fitted with gut frets), to a peg box set back at an angle of about 80 degrees. The lute was cradled against the chest, with the fingers of the left hand stopping the strings to vary the pitch and produce chords, those of the right plucking near the rose.
As the strings – particularly the upper ones – were often paired (two neighbouring strings were tuned to the same note and played at the same time), lutenists tend to talk about the number of courses on an instrument. This term disregards whether the strings are single or double, counting only the number of different pitches to which they are tuned. Most early lute music was intabulated from chansons. The six-course lute was popular in the sixteenth century and was most frequently used in ricercares and fantasias. Elizabethan and Jacobean music was written largely for seven- and eight-course instruments, while in the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) would have known a 13-course lute.
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