The lute is in the classification of musical instruments known as the chordophones. It is also a stringed and fretted instrument which has a long history going as far back as the medieval times. Interest in the lute and its music has survived from antiquity through the baroque period. Even more so, this interest continued to increase over time to become one of the most important musical instruments of the renaissance period in history. Collectively, through these musical periods, the amount of surviving music has given us an excellent repertoire for the lute.
Since approximately the early 1900 there has been another increase in popularity for music in the lute which continues to this day. Modern composers have also found a renewed interest and new music continues to be written for the lute in this modern era. Well known performers showcasing the uniqueness and the styles of music this instrument is capable of have added even more interest in the lute especially in recent years.
The lute is a unique instrument in several ways. From a visual perspective, its design is unlike any other of the more commonly known stringed and fretted musical instruments. Its distinctive bowl shape back, unique intricately carved rosette and sound hole inlay and the unusual bent or angled or altered head stock are some of these unique visual features.
The lute has many relatives or derivations including the oud from the Arab nations in the Middle East, the theobro or long necked lute, the pandura and its descendents, tamboura and the bouzouki. The oud which came out of ancient Greece is only one direction in which the lute has evolved in various parts of the world. All of these instruments are considered to be in the chordophone classification of instruments as well.
Ronn McFarlane is one of the most well known instrumentalists of the lute. He was nominated in 2009 for a Grammy Award in the music category of Best Crossover Album, for his CD titled Indigo Road. His performances give us excellent examples of the sounds created on the lute.
Below is a video of one of his compositions, the title track Indigo Road which demonstrates the nature and unique sound characteristics of the lute as well as McFarlane’s performance abilities. While watching the video, take special note of his use of left and right hand fingering as independent movements of the fingers are needed to perform well on the lute.
We wish to extend a huge thank you to Dorians Recordings and Ronn McFarlane for creating this video and to YouTube for making this video available under the embed rules for non-commercial and educational use.
Although this has been a very basic overview of the lute we hope that is has inspired you to seek out further resources about this wonderful instrument and maybe you will enjoy music written for the lute and the instrument itself. For more information offering an enticing and interesting study about the lute, I would urge that you check out the Lute Society of America and a specific book published by them titled, “A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance” written by Douglas Alton Smith. This is an excellent book offering one of the most comprehensive research publications ever written about the lute.