Still Curious

Painstaking research, in the field and in the workshop, and lutebuilding proper always were for me constantly evolving processes and, after over three decades of ‘work in progress’, still quite stimulating.

The models I have developed along the way result from careful study of available historical instruments able to reveal sufficient reliable information about inner construction and creative concept. These results were then tempered with the experience gathered over the years in order to try and satisfy both my own expectations (I, too, was an ‘amateur’ musician for quite some time) and the needs of a modern lute player in terms of sound quality and playability.

To call our instruments after the names of the ancient masters is certainly a practical way to generalize some constructional features, but it can also be a label with a not quite clearly defined content, requiring a couple of deeper thoughts. It was mostly chance that determined which instruments should survive through the centuries, very often on aesthetic and/or commercial grounds – which at least partly explains the disproportion existing today between ‘leuti ordinarii’ and ‘leuti de pretio’, as described in historical sources. But the latter represent, in fact, the less significant part of the whole historical production. On the other hand, the fact alone of being ancient is no guarantee that these instruments are the very best ones worth reproducing. Lutes have always been specialized ‘working tools’ for musicians and if we do not try and understand and, as far as possible, reproduce the historical context in which they were employed, we risk creating a deformed perspective of the historical facts. True enough, this issue invests more directly other categories of specialists, but indirectly regards us lutemakers, too. Only a limited number out of the many surviving instruments has been studied in depth and we often possess only more or less accurate information about their outer physical aspect. Only in a few cases X-rays exist, which can give us a reasonably accurate insight of the inner details. The number of instruments that have actually been opened and accurately described in their crucial features and measurements is, in fact, rather limited. Even when we have determined the original state of all the components we can not always realize true copies, especially where the original sizes are concerned, since they often do not fit modern pitch standards (or musicians’ idiosyncrasies), and we often have to reduce the original dimensions, with no negligible consequences in terms of sound.

A chapter on its own deserves the question of historical strings, which were the one single factor affecting the whole constructional concept, whether we are conscious of it or not.

If these considerations help partly justify a certain reluctance of mine to give ‘names’ to instruments I have built, they aim, above all, at making it clear that modern instruments owe their sound and character much less to what the old masters’ names were than to how each of us interprets the information that original instruments can offer us.