John Dowland, though also a sprightly and humorous composer, is most famous for the darker side of his character and the pervading melancholy that nourished his unquiet soul. But he was in no way the inventor of highly charged melodic poignancy in solo lute music. Two important composers of the generation of English lutenists that preceded him clearly show signs of great invention including moments of tormented yearnings which led to music of extraordinary depth. John Johnson (died in 1594) and Anthony Holborne (died in 1602) were the most prominent lutenists to remain in England during the Elizabethan period (Dowland spent many years on the Continent). Their œuvre contains rhapsodic Pavans of lyrical intensity and richness of harmony, spirited Galliards, striking character pieces (one of which is entitled “Mad Dog”) and elaborate variations. They were both virtuosos if the highest calibre as the daring of their diminution techniques attests. This program highlights theirs and Dowland’s masterpieces from the 1580s and 90s.
Hopkinson Smith, lute
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Born in New York in 1946, Hopkinson Smith graduated from Harvard with Honors in Music in 1972. His instrumental studies took him to Europe where he worked with Emilio Pujol, a great pedagogue in the highest Catalan artistic tradition, and with the Swiss lutenist, Eugen Dombois, whose sense of organic unity between performer, [ ] instrument, and historical period has had lasting effects on him. He has been involved in numerous chamber music projects and was one of the founding members of the ensemble Hespèrion XX. Since the mid-80’s, he has focused almost exclusively on the solo repertoires for early plucked instrument, producing a series of prize-winning recordings for Astrée and Naïve, which feature Spanish music for vihuela and baroque guitar, French lute music of the Renaissance and baroque, English and Italian music of the 16th early 17th century and music from the German high baroque.
The recording of his lute arrangements of the Bach solo violin Sonatas and Partitas, released in the year 2000, has been universally acclaimed by the press. Gramophone magazine called it “the best recording of these works on any instrument”. A Dowland recording, released in early 2005, won a Diapason d’Or and was called ‘wonderfully personal’ in a review in the New York Times. A recording with music from the world of Francesco da Milano, was awarded a Diapason d’Or de l’Année (the French equivalent of a Grammy award) in November 2009 and has been called “the first recording to do justice to Francesco’s reputation.” A CD with the first three Bach Cello Suites played on the German Theorbo was released in early 2013, has also won a Diapason d’Or and was called “totally riveting” in the BBC Music Magazine.
Hopkinson Smith has performed and given master classes throughout Eastern and Western Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan sometimes combining the life-style of a hermit with that of a gypsy. In 2007 and 2009, he gave concerts and workshops in Palestine under the auspices of the Barenboim-Said Foundation and the Swiss Arts Council. In 2010, he received the music prize from the Italian Region of Puglia with the inscription “maestro dei maestri, massimo interprete delle musiche per liuto dell’antica Europa Mediterranea”. He lives in Basel, Switzerland where he teaches at the Schola Cantorum.