Modern music on the lute: Really?
This is a short post that is more a series of questions about playing new music on old instruments, and is directed to no one in particular.
There has been a growing level of interest among lutenists for composing and playing modern music on the lute. I have to admit to being guilty of the same practice, since I have both composed for and arranged bits of modern music for the lute. I’m just wondering in print whether it is really appropriate to the aesthetic of the instrument.
Is superimposing a new harmonic language on a historical instrument worth the bother, when the reason most people are interested in the lute is its connection with music of the past?
Does the new harmonic language really capture and convey the special qualities of the old instrument to good advantage?
Does the use of an ancient instrument to produce modern sounds merely serve a a means to draw attention to the composer, whose compositional voice would otherwise be more conventional with a modern instrument, such as the guitar?
Are we subjecting the lute to the Pygmalion effect, hoping its sound will live up to what we imagine it is capable of, rather than allowing it to live comfortably in the sound world that suits it best?
As lutenists, we know it’s just not appropriate to play transparent music from the early 16th century on a 13-course baroque lute, which was designed to express a new harmonic language with a strong delineation between treble and bass. As a guitarist, I wouldn’t bother to try to get psychedelic Jimi Hendrix-like sounds out of my 19th century parlor guitar.