The second half of the 20th century saw a renewal of interest in early music and, like the natural life of any popular fad today, what was formerly an arcane curiosity eventually became a product that was slickly commercialized, cleverly packaged and marketed to consumers. But if the universe of early music may be described as a brand new Mercedes-Benz (costly, glitzy, and having broad consumer appeal) the world of the lute is like an old Model T Ford (costlier, quaint, always breaking down).
The world of the lute has attracted people who share in common a fascination with trivial details concerning the geometry of the instrument, specialized playing techniques, string materials and the surviving historical sources of lute music. For the latter, we should all bow down and thank the brilliant 20th century scholars who have spent endless hours researching, analyzing, and codifying this surviving music in order to make it available to those of us who are inclined, with many drops of sweat, to reconstitute the dessicated old manuscript pages back into living, breathing music.
John Milton Ward passed away on December 12, 2011 at the age of 94 years. Others who studied with him will certainly have stories to tell but my personal contact with Ward was in the capacity of compiler of a rather lengthy errata list for a published edition of music for which something went awry. There is no need to go into that story here, but I found Ward to be kind, gracious and more than willing to praise the quality of work he thought was good.
Beyond my personal interactions with John Ward, I have learned much regarding musicological research in general – and the details of historical sources of lute music in particular – just from reading his articles and following the threads of documentation in his footnotes. He seemed to have a knack for targeting what may objectively be called not the best examples of music, and applying the highest standards of scholarship to what was probably a repertory played at home for domestic recreation. I love reading some of his wry comments such as the following:
Lacking in most of the Marsh pieces is anything beyond competence – Johnson’s works and a few others excepted. One wearies of rapid conjunct movement in figures often encountered but rarely assembled in interesting patterns, of constant rummaging about in the middle register of the instrument, or the lack of compelling musical discourse.
Music for Elizabethan Lutes: John Milton Ward, Clarendon Press, 1992, p. 75
In addition to Music for Elizabethan Lutes, below is my own selected list of articles by Ward that are an insomniac’s dream, so to speak.
“Sprightly and Cheerful Musick: Notes on the Cittern, Gittern & Guitar in 16th- & 17th-Century England”, Lute Society Journal XXI, 1979-81, The Lute Society, London (1983).
“The “Doleful Dumps”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer, 1951), pp. 111-121.
“The Lute Music of MS Royal Appendix 58,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 13, No. 1/3, A Musicological Offering to Otto Kinkeldey upon the Occasion of His 80th Anniversary (1960), pp. 117-125.
“Apropos “The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), pp. 28-86.
Music for “A Handefull of pleasant delites,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1957), pp.151-180.
“The Editorial Methods of Venegas de Henestrosa,” Musica Disciplina Vol. 6, Fasc. 1/3 (1952), pp. 105-113.
“The Use of Borrowed Material in 16th-Century Instrumental Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer, 1952), pp. 88-98.
The Vihuela de Mano and Its Music (1536 – 1576),” PhD dissertation, New York University, 1953.
Thank you John Ward for your long lifetime of brilliant work, and for showing us that the details make the difference.