Friday, July 17, 2009

Eine kleine Gitarre-Musik

From Theo Boehm's place, the baroque lute:

And from Violins and Starships, this:

The seemingly effortless way that Desiderio plays the ascending scale segments in the second piece in the second video pleases me enormously. That's real virtuosity: making something difficult look easy. Those quick passages sound like raindrops falling on chimes.

In the first video, that appears to be a 25-string lute, with 3 single strings and 11 double courses, and 9, possibly 10, full-width frets. The full-width frets on a lute are short lengths of the same gut (might be nylon, in this era) that the strings are made of, tied on to the neck. This means that it's possible to tune the lute's frets, as well as its strings, so that if the piece you are going to play is in one key, without a lot of accidentals, you can play it in something close to just temperament. It also means that it's possible for the frets to need tuning, just like the strings; and the thought of having to tune both frets and strings is the stuff of nightmares.

The modern guitar, with its fixed frets, must use equal temperament, like Bach's well-tempered clavier, in which some notes are always a little out of tune. The only modern type of music I can think of that uses just temperament is Cajun, which would include zydeco. Cajun accordion players customarily have their reeds reground to just temperament, which works for them as the Cajun button accordion is made to play in only a couple of keys.

Towards the end of the Baroque, the guitar supplanted the lute as the instrument of choice for young men serenading their sweethearts. I wish I could remember the source of this (paraphrased): "When the guitar came into fashion, the lute went out. The guitarists were serenading the girls while the lute players were still tuning up."

I'm sure I've botched the German in the headline. Tell me how to fix it.

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