It all started at a young age with the guitar. But at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague (Netherlands) Ireen Thomas (1956) quickly switched to the lute studying with Toyohiko Satoh, with whom she later published a Catalogue of Contemporary Lute Music. Workshops and private lessons with Hopkinson Smith contributed to her refined manner of playing.
How did it all begin... probably in a long cherished wish to play Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes (originally written for the piano) on the lute. Having fulfilled that wish and thinking of recording Satie, I asked my- self which lute composer could stand next to Satie? The answer came quickly in the form of Robert Ballard, Musicien Ordinaire du Roy. Ballard’s music is quintessentially French: as with Satie, his compositions are exquisitely refined and ‘courteous’. Perhaps because of this shared quality of serenity, when one hears their music side by side the distance of 300 years which divides these two Parisians quickly fades away. However, when one returns to earth, Paris, as one of the greatest cultural centers of Europe, also took many foreign composers to her heart. Among these was Fernando Sor. His intense and romantic Fantaisie Elégiaque for guitar, with its highly concentrated emotional content, forms a most ‘earthy’ contrast with the more ethereal and transparent tones of Ballard and Satie.
For both the lay-out and the title of the CD I am indebted to Victor Hugo and specifically to his collection of poems Les Contemplations.
The Lute’s Indian Summer
Johann Friedrich Daube, Rudolf Straube and Ferdinand Seidel composed their music in a period during which the expression of individual feelings was paramount. Whereas before the religious and worldly majesty were the major source of inspiration for composers, in this period the individual stood at the center. Because the melody was considered to be the carrier of feelings, composers thought of polyphony as an unnecessary distraction. As a consequence of this swing in musical language new instruments, such as the Forte-piano, were developed and concert life shifted from the courts increasingly to places open for the public. Because of these changes the lute lost its function and came to be thought of as oldfashioned.
In spite of these developments German composers kept writing for the lute until as late as the 1790s. Typical for this Indian Summer of the lute is the respectable amount of solo sonatas written for it. Also in chamber music the lute plaed an important role in the works of composers such as J. Krebs, J.B. Hagen, Toeschi en G. Haydn. Though declining in most European countries, in the German speaking ones the lute was given a new languae. In a word the lute had to become ‘outspoken’ and through this transformation it experienced a beautiful Indian Summer.