On Sunday, June 5th at 20:00 in the auditorium of the Provincial Council of Alicante (ADDA) will take place the sixth concert of the Fourth Guitar Series at the ADDA.

The concert was  conducted by lutenist Paul O’Dette.

Program notes

“The tenderness of the sound which is born of the lute when touched by the divine fingers of Francesco da Milano, Alberto da Mantua and Marco da L’Aquila by making itself felt in the soul, robs the senses of those who hear it.” Francesco Marcolini 1536.

In the sixteenth century the lute was often compared to the lyre of Orpheus. The sweetness and delicacy of its tone and the subtle contrasts in timbre and dynamics it produced made it the most prized instrument of the Renaissance, and its finest players were among the most highly respected and best paid artists of the era. The playing of lutenists such as Francesco da Milano, Alberto Ripa da Mantova and Marco da L’Aquila was often described with the sense of awe and amazement usually reserved for the supernatural powers of mythological characters. Today, when volume and intensity are considered essential to musical expression, modern listeners may wonder how such a soft instrument could have become so popular. Sixteenth-century listeners considered loud sounds vulgar and unrefined. The lute’s intimate and fragile tone made it the perfect substitute for Orpheus’s lyre, the ‘sovereign mistress for consoling grief, curing pain, relieving wretched boredom, comforting a languishing breast and softening amorous pangs’ (Pontus de Tyard, 1555). Thus, the delicacy and vulnerability of the instrument – characteristics held today to be weaknesses – pierced the souls of the Renaissance humanists.

Marco produced some of the most striking music in the early Italian repertory. He makes effective use of arpeggios in a manner usually associated with the French lute school of the seventeenth century. The style brisé , as this technique was later called, was developed by Renaissance lutenists as a means of prolonging the sound, breaking up slow-moving, sonorous harmonies  into smaller notes as a substitute for the dynamic shading employed by singers.  Italian lutenists of Marco’s generation preferred to arrange lively French chansons rather than the more serious madrigals of Arcadelt and Verdelot. While the elaborate ornamentation in these arrangements requires a somewhat slower tempo than a vocal ensemble would choose, the rhythmic and textural effect of the embellishments makes up for the slower speed. In the cadences, Marco sometimes adds doubled leading tones to spice up the harmonies.

Alberto Ripa worked as a lutenist to the Gonzaga family until 1529, when he visited the court of Henry VIII, and then joined the household of the French king François I.  He remained there for the rest of his life, and was rewarded with large salaries and lavish gifts of land and money — a sign of his status at court. In 1538, when Pope Paul III met the French monarch and the Emperor Charles V in Nice to sign a peace treaty, Francesco, brought along by the Pope, performed before François I and was rewarded with a large sum of money, while Alberto, a member of François’ I entourage, played before the Pope and only received the pontiff’s blessing!
Alberto published almost nothing during his lifetime, but his student Guillaume Morlaye saw eleven volumes of dances, intabulations, and fantasies through the press after his death. His fantasias are remarkable for their extraordinary dissonances – including tritones, augmented fifths, sixths and octaves – and for their extremely rich, choral sonorities, making ingenious use of the octave stringing of the three lower courses. His music contains the most varied chord-voicings in the sixteenth-century lute repertory, and it often uses high positions for tonal contrast.

Francesco da Milano was the most celebrated instrumentalist of his time, a performer and composer of international renown whom his contemporaries called “il divino,” an epithet he shared with none other than Michelangelo. He was the personal lutenist to three successive popes, Leo X, Clement VII and Paul III. Pope Paul’s astrologer named him “the most eminent musician of all…superior to Orpheus and to Apollo in playing the lyre and any other instrument whatever.” More than 125 works of his survive in over forty prints and twenty five manuscripts, and they remained popular after 1600, a longevity nearly unparalleled at a time of rapidly changing taste.
The extraordinary impact Francesco da Milano had on his listeners was apparently the result of his legendary touch, the sequence of pieces he performed and his expressive manner of playing:
“while staying in Milan…Jacques Descartes was invited to a sumptuous and magnificent banquet…where, among other pleasures of rare things assembled for the happiness of those select people, appeared Francesco da Milano–a man who is considered to have attained the end (if such is possible) of perfection in playing the lute well. The tables being cleared, he chose one, and as if tuning his strings, sat on the end of a table seeking out a fantasia. He had barely disturbed the air with three strummed chords when he interrupted conversation which had started among the guests. Having constrained them to face him, he continued with such a ravishing skill that little by little, making the strings languish under his fingers in his sublime way, he transported all those who were listening into so pleasurable a melancholy that–one leaning his head on his hand supported by his elbow, and another sprawling with his limbs in careless deportment, with gaping mouth and more than half-closed eyes, glues (one would judge) to those strings (of the instrument), and his chin fallen on his breast, concealing his countenance with the saddest taciturnity ever seen–they remained deprived of all senses save that of hearing, as if the spirit, having abandoned all the seats of the senses had retired to the ears in order to enjoy the more at its ease so ravishing a harmony; and I believe (said M. de Ventemille) that we would be there still, had he not himself–I know not how–changing his style of playing with a gentle force, returned the spirit and the senses to the place from which he had stolen them, not without leaving as much astonishment in each of us as if we had been elevated by an ecstatic transport of some divine frenzy.” Pontus de Tyard, Lyons 1555.
Paul O’Dette

Paul O’Dette

“…should I come to meet Saint Peter at the pearly gates, I hope he will say, ‘Welcome, good and faithful servant! By the way, be sure to hear Paul O’Dette—he’s leading the angel band.” Early Music America, Spring 2011

Paul O’Dette has been described him as “the clearest case of genius ever to touch his instrument.” (Toronto Globe and Mail) One of the most influential figures in his field, O’Dette has helped define the technical and stylistic standards to which twenty-first-century performers of early music aspire. In doing so, he helped infuse the performance practice movement with a perfect combination of historical awareness, idiomatic accuracy, and ambitious self-expression. His performances at the major international festivals in Boston, Vienna, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Prague, Milan, Florence, Geneva, Madrid, Barcelona, Tokyo, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Melbourne, Adelaide, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Berkeley, Bath, Montpellier, Utrecht, Bruges, Antwerp, Bremen, Dresden, Innsbruck, Tenerife, Copenhagen, Oslo, Cordoba, etc. have often been singled out as the highlight of those events.

Paul O’Dette has made more than 140 recordings, winning two Grammys, receiving seven Grammy nominations, three Echo Klassik awards, the Jahrespresi der Deutschenschallplattenkritik, and numerous other international record awards. “The Complete Lute Music of John Dowland” (a 5-CD set for harmonia mundi usa), was awarded the prestigious Diapason D’or de l’année, while “The Royal Lewters” has received the Diapason D’or, a Choc du Monde de la Musique, a 5-star rating in BBC Music Magazine, 5-star rating in Goldberg and a perfect score of 10 from ClassicsToday.com. “The Bachelar’s Delight: Lute Music of Daniel Bacheler” was nominated for a Grammy in 2006 as “Best Solo Instrumental Recording.”

Mr. O’Dette is also active conducting Baroque opera. His recent recording of Charpentier’s La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers with the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble won a Grammy for “Best Opera Recording of 2014,” as well as an Echo Klassik Award in the same category. In 1997 he led performances of Luigi Rossi’s L’Orfeo at Tanglewood, the Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) and the Drottningholm Court Theatre in Sweden with Stephen Stubbs. Since 1999 they have co-directed performances of Cavalli’s Ercole Amante at the Boston Early Music Festival, Tanglewood, and the Utrecht Early Music Festival, Provenzale’s La Stellidaura Vendicata at the Vadstena Academy in Sweden, Monteverdi’s Orfeo and L’Incoronazione di Poppea for Festival Vancouver, Lully’s Thésée, Conradi’s Ariadne (Hamburg, 1691) Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow, Lully’s Psyché, Monteverdi’s Poppea, Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Steffani’s Niobe and Handel’s Almira for the Boston Early Music Festival. Their recording of Ariadne was nominated for a Grammy as “Best Opera Recording of 2005,” Thésée in 2007 and Psyché in 2008. Both Lully recordings were also nominated for Gramophone awards. Their most recent opera recording, Niobe, was awarded a Diapason D’or de l’année, an Echo Klassik Award and the prestigious Jahrespreis der Deutschenschallplattenkritik. Paul O’Dette has guest directed numerous Baroque orchestras and opera productions on both sides of the Atlantic.

In addition to his activities as a performer, Paul O’Dette is an avid researcher, having worked extensively on the performance and sources of seventeenth-century Italian and English solo song, continuo practices and lute music. He has published numerous articles on issues of historical performance practice and co-authored the Dowland entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Paul O’Dette is Professor of Lute and Director of Early Music at the Eastman School of Music and Artistic Director of the Boston Early Music Festival.