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Laudon Schuett's lute concert at the Music House was focused, not surprisingly, on the Golden Age of the Lute – late 16th century England. In addition to being a masterful performer, Schuett is a brilliant educator, and succeeded in much effective teaching in a totally painless way; his teaching sent me scurrying for further learning in online resources as soon as I got home.
The lute of the Elizabethan period (so different from the theorbo frequently heard here as a continuo instrument) is shaped like half a pear with the flat side away from the player, a short fretted neck, and synthetic gut strings. It evolved from the oud of Moorish North Africa; the oud was unfretted, thus capable of the quarter-step melodic convention of Arabic music. The oud was a solo melody instrument played with a pick. Once it fell into European hands, it was thought desirable to abandon the pick and add frets, thus allowing polyphonic music using the conventional European scale.
The lute, like the clavichord, is an instrument capable of being played both loud and soft. The range on both is from "as loud as possible" to "as soft as possible." And on both instruments the loud is not very loud and the soft is very soft. A favorite motto of Arnold Dolmetsch to paint on the lids of his clavichords was "plus fait douceur que violence," (more is done by sweetness than by violence) – otherwise, make love, not war (La Fontaine's Fables, VI, 3). The same is largely true of the lute of Elizabethan times and its music.
Schuett's program was music of Richard Allison, John Robinson, and their contemporary, anon., mostly stately, sober pavans and bright galliards, played with consistent high quality and remarkable variety. Schuett's rhythmic sense was unparalleled – particularly good for these dance pieces. His sense of musicianship included always "placing" our ears (and hushing the talkers) with a very free chord or two in the appropriate key before beginning the actual piece, and frequently ending the dances with the softest of final extra final notes, like a whispered amen.
The repertoire of the period centered compositions around the bass notes of the lowest open strings of the lute, usually C, F, A, and G, so there is an inevitable sameness about ninety minutes of lute music. In spite of this sameness, Schuett's skill and taste were able to inject a huge amount of variety into the evening. The sixth-comma meantone tuning appropriate to the instrument and its period produces a very satisfying sweetness, even in minor key pieces and in what might otherwise be discordant passing tones.
An evening of lute music does not have the breathless tension and crashing finale that would characterize a Beethoven concert, but rather a calming satisfaction over beautiful work done well.
Schuett offered the most engaging concert lecture I've ever heard, took in stride questions from the audience, and deftly turned aside a request that his financée join him at the end for a soprano/lute encore. Laudon Schuett is typical of the wide variety of interesting performances that impresario John O'Brien brings to the Music House; he played with impeccable style and accuracy.