Lute song

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The lute song refers to a style of vocal music current during the 16th and into the 17th centuries in the countries of Western Europe. It was simply a song accompanied by a lute, nearly always played by the singer.

As an independent art-song form, it reached its highest level of excellence in England in the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods (about 1580-1620) with songs written by John Dowland and Thomas Campion in particular still extremely popular today. The form was aided by the extremely high literary quality of the texts used, most of them of love, many of them by the renowned poets of that time.

One of the more popular songs, an anonymous composition and of uncertain authorship (though likely to be Ben Jonson) is: [1]

"Have you seen but a whyte lillie grow
Before rude hands have touch’t it;
Have you mark’t the fall of the snow
Before the Earth has smucht it;"
Have you felt the wool of Beaver,
Or Swan’s down ever;
Or have smelt of the bud of the Bryer,
Or the Nard in the fire”
Or have taste the bag of the Bee?
Oh so whyte, Oh so soft, Oh so sweet was she!"

The form, sung in its original style, was retrieved from virtual oblivion in the middle of the 20th century by the English counter-tenor Afred Deller.[2]

  • The English popular singer, Sting, recorded a CD of John Dowland lute songs in 2006. Done “straight” and with an expert lutenist, the recording, “Songs from the Labyrinth”, has attracted equal measures of praise and opprobrium.


“Oxford Companion to Music”

“The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music”