Thursday July 30, 2015 | 12:00pm

Ronn McFarlane, lutenist

“His intense concentration, technical prowess and rapport with the audience showed that, in time, he could become the Segovia of the lute.” – Chicago Tribune

PROGRAMMEChromatic Pavan                  Peter Phillips    (c. 1560-1628)
Chromatic Galliard


Philip’s Dump                     Philip van Wilder (c. 1500-1554)

Forlorn Hope                        John Dowland    (1563-1626)

Pavana Bray                          William Byrd    (1542-1623)

A Fancy #5                            John Dowland
Piper’s Galliard
Lady Clifton’s Spirit
A Fancy #73

Daniel’s Chaconne                Ronn McFarlane  (1953)

PROGRAMME NOTESA prolific composer of motets and instrumental music, Peter Phillips was born in England around 1560, and eventually settled in Antwerp. In 1593, he traveled to Amsterdam to see and hear Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, whose music must have made a profound impression, judging from the contrapuntal refinement, sense of space and striking harmonies of the Chromatic Pavan and Galliard.


Philip’s Dump, based on only two chords (C and G) toggling back and forth, is stunning in its variety and range using only the simplest of music materials. One might think of a lutenist casually noodling between a pair of chords, yet the carefully paced structure belies the impression that we’re hearing a spontaneous improvisation.  I enjoy hearing the different approaches and tempos that various lute players have taken for Phillip’s Dump. But whatever the tempo, I find that the hypnotic “groove” of the piece always gets under my skin with each listening.

John Dowland’s mastery of fantasia writing for the lute is unparalleled by any of his Elizabethan contemporaries.  Fantasias were freely composed pieces which did not rely on dances, ballads or vocal models for their form.  These works usually began with points of imitation after which the composer would introduce contrasting chordal or homophonic textures, introduce new thematic material or continue developing the melodic ideas presented at the beginning of the piece.  Dowland’s fantasias encompass all of these possibilities.  Forlorn Hope is a true masterpiece of Elizabethan fantasia writing.  Dowland uses the motive, a chromatically descending line, to create crunching dissonant harmonies that explore the depths of despair as well as anger over an unjust fate.  After an imitative opening, A Fancy #5 breaks into rapidly alternating textures in an improvisatory, toccata-like style.  It is something of a textbook of idiomatic lute cliches sewn together to create a spontaneous sounding whole.  A Fancy #73 exists only in a single corrupt manuscript source and requires considerable reconstruction to make it presentable.  Yet, the inventive interplay of voices and the spectacular tremolo ending make the piece tremendously worthwhile.William Byrd was the most highly respected and admired composer of the English Renaissance, yet he wrote no music for the lute.  Lutenists of his day so loved his music that they created arrangements of Byrd’s compositions for the lute.  A number of these pieces can be found sprinkled throughout various Elizabethan lute manuscripts.  William Byrd’s beautiful Pavana Bray and Galliard are based on popular Elizabethan dances.  Yet in Byrd’s elegant settings for keyboard (intabulated for the lute by Francis Cutting) they are transformed into art music – intended more for the ear than the feet – though still retaining the characteristic rhythms and form of the original dance.

Daniel’s Chaconne (aka. Passacaglia) was written for and inspired by Daniel Shoskes who recorded the piece on his CD Patrons of the Lute.  Dr. Shoskes writes:  “When planning a CD entitled Patrons of the Lute – dedicated to composers who had day jobs (doctors, nobility) and who supported the professionals of the day – I thought it fitting to close the loop and end the recording with a new work that I commissioned from a modern composer/performer.”

Ronn McFarlane