Interview with Lutenist Paul O'Dette

Interesting interview with lutenist Paul O'dette.


BD: I was just going to ask, is there a perhaps broken but direct link between the Renaissance consort and the small jazz ensemble?

PO'D: Well, a lot of the attitude is quite similar, and the approach is similar in that a lot of the repertoire consists of known-music - that is, popular ballad tunes or dance tunes that were well known, or even madrigals and motets that all of the listeners of the 16th century recognized. They were the hit tunes of the time. You had that as your basic framework and then improvised variations or ornamentations and made your own arrangement. It was the same whether you were playing as a soloist or with an ensemble, because you can have ensembles improvising arrangements of English ballad tunes, or you can have a lute soloist or a harpsichord soloist improvising a set of variations. The thing that's so fascinating about the solo lute repertoire is that because the lute was the most popular instrument throughout the 16th century and a lot of the 17th century, and a lot of the best musicians of the time were lutenists, the quality of the surviving repertoire is extraordinarily high. And there's an enormous amount of it. At last count well over 50,000 compositions for the lute have survived, and that's a number which is much larger than any of us could contemplate being able to get through in four or five lifetimes. [Chuckles] So there is no shortage of truly great music, most of which, incidentally, has never been heard since the decade in which it was written.