It is the sultan of instruments for the Arabs and the origin of lute is perhaps the Arabian oud, a pear shaped instrument.
From the Arabs it came to Europe who made it their own.
Now what exactly is a lute?
In simple words, it is any instrument that reminds you of the guitar. Same properties -- long neck, strings running parallel to the sort of round sound body, strings that can be plucked, a long neck and a sort of roundness to the body. Our lute looks somewhat like
this. This is a beautiful looking video -- great sound, location and a leading lute player, Nigel North. The camera angles will tell you lots about this once popular instrument that aroused hope, anguish, love and every known emotion among the populace.
I insist you play this very short piece now while reading the rest of my story. The composer is Silvius Leopold Weiss.
Reminds you of the guitar, doesn't it? How are they different? They look and sound different -- lute for me sounds crisper, as if touching the heart and then standing back, waiting for your reaction. Just like a teasing romantic partner. The crisp sound means you need to be closer to the player, in a semi-circle and form a bond. This is an intimate instrument.
|Angel with lute by Melozzo da Forli|
|Lute at a party|
|Memories of first love by Bayram Salamov - 2001|
|Lute with a mysterious person|
Lute was so, so popular and played by all. It was enjoyed over dinner with minstrels.
It was part of parties and romance, it was played by angels rendering it divine and playful. It played out your memories of first love and was agreeable to cats. It was also enjoyed by people in strange looking costumes.
Then what happened to the lute, what happened to its popularity? In the 18th century, the baroque guitar replaced it. It was easier to play and people started falling for keyboard instruments like the piano.
Guitar may be popular currently, but the lute has been a super-star. To understand how significant it is, read this brilliant passage below:
A Chinese sage once said that if two lutes are tuned to identical pitch, then when one is played, the second will vibrate in synchrony if it is placed in another room but not too far away. This beautiful thought illustrates an important fact about the essence of humanness, and of interrelationships in nature. We respond according to our inner composition, seeing in other people, for example, whatever quality exists already in ourselves. What we project upon another might be true and undistorted, but more often it is a mirror-image -- reversed, exaggerated or reduced, so that we do not immediately recognize our reflection. How many of us first perceive in a working colleague or acquaintance the lower aspect of a quality without waiting for its higher pole to show, both being innate in ourselves as well?Here is a popular composition for lute by Weiss translated on the guitar by Asya Selyutina.
“As the strings of a lute are apart though they quiver the same music.”Gallery courtesy: http://www.lute.ru/gallery/index_eng.php
“And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet