Dr. John


Reviews 2002-2003

From Library Journal, April 15, 2002. Review by Timothy J. McGee, Professor of Music, University of Toronto.

The lute was the most important and versatile instrument in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance before yielding its place to keyboard instruments in the 17th century. Ergo, this first comprehensive, English-language history dedicated solely to the lute is long overdue. Musicologist Smith, editor of the Journal of the Lute Society of America, has succeeded at an enormous undertaking: in addition to detailing the history of the instrument, he includes a discussion of its cultural setting, facts about changes in its construction and repertory, and biographies of its most prominent performers. The reader is given a clear overview of the instrument from its origin in central Asia, through its introduction to Europe by Arab invaders, to its prominence as the "king of Renaissance instruments"U in courtly circles. About 75 illustrations (mostly black and white, with a four-page color section) and 56 musical examples round out the text. Highly recommended for medieval and Renaissance history and music collections in public and academic libraries.


From  Nostalgia No. 8 (October 2002), Newsletter of the Lute and Early Guitar Society Japan, reviewed by David van Ooijen

"A History of the Lute" by D. A. Smith reads like a novel on the lute and its music. Its content is chronological from antiquity till early Italian renaissance, after which each country receives its own chapter. There is also a chapter on lute making with beautiful illustrations. In the course of the different chapters many composers are given a small paragraph with details about their lives and works.


From  Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, reviewed by Kenneth Bé (Associate Conservator of Paintings, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Although covering the lute's history only up to the end of the Renaissance period, the book's scope is vast.  Ample discussion of lute music repertoire, biographies of important composers, the lute's cultural and societal context, tablature notations are all included in chapters organized by geography throughout Europe.

As the amount of extant documentary archives and surviving instruments vastly increases after the beginning of the sixteenth century, Smith's book offers an especially detailed and informative account of lute making during this period.  It makes a fascinating reading of the multi-generational family lute firms in Bologna, Venice, and Padua from the early to mid-sixteenth century until well into the next century.

The staggering output of these workshops hums to life especially in the extraordinary appendices of the book which include two separate room by room inventories made in 1581 of the Tieffenbrucker workshop in Venice describing the astonishing quantity of lutes which filled the building to near over capacity.


From Fronimo, rivista di chitarra (Milan, Italy, April, 2003), by Dr. Stefano Toffolo (in Italian)

It's astounding…that [the author] has succeeded in completing by himself the largest, most profound and important study ever realized on the history of the lute relative to a temporal arc of such broad extent. . . . There issues a living and brilliant picture which one wishes, so to speak, never to leave, since the words of the author, the images of paintings and the instruments, tell the story of an extraordinary and certainly not marginal chapter of the history of music, of lutherie, of painting, and more in general, of culture. . . . Many thanks, Lute Society of America and naturally, bravo Dr. Douglas Alton Smith!


From CHOICE, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries (American Library Association), January, 2003, by Dr. Dane Heuchemer, Associate Professor and Chair of Music,  Kenyon College

Although lute scholars may continue to crave a more in-depth study, Smith does an excellent job covering the essentials, and this book will be very useful to those needing a starting point. . . . The chapters are meticulously organized, with section headings leading the reader to composers, styles, genres, publishers, etc. Though the treatment of some composers may be a bit too concise to satisfy all expectations, those looking for additional information will appreciate Smith's thoroughness in citing sources. Smith is particularly careful not to go beyond what the evidence adequately supports.


American Lutherie, (vol. 73, Spring, 2003) published by the Guild of American Luthiers, review by Bryan Johanson (Professor of  Music and coordinator of guitar and harp program, Portland State University)

   In his brilliant and beautiful new book, A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance, Douglas Alton Smith has given us a wonderfully-written account of the rich history of that once seemingly extinct instrument. Although the lute is most immediately related to the Arabic oud, Mr. Smith takes pains to trace the origin of the lute to much earlier times. The lute's connection to ancient Greek culture, with its influential philosophy, music theory, and aesthetics, shaped the development of the Renaissance lute as much as its more recent Arabic heritage. Tracing the origin of any string instrument into antiquity is a tricky business. There are many ways in which an author's narrative can become bogged down in slogging through all the loose ends and fragmented bits. What is so refreshing about Mr. Smith's book is the strength of its vision. His writing about the lute's far-distant past is fluid and engaging. . . .

   He clearly traces the rise of the lute's popularity, country by country.… Mr. Smith has woven many historical threads together to give us a complex and complete picture of the lute as it existed in society. To follow the early history of the lute is to also follow the early history of music. . . .

   It is a remarkable accomplishment in its scope and depth and literary style. For professional musicians, luthiers, and musicologists, this book is an absolute must. It will no doubt become the standard reference work on the subject for many years to come. In addition to use by scholars, lutheirs,musicians, and serious-minded students, the book is also an incredibly enjoyable read. On the most obvious level, it can also be savored as a compelling historical narrative. I would suggest that anyone who listens to lute music for pleasure can enjoy this book for the same kind of pleasure.

   A History of the Lute from Antiquity to the Renaissance is published by the Lute Society of America, and I would like to take a few moments and congratulate them for the look of the final publication. It is a beautifully prepared, edited, and laid-out book. The integration of text, musical examples, and illustrations adds immeasurably to the joy of this book. It was obviously prepared with great care and respect for the material, and the Lute Society of America is to be praised. . . . [Smith's] book is a massive achievement to which the reader can return again and again for information, insights, and pleasure.

© 2001 by The History of the Lute Developed by MacConsulting