About “Bonny Sweete Boy”
When most of us think of the music of Scotland, the lute is not the first instrument that comes to mind. Clearly, the bagpipe, harp and fiddle have made a more indelible impression as representative of Scottish music. Nevertheless, the gentle, refined tones of the lute held a revered place in the parlors of the Scottish nobility and gentry from the 13th through the 18th century and were directly linked to the “art music” of the royal courts. Sadly, only a handful of manuscripts of Scottish lute music are known to have survived the turbulence of Scotland’s political, social and religious upheaval, and none of these were compiled prior to the 17th century. There is, however, ample evidence to establish that many Scottish court lutenists received their instruction in the lute from French or Flemish teachers, so it is easy to speculate that much of the lute music played in Scotland during the High Renaissance would have been heavily influenced by the styles of Continental Europe. Many of the dance tunes that appear in the existing manuscripts take the form of Continental dances such as the gavotte, the coranto and the volta, and the French influence is evident in the written ornamentation in these sources.
Most of the pieces on this recording are drawn from the two earliest known Scottish lute manuscripts: the Rowallan Lute Book (ca. 1612-1628) and the Straloch Manuscript (ca. 1627), both of which contain solo lute settings of traditional pipe, fiddle and harp tunes that would have been popular in Medieval and Renaissance Scotland, as well as versions of pieces more representative of the music of Continental Europe. For this recording, I have endeavored to include a mix of Scottish and Continental tunes, though even the French-influenced pieces manage to retain a flavor that is unmistakably Scottish.
As for the manuscripts themselves, both Rowallan and Straloch are rife with idiosyncrasies, including ambiguities of pitch and rhythm, incomplete arrangements, and, in the case of Rowallan, the obliteration of the titles of numerous tunes, reportedly as the result of a religious conversion late in the life of the manuscript’s compiler, the poet, cartographer and lutenist Sir William Mure of Rowallan. In the case of the Straloch manuscript, the original has been lost to history and exists today only in the form of a partial copy made by George Graham in the 19th century which contains many errors and omissions; in some cases only a few bars of the melody were copied. Nevertheless, both manuscripts contain a bounty of music that is a delight to play, with the many quirks in the transcriptions providing ample opportunity for the lutenist to interpret and place his own stamp on the music.
The lute music of 17th Century Scotland presents the listener with an easily accessible introduction to Renaissance lute music, since its focus is primarily melodic rather than contrapuntal (unlike much of the lute music of 16th century Europe) and eschews the ostentatious ornamentation characteristic of 16th and 17th century English lute music. The deceptive simplicity of the 28 pieces presented on this CD belies a sweet and soulful depth that is at once relaxing and invigorating, which makes this disc great both for the attentive listener and as background music.
About Richard Griffith:
Lutenist Richard Griffith became interested in music at an early age, after seeing footage of Elvis Presley performing on the Ed Sullivan show, and began teaching himself to play guitar at the age of 10. He first discovered an affinity for Early Music as a student at the University of Minnesota in the 1980's, where his coursework included the history and art of Renaissance Europe. Richard took up the lute in 2001, studying Renaissance lute and vihuela da mano with Twin Cities Early Music mainstays Paul Berget and Phillip Rukavina. Following the encouragement of Berget, who once told him, "you must perform and perform often--if you wait to perform until you play as well as your heroes, you may never perform at all," Richard has performed in a variety of venues, include formal concerts, Renaissance fairs, and Scottish festivals in the Minnesota/Iowa/Wisconsin area. He is active in promoting Early Music and the lute to a new audience and regularly performs in non-traditional Early Music venues such as coffee houses, shopping centers and bookstores. He is a founding member of the Twin Cities, MN Lute Cooperative and has co-produced, hosted and regularly performed at the monthly St. Paul Early Music casual concert series “Thursday at the Lute Cafe.” Richard has released two CD’s of Renaissance lute music. The first, “Bonny Sweete Boy: Lute Music from the Scottish Renaissance” was released in December of 2005. His second CD, “A Renaissance Portrait,” was released in January of 2007, and he is hoping to release a third CD of Renaissance lute music in Spring 2009.
In addition to Renaissance lute, Richard has performed as a magician, mentalist and guitarist and on euphonium and trombone with Minnesota brass ensembles. He has released a CD of satirical songs, spoken word pieces and instrumentals titled "The Tool Factory Project" and continues to pursue eclectic musical interests, performing and recording original songs and instrumental pieces ranging across a wide spectrum of musical influences, including rock and roll, jazz, ethnic sounds and electronic music.