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Paul Beier – Concert Proposals 2016-17

Johann Sebastian Bach – Three French Suites transcribed for lute

From an early age, ever since hearing Julian Bream play the first two Bach lute suites in the early 1960s, it has been my lifelong ambition to play the lute works of J. S. Bach. By the late 1990s I had recorded the complete solo lute works on two CDs published by Stradivarius. Since then I have returned to these works often, and they still provide me great pleasure, but lately I have been on the lookout for some new material from the pen of the Cantor of St. Thomas. The obvious choice, of course, is to arrange the solo works for ‘cello or violin for the lute. This can work very well but it requires some adjustment, the baroque lute being a chordal instrument characterized by its set of deep bass notes, and the violin and ‘cello being mostly capable of playing single melodic lines. So the arranger has to fill out the texture by adding harmony and bass notes. The alternative is to look at Bach’s copious output for keyboard, but here the problem is the opposite, the musical texture is too thick - think of the harpsichordist’s ten fingers producing sound on a keyboard, as opposed to the lutenist’s mere four fingers of the right hand that produce the sound on a lute. Bach’s French Suites occupy a middle ground. They seem to have been first conceived as a wedding gift to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, who was a singer and amateur harpsichordist, so they were written in a much lighter and more easily approachable manner than the six “English” suites that preceded them or the Partitas that followed in the chronology of Bach’s composition. Indeed they were called “French” (but never by Bach himself) because of their brevity and charm, to distinguish them from the more severe and academic style of the English suites. Yet in trying to set them on the lute I still encountered some major difficulties. For one thing, the musical texture often occupies a span of over four octaves, whereas the lute is only really capable of three. For another, Bach’s use of the left hand: it is always active with scales and arpeggios, or sustaining a middle voice as well as the bass. The single right hand thumb of the lutenist, which alone is responsible for the entire bass tessitura of the lute, could not possibly compete with this. So in arranging these suites for the lute, I was obliged to follow the opposite approach from that needed when arranging from the ‘cello or violin: instead of expanding the music to fit the instrument, I had to contract it – retaining the essential musical material but distilling it to a form that is coherent with the style of lute music in Bach’s day.

John Dowland and Henry Purcell – Unquiet Thoughts

Michael Chance, countertenor Paul Beier, lute and theorbo

Many people consider John Dowland and Henry Purcell to be the finest composers of the solo song in the English language. This program brings together some of their best songs, such as Dowland’s In darkness Let Me Dwell and Purcell’s O Solitude, in a program that has entertained audiences throughout Europe. Chance and Beier can be heard on three CDs published by Stradivarius, the most recent of which, released in 2015, features late works by John Dowland (see CDs).

Un sì dolce morire...

Love, Death, and Renaissance in the Venetian Cinquecento 

Iason Marmaras, voice Paul Beier, renaissance lute

It was a hot summer day in the Tuscan town of Chiusure. As the afternoon lazily rolled in, we sat down at the town’s only ristorantino. The thick pasta and ample vegetables had given their place to fresh figs, cantuccini and sweet vinsanto when Paul started tuning his beautiful renaissance lute. I sang several madrigals to his delightful playing, and as the afternoon grew more drowsy under the Italian sun, soft accents and warbling passages stole into our music as if to evoke a time long past. And so our first collaboration was born, a programme of Verdelot madrigals printed in an intabulation by Willaert in 1536 and extemporaneously ornamented by Paul and myself. Paul will also play lute music by the incomparable Francesco da Milano.

In the poetry of the madrigals we taste amply of the renaissance idea of “sweet death” in love. And even as the poet’s love dies and is reborn within the poem itself, so are these madrigals, born out of their authors’ passion and made to die away as their melodies and their lutes were forgotten, now given new life.

Iason Marmaras

“Melante” - Baroque Lute Duets

Paul Beier and Earl Christie

The famous duets by Georg Philipp Telemann, under the pseudonym Melante, are combined with other great baroque lute duets of the period.