Home > Sermons > A Holiday Lute Concert


A Holiday Lute Concert

The arch lute, it turns out, unlike the ones I had met before, have very long necks, twenty-three strings, frets and a beautiful bowl that amplifies the sound; they are made of yew and in pre Agincourt days a petition came from the luthiers complaining that the war effort making bows for English archers was depriving instrument makers of materials for their craft. I saw Jacob Lindberg, who told us these things at a concert in East Raynham part of the North Norfolk Music festival. Originally compositions for the lute were prolific, it was the favoured instrument at court – John Dowland is probably the best known English composer especially so for his fine expression of melancholy, and while much of his music survives most was otherwise lost as other instruments found favour. (notably the violin) and people cleared out their attics of old fashioned lute sheet music. Jacob Lindberg, who comes from Sweden, but is now a teacher at the Royal College of music make his living from playing the solo lute – actually this is difficult to do for any solo classical instrument but you may imagine it is more so in this case.

The concert had some memorable features – firstly the lute – a very beautiful piece but not from the city of Cremona but from Wooton by Woodstock in Oxfordshire where it was made in 2012 especially for Lindberg from of course English yew but with all the benefits of modern precision design and fabrication. It probably kept tune better than an older instrument: Grove’s dictionary of music quotes Elizabethan advice that to preserve the tuning and tone of your instrument lute owners were to keep it in a warm bed. As well as Dowland, Piccinini and Bach’s transcription of a cello suite, Lindberg had taken music composed for orchestra in 1620 by a well known Lute player and tried to imagine what he may have picked out on his instrument during the composition. Rather like us trying to imagine Mozart in front of his piano-forte working on say Don Giovanni. St. Mary’s church in east Raynham was like the lute a reconstruction – in this case a Victorian recreation of a medieval perpendicular church – the flints on the outside were thin slivers, the pillars only thinly coated with stone finish yet all was effectively done and the acoustic was very fine. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and what I had heard and seen set me thinking.

Some of the music had been of the Elizabethan period contemporary with the era of lute music’s hey day but some had been recreated and imagined, composed in the last year or so yet taking its spirit breath and life from the past. The lute as I have said was based on all that was known about the best instruments (the great violin makers such as Stradivarius and Guadineri are still called luthiers in the Latin languages by the way) yet this instrument stood to gain from I suppose computer analysis, modern knowledge of sound waves, harmonics and materials science and finally the church itself, built to honour God drew on what was then contemporary method for reproducing classic proportion and style.

Our church life is a progression of old and new - usually described as of scripture, tradition and reason. The balance of these is important, vitally it determines our character. Our reading of Scripture is interwoven with the tradition of centuries of exegesis and that understanding is nuanced again by reason – by the application of God’s gift to us of discovery and advancement. Churches with a capital C, Catholics, Church of England, Quakers for example combine these in different proportions and this gives them different characters and different approaches to many things. We all develop by subtle changes in these ratios.

I thoroughly enjoyed my concert experience it had the right mixture (for me!) a good application of the modern to the old.

St. Margaret’s has a balance of new and old and I hope it is about right for you, but as we change and grow, as we go deeper into God, as the composition of our congregation alters let us be careful to revisit our recipe, adjusting it experimenting as needed.

Jacob Lindberg’s deep understanding of the Lute, of its music and its history and his imaginative use of the new seems to me to be an interesting and valuable model – he brought ideas alive and afresh to the concert hall during my holiday and I hope these thoughts may help us as we move forward together, that we will not stand still but continue the prayerful blending of tradition and innovation that will keep us alive, afresh and invigorated.


Back to Top       Back to Sermons