How to Pluck from the Memory a Rooted Sorrow

April 23, 2010 at 12:55 am (By Theo Boehm) ()

Cross-posted from A Quiet Evening.

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I’ve been thinking of putting up more videos of Christina Pluhar and her ensemble, “l’Arpeggiata” to illustrate topics about both instruments and musical forms.  Her group does a lot of early 17th century music on well-played period instruments, often accompanying very good singers. She’s one of my favorite performers and looms large in my YouTube favorites. I’m in the middle of buying everything I can find that she’s recorded, she’s that good.

The first half of the 17th century is a fascinating time. Along with nearly everything else in Europe during those strange, violent and dramatic years, music underwent enormous changes. Because styles, techniques and instruments were in a state of flux, it has been difficult to convincingly reconstruct the music for modern ears. Unlike playing 18th century music on period instruments, which any motivated and competent modern player could do, the 17th century requires deeper scholarship, insight, and musical flexibility.

Ms. Pluhar frequently plays the theorbo, a favorite instrument of the time, and I was looking for something to illustrate it, when I came across the following video. It’s by Regina Albanez, a Brazilian musician living in Holland. She demonstrates the Baroque lute—which I’ve blogged about here, and here—the theorbo, and, her obvious favorite, the Baroque guitar. She speaks a charming Flemish-accented Dutch, so she’s easy to understand even without the subtitles:

So far, so good—a perfect example of the serendipity of the web. But Ms. Albanez actually gave me tears of joy with the following video. She plays the well-known “Canarios” by Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) on a Baroque guitar of the sort known to Sanz. It has 10 strings in 5 courses, tied-on frets, wooden tuning pegs, and is smaller and more lightly-built than later guitars. The piece is from Instrucción de música sobre la Guitarra Española, published as a complete edition in 1697.

She’s a fine guitarist. Her technique is excellent, and her phrasing and dynamics near perfection. But what impresses me, and helped pluck out some of my own rooted sorrows, is the quiet modesty and focused joy of her playing. There is nothing that distracts from the music. For a few minutes, she’s one of those players who becomes the music, which I suppose is all you can ask of any musician.

And then she ends with a little smile.

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