12. Introducing the 12c Lute

Before discussing the 12c lute in general, I want to introduce you to my newly-made 12c.

I’m very excited about my new lute by http://www.lutherie.uk – the father and son team of Adrian and Lawrence Dodd of Derbyshire, England. After many emails firing in both directions, we settled on a bowl of walnut, which has proved to give a magnificent sound. The string length is 68cms for the fingered strings, and the strings themselves are all plain gut from Kurschner. The rose is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, perfectly carved by Lawrence.

But before perusing the images, let’s have a listen to a video I made the morning after the lute arrived:

And here are three pieces from the Panmure 4 collection, composed by Germaine Pinel, a composer I am getting very familiar with after having recorded his complete (two pieces!) surviving théorbe de pièces scores.

The 12c seems to be the only baroque-era lute that used both Renaissance and Baroque tuning, as well as a host of other tunings. It developed early in the 17th century, and was still being used – or at least depicted – in the early 18th century. Sizes varied, small to large, as can be seen from many of the Dutch paintings from the era of Vermeer:

The double headstock is part Renaissance lute, part new invention. Before wound strings became popular one needed to have increasing thicknesses of gut to access lower notes – as with a theorbo – or use different lengths of the same thickness, which is where the 12c extension comes in.

It’s a practical solution, though the joint at the neck needs careful attention from the luthier.

There are many images of the 12c lute, but this is one of my favourites:

The player looks like a “player” with a strong right-hand thumb rest stroke, and full concentration on the score. He also plays quite close to the rose, which might surprise some “bridge players” today.

Judging by the following engraving, some of these lutes were very shallow – also the hand depictions here are first rate:

Here are a few others pulled from the web:

And I can’t resist adding some of my own photographs:

So why chose a 12c over an 11c or 13c? I can only give my own reasons. The repertoire is both large and largely unexplored, as much of it is in the “new tunings” which few players are eager to get entangled in. Those tunings include Dm baroque and also regular Renaissance tuning, so you could play a wide variety of repertoire from England, Scotland, France, The Netherlands, and also Germany – Reusner, for example, had some 12c scores added to his New Fruits publication. Add to that all the 11c repertoire and many 12c items from the London manuscript of Weiss – probably 11c pieces altered when Weiss got a 13c, yet only using 12 courses.

Strings: I use all gut strings at 415 pitch, tuned down to 392, allowing me to tune selected strings upwards by a semitone or tone for the new tunings. Gut strings at low tension are best approached by plucking nearer to the bridge than rose, but keeping in mind my favourite image above, forays to and even over the rose make a welcome contrast.

So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself a 12c lute! I recommend http://www.lutherie.uk !

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