8-course lute after Frei middle 16th century, by Robert Lundberg 1976
– used for Earl of Derby Galliard and John Smith’s Almaine by John Dowland
Several of the most important printed sources of European lute music call sporadically for an 8-course lute, principal among them Robert Dowland’s Varietie of Lute Lessons (1610), Antoine Francisque’s Le Trésor d’Orphée (1600), and Nicolas Vallet’s Le Sécrets des Muses and J. B. Besard’s Thesaurus Harmonicus (1603). But among extant lutes, there are no 8-course models. This particular lute is built on the ‘long’ Frei body, later used and widely copied for use in the middle and late 17th century for 11-course lute construction.
But early in the lute revival, beginning in the 1950’s it was felt that the 8-course lute filled a need to play especially English music, which mostly calls for seven courses, tuned either to F or D. So it was felt that an 8-course lute would answer this need, even though evidence for its existence was confined only to a small number of pieces in a few influential printed sources. By taking what is essentially a bass lute body and modifying it with decreased string length, altered bridge position and appropriate pegbox, what would have to be regarded as an anachronism of lute design was born and accepted by many players.
This particular lute is an example of that historical revisionism–beautifully built, well-balanced, suited to a wide variety of transitional material, but historically something of an orphan. Seven course lutes there were aplenty, nine and ten courses were common, but it seems that by and large, composers skipped over eight. But the lute is no less enjoyable for its dubious provenance.