Bain’s Blog, by John Edward Bain

      Date posted: February 3, 2010

Introduction by AM

John Edward Bain is a photographer, music lover, and guitarist, and a frequent correspondent to yours truly about these matters and others of mutual interest. Our paths first crossed in Kingston Ontario as part of the folk scene there in the mid 60s. He plays, in his own words, “folk and blues: what John Fahey coined  ‘American primitive Guitar’”. He now lives in Halifax with his wife Colette, “in quiet and somewhat reclusive retirement, surrounded by books, records, musical instruments, and cameras.”  This is his first blog for AIG, combining music and book reviews, insights into the lute, and interesting related links.

February 2010


The holidays are over and now I’m back on guitar -  I don’t play in the summer and autumn, that time is given to Photography,  The hiatus is usually productive in that I come back fresh, and whatever material I may have forgotten will either come back spontaneously, or I will simply create new things. To toughen my fingertips prior to moving to a steel-string Martin, “The Preacher”, I’m starting out with “El Swede” my 1963 España nylon stringed guitar - not really a classical guitar, rather an OM style body with classical neck, sonically in the style of the old gut- strung Martins - Andrew will probably remember it from “The Needle’s Eye” in Kingston back-in-the-day. My first project, finding a new role for that instrument, is working out several 17th Century Scottish songs from the Jane Pickeringe, and the Balcarres lute books. I find that I can get by reasonably well in “Dropped D” tuning.

I first heard these on Jakob Lindberg’s Bis recording, done early in his career. This is currently available, along with French lute music from another record on Bis CD-201 “Lute Music From Scotland and France”.

Perhaps I should now make a disclosure: What recordings I shall recommend are from my own library, and were sought out by me.

Restoration: Airs And Dances For An Ancient Lute
Weiss/Lindberg   Bis CD-1524    Photos of the lute and additional background.

“In 1991 I bought a very rare original lute at Sotheby’s in London by Sixtus Rauwolf, a prolific luthier who lived and worked in Augsburg. Only three other lutes by him have survived; one is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one in the Claudius Collection in Copenhagen and one in a private collection in England. My instrument is from c 1590 and was originally a 7 or 8 course lute. Inside there is a repair label by Leonard Mausiel, dated Nuremberg 1715 and the present neck, which allows for ten or eleven courses, is probably made by him. Dendochronology confirms that the soundboard is original and dates it 1423-1560. This instrument is thus to my knowledge the oldest lute in playing condition with its original soundboard.”  Jakob Lindberg

We frequently hear Cremonese and Brescian violins, violas, and ‘cellos from as far back as the mid-sixteenth century,  usually with 19th century modifications - longer re-set necks the most prominent change, and with the “Original Instrument” contingent, some in their original baroque condition.  But the plucked-string instruments usually have, in comparison, rather short lives. Modern luthiers have provided excellent copies, and, I dare say, outstanding original instruments of their own art and craft.

But to hear a  lute, from the hands of a master, as it would have sounded then, is a treasure indeed. Lindberg has chosen mainly early works of Silvius Leopold Weiss, which are suitable for the 11-course Rauwolf lute - he has just released a Vol. 2 disc,  Bis CD-1354: but in this case has switched to a 13-course instrument of modern provenance. It was famously said that the lute would “require half a lifetime of tuning”, and yet they kept adding courses. Lindberg is using gut strings on this instrument - iron-man with the patience of a saint.

Recorded April 2004 in Länna Church, Sweden by Hans Kipfer, the sound is intimate, but with some air around the lute. For once, I did not have to reduce volume, as in so many harpsichord recordings. The music is quiet: but it draws you in. And I never met a Chaconne I didn’t like.

For another example of the excellent lute playing in this field, even on Audiophile labels I offer:

Nigel North: Baroque Lute, Linn Honest CD5006.

Turn down the volume here, a few creaks - from the lute; or from Nigel, but at a realistic level, very nice. Recorded at St.Martin’s Church, East Woodbury, by Philip Hobbs, this a more diverse programme. The one duplication with the Lindberg record is Weiss’ Sonata in A minor “L’Infidèle - for the fifth movement Musette, a Turkish motif.  I will not compare the two performances; I always separate playing these discs by at least a week. Each can stand on its own.

Follows another Weiss:  ”Prelude, Fantasia, & Fugue in C major”. Weiss and J.S. Bach engaged in friendly Fugue competitions. Another Weiss work is the elegiac “Tombeau for Count Logy” - Count Johann Anton Losy von Losimthal, a famous lutenist who influenced Weiss - which employs some heavy-duty string-bending, first on the Bourdon courses and then higher. The record ends with North’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor, which works beautifully, virtuosic, but in the service of the music. The harmonies are enhanced somewhat, but one’s  perception is still of a lone small instrument. North plays a 13 course lute by Michael Lowe, who also arms Jakob Lindberg.

Restoration II:  For a “Good ‘Ole Girl”

“The Countess Of Stanlein Restored”.  Nicholas Delbanco.  2001 Verso.

The Rauwolf restoration reminded me of  Delbanco’s slim volume; which first appeared as a “Folio” feature in Harper’s Magazine, and subsequently published in book form by Verso. It is a charming story and should not just slip away. It is still available from Amazon at a reasonable price.

The book deals with the restoration of  ”The Countess Of Stanlein”, 1704, ex Paganini, Stradivarius violoncello, owned and played for over thirty years by Bernard Greenhouse, a founding member of The Beaux Arts Trio, and now in active retirement. In 1998, ” to give back something of value to the world of music that had given him so much”, he deposited the ‘cello with master luthier René Morel in New York for a comprehensive restoration, correcting various unfortunate repairs the instrument had endured during its long and active life.

In legend, it was discovered being transported in a somewhat dilapidated condition on a wheelbarrow by one Signor Merighi in 1822.  Merighi eventually disposed of the ‘cello to Paganini in 1835, who later sold it to J.B. Vuillaume, the Paris luthier and dealer, who then resold it in 1854 to Count Stanlein. The restoration, during which “The Countess” was in worse shape then in the barrow incident - “in a bin, in pieces”- took almost two years. I can empathize to some extent, having surrendered “El Swede” to a luthier, also with significant positive results; at the time, it had been with me for thirty years.

Link: Youtube Bernard Greenhouse Interview and master classes:

John Edward Bain

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